Toxic Disaster in East Palestine

On February 3 a Norfolk Southern train derailed just outside of East Palestine, Ohio, close to the border with Pennsylvania and not far from Pittsburgh. Five of the derailed cars were carrying toxic chemicals, including vinyl chloride, some of which leaked and caught fire. A huge explosion was a distinct possibility, so residents within a mile’s radius were evacuated.

In order to forestall a potentially catastrophic explosion, emergency workers created a “controlled explosion” by deliberately draining toxic chemicals into a containment trench and then igniting them. The resulting massive fireball was alarming enough; Lord only knows what an “uncontrolled explosion” would have looked like. An enormous plume of black smoke could be seen for many miles, and was even visible from space.

Two days later, after the blaze had died down, residents were advised that it was safe to return home.

This kind of story is not normally in my remit here at Gates of Vienna. However, the horrific aftereffects of the explosion are not receiving much coverage in the mainstream media, and need to be propagated through other channels.

The toxic chemicals that were released combined with each other, creating a brew that included phosgene and hydrogen chloride, among others. The former can be used as a chemical weapon, and in fact was used for exactly that by the French army in World War One. When combined with water, the latter becomes hydrochloric acid.

Numerous other toxic chemicals were released; lists of them may be found in some of the sources below. They can cause neurological damage, and down the road may be expected to contribute to the development of cancers. They are said to have entered a tributary of the Ohio River, and are flowing in that direction.

Large numbers of fish have been turning belly-up in local streams, and authorities are collecting them for testing. Some people report that their pets have died suddenly. One woman said all her chickens died at once.

This could turn out to be the equivalent of the Bhopal disaster, or even Chernobyl, for the Eastern United States.

A final twist to the story: Norfolk Southern resisted and successfully lobbied against high-tech enhancements to their trains’ braking systems that might have prevented the derailment in East Palestine:

After rail industry donors delivered more than $6 million to GOP campaigns, the Trump administration — backed by rail lobbyists and Senate Republicans — rescinded part of that rule aimed at making better braking systems widespread on the nation’s rails.

Specifically, regulators killed provisions requiring rail cars carrying hazardous flammable materials to be equipped with electronic braking systems to stop trains more quickly than conventional air brakes. Norfolk Southern had previously touted the new technology — known as Electronically Controlled Pneumatic (ECP) brakes — for its “potential to reduce train stopping distances by as much as 60 percent over conventional air brake systems.”

But the company’s lobby group nonetheless pressed for the rule’s repeal, telling regulators that it would “impose tremendous costs without providing offsetting safety benefits.”

That argument won out with Trump officials — and the Biden administration has not moved to reinstate the brake rule or expand the kinds of trains subjected to tougher safety regulations.

Social Media (Hat tips Vlad Tepes and John Doe)

  • Upward News on Twitter
  • Nick Drom on Instagram
  • Anthony Cabassa on Twitter
  • The Recount on Twitter — “We basically nuked a town with chemicals so we could get a railroad open.”

News articles (Hat tips LP, McN, DV, MM, and JW)

16 thoughts on “Toxic Disaster in East Palestine

  1. So Trump was a corporate lackey and didn’t mind putting the safety of Americans behind corporate profits and dividends. As the GOP elephant would say, “Tusk, Tusk!”

  2. Those air brake systems used on trains were designed by Westinghouse more than a century ago.

    I used to work for BNSF as a machinist (mechanic) and getting the air to work properly over the entire length of a 6000’+ train with hundreds of gaskets was a challenge whenever the temperature dropped. The gaskets would freeze and harden and leak air, water in the air lines (because it wasn’t allowed to use any kind of dehumidification system for the compressed air) would freeze and restrict air flow resulting in brakes not setting up or being very slow to set.

    The system wasn’t designed for trains of the length that are commonly ran today, and the moneygrubbers at BNSF had started running trains doubled up to cut out multiple train crews, which meant trains more than two and a half miles long. In subzero temperatures, the compressors have a very difficult time compressing air in the brakepipe over those kinds of distances. But the dividend checks are undoubtedly quite good and Lord knows Warren Buffet needs another few billion to add to his stash.

    The problem of brakes not setting or releasing got so bad at my location that a special team was sent out to observe processes and take back recalcitrant air brake valves for disassembly and inspection. It was determined that they were exceeding the life expectancy of the item and the rubber parts wearing prematurely from excessive cycles, causing moisture to get into the valve spaces and freeze, or something like that. I don’t know what the fix was since around that time the overreaction to the CCP virus started and BNSF decided to use the initial drop off in demand from lockdowns as an excuse to do what they had wanted to do for some time but couldn’t because of unions and close facilities and slash workforces so Mr Buffet could pocket another couple billion dollars. So that was that for my employment but I imagine little was done to fix the issues. When Mr Buffet and his fellow monegrubbers die and go to hell I will pray that that besides being burned for all eternity in a lake of fire, the infinite demons and minions of Satan will sodomize them without end with all of their ill-begotten billions.

    • Moon: Very interesting commentary. I would think that rail operators would be transitioning to the railroad equivalent of “fly by wire” for aircraft. Why don’t individual rail cars have electronically controlled, networkable braking systems? Also, replacing hydraulics would save tons of weight.

      Disclosure: My only experience operating trains was with a scale model (narrow guage; not HO) electric train set that ran in a circle, in the basement of our house, back around 19676-67.

      • There is a move to go to “fly by wire” in the railroad industry. It’s called PTC (positive train control) where trains can be controlled remotely if need be. That was actually mandated by the Feds, and when I left the industry several years ago it was already required that lead locomotives have a working PTC.

        The railroads got behind it because if locomotives can be controlled remotely then that is a big reason to go to single man cabs, thereby eliminating the conductors position and job. And potentially eliminating the crew all together if a train can be controlled and operated remotely.

        To answer about electronic braking systems, there are several reasons why not. They already exist of course, but a big part of it in my opinion is sunk costs. It would cost a lot of money to retrofit hundreds of thousands of cars and thousands of locomotives. Also, air brake technology is relatively simple and mostly reliable, with only the locomotives supplying compressed air. An electronic braking system would need to have a source of power or a compressor for the air on every single car which multiplies the chances of something going wrong.

        Many trains now operate with what is called “distributed power” where locomotives are on the head and rear of the train and sometimes in the middle. These are controlled wirelessly from the lead locomotive, and subsequent locomotives in each set are slaved through physical cables to the one taking wireless commands from the leader. There was constantly problems with establishing connectivity with the lead locomotive and those wirelessly connected, and it was not uncommon for remote locomotives to lose the connection or fail altogether. And it was difficult to determine whether the fault was with the leader or remote units. Oftentimes we would swap leaders or remote locomotives, or waste hours trying to establish a stable connection. I can only imagine the headache that would occur if every car on the train also had to be wirelessly connected.

        The biggest problem with the railroads is that they have been taken over by rentiers and the financial managers whose prime purpose is to maximize dividends or share prices. Thus, manpower has been slashed and maintenence neglected, inspection intervals increased dangerously, and regulatory agencies and politicians bought off or captured. A railroad is not a normal kind of business, since it is an extremely capital intensive industry where its just not possible to build competing rail lines for the purpose of competition. It’s more like a utility or even the military where there has to be sufficient manpower and materials/assets available even if they are not always 100% utilized. Railroads have suffered heavily from outsourcing where almost nothing is in-house repaired or remanufactured. Even recovery of derailed locomotives or cars is done by private companies instead of maintaining the ability within the railroad to do so.

        Sorry for the long answer but hopefully this sheds a little more light on the why’s.

        • Moon!
          This was a very interesting post. Thank you for providing a glimpse into a technical world most of us are likely unfamiliar with.

  3. Also, to add to my previous comment, we would occasionally get Norfolk Southern locomotives attached within the consist. They couldn’t be used as lead locomotives since they didn’t have the necessary equipment, and the crews didn’t like them because they were usually steaming piles of feces. I rarely saw one that did not have some kind of mechanical issue or was just filthy and obviously poorly taken care of.

    Not surprised at all that the incident involved a Norfolk Southern train. As bad as I thought BNSF treated their workforce, I heard anecdotally that their workers were abused far worse than we were. But that might just be de massah’s tellin us slaves dat de grass wasn’t no greener on dem other plantashuns.

    • I am surprised you didn’t get called back? Norfolk I heard from a relative who just retired as a dispatcher, also broke regulations by running 10 cars of hazardous chems instead of the 5 allowed by law.

  4. Biden reversed a lot of what Trump did. Why not the train brake regulation over the last two years.

    • Maybe for the same reason they never dismantled Op Warp Speed.

      Very strange.

      Thanks for all the commentary about this horrifying incident.
      The mere fact that it is receiving so little coverage is telling.

      The Deep State is a Satanic cabal hellbent on destroying the world, especially Western civilization or what’s left of it.

  5. Where is Peter Buttplug he” loves ” trains he has told the MSM many times. Does he have any advice or ideas on how to address this? He is the big muck and muck that was made head of transportation by Biden .Can someone name anything he has done but call building more highways “racist” or telling people they should bike ride to work. Is he on vacation or maternity live this time ??

    • I don’t think Buttplug is talking about loving the same kinds of trains you and I and any normal person would think of when we think of “train”.

      The trains he loves involve lots of drugs, Vaseline, and dozens of naked sweaty men in steam-filled bathouses in San Francisco or NYC.

  6. When I read ” hydrochloric acid” I was reminded of “Breaking Bad” where Walt and Jesse use this substance to dissolve a body. Unfortunately Jesse forgot that this stuff dissolves nearly everything including bathtubs, but not plastic containers.

    My very, very dark devil on my shoulder is asking, if this was a test of how to get rid of lots of humans.

    • I think the sudden outbreak of Marburg virus in Central Africa is the beta test of how to get rid of lots of humans.

  7. While it’s true the brake requirements for hazardous/flammable materials were killed under Trump, you failed to mention that the chemicals involved in the crash do not fall under the Obama-era regulation.

    “In 2015, the Obama administration issued the new transportation rule, which was far less stringent and wide-ranging than safety advocates had demanded. The final regulation’s definition of “high-hazard flammable trains” was not expanded as the NTSB requested, and the regulations applied only to trains with more than 20 of cars in a single block carrying hazardous materials, or 35 located throughout the train.”

  8. One has to wonder whether the lack of the enhanced braking system is a red herring, though. Extant videos show quite clearly that the origin of this horrible disaster was a hot box. Trains have alarm systems for this event, but either the system failed or it was ignored, and the result was a spreading fire that weakened the contiguous axle, among other issues. So perhaps by the time the fire was discovered, it was just too late, no matter what sort of braking system they had. At any rate, there’s a lot more at play here than braking. Finding out what happened should come first.

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