Norfolk Southern Railroad’s own actions worsened a train wreck that ignited a toxic chain of events for the people of East Palestine, Ohio, according to employees and a lawsuit against the railroad.
Employees say the size of the train — 151 cars, 9,300 feet long, 18,000 tons — was a factor in the accident, according to a CBS report that did not name the employees interviewed.
The employees also said that the train ran into trouble before the derailment. They said the train had broken down at least once before the Madison, Illinois, Ohio crash, according to CBS.
The train was too long, an employee said.
“We should not run 150 car length trains. There should be some restrictions on the weight and length of trains. In this case, if the train had not been 18,000 tons, the effects of the derailment would have likely been mitigated,” an employee told CBS.
“The workers are tired, the car inspection time has been drastically cut, and there is no regulation on the size of these trains,” said an employee.
Norfolk Southern issued a statement saying, “The weight distribution of this train was uniform throughout” and included a mid-train engine “which helps manage the dynamic forces of the train.”
Jared Cassity, national legal director of a union that represents Norfolk Southern workers, cast doubt on the company’s approach.
“There’s a good chance the car that derailed hasn’t been properly inspected in some time,” Cassity said, according to CBS, claiming that company instructions allow inspections to last less than a minute.
“You combine that with the added length and tonnage, and it had all these dangerous elements and it was predictable. If nothing changes, it will happen again,” he said.
The National Transportation Safety Board said last week that it “identified and examined the rail car that initiated the derailment” and that surveillance video “shows what appears to be a wheel bearing in the final stages of overheating failure shortly before the derailment.”
Norfolk Southern faces a class-action lawsuit related to the derailment that says the derailment and toxic cloud that eventually covered East Palestine, Ohio, “would never have happened if it weren’t for failure on top of Norfolk Southern’s failure.”
“Train 32N should never have been run so recklessly that its wheel bearings would fail and derail the train carrying highly toxic and flammable materials. Even after the derailment, the integrity of the cars containing highly toxic and flammable materials should not have been violated and the emergency pressure relief valves should have functioned as designed,” the suit said.
“However, Norfolk Southern was layered on further failure when it found its derailed train in imminent danger of a catastrophic explosion. “Norfolk Southern punctured its vinyl chloride cars and released 1,109,400 pounds of cancer that released vinyl chloride directly into the environment,” the lawsuit states.
The case tries to put the incident into perspective.
“Norfolk Southern released more of the cancer-causing vinyl chloride into the environment in one week than all other industrial emitters combined,” the lawsuit said, noting that igniting vinyl chloride produces deadly phosgene gas. It has been banned since its use as a chemical weapon in World War I.
“Norfolk Southern ignited a 1 million pound plus chemical burn pit that burned for days and covered plaintiffs and class members in thick black smoke. The fire caused a mushroom cloud of toxic chemicals to spread for miles and across the state line into Pennsylvania,” the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit states that the railroad subjected “surrounding communities to chemical warfare agents” and that “instead of cleaning up its mess, plaintiffs and class members were exposed to toxic and toxic chemicals.”
Norfolk Southern suffered another derailment last week, according to CBS. About 30 cars derailed in Van Buren Township, Michigan.
This article was originally published in the Western Journal.