EASTERN PALESTINE, Ohio — Trains are running again through East Palestine, Ohio, though the village mayor isn’t too pleased with the way operations are continuing.
WKYC-TV reported Norfolk Southern began running the main Cleveland-Pittsburgh line through East Palestine late Wednesday, much to the displeasure of Mayor Trent Conaway, who said he had been told the train would not begin running until all residents were able to return home.
“Whoever was in command of the incident [Wednesday] night can tell I’m not very happy with it,” said Conaway, noting there wasn’t much he could do “except I strapped myself to the railroad tracks. …
“I know they have work to do; they have to skip town,” Conaway admits. Even so, he and others are also concerned that the equipment used by railroads to clear derailed sections could spread hazardous materials on local roads. Conaway said he was told company street sweepers would fix the problem “soon”.
“We will hold their feet to the fire,” said the mayor. “They will do what they say they will and they will protect the people of this city.”
The reopening of the line also means the resumption of the Amtrak line Limited Capitol after five days of cancellation; Thursday’s trains leave on time from Washington, DC, and Chicago; at 0730 CST today, both trains passed through the derailed area, with the westbound train about an hour late and the eastbound train about 30 minutes behind schedule.
The city faces another challenge to get back to normal.
In a news briefing Thursday, East Palestine Fire Chief Keith Drabeck said his department was in the same position as many others in society: figuring out what could or couldn’t be used after a derailment and a fire.
“All of our equipment was out of action because of the fire,” Drabeck said. The South Carolina department provided spare equipment, he said, while his department worked out what was still usable and what had become contaminated. “If you drive past the firehouse, it looks like a lot of the rest of the city: disaster area.”
While officials have granted general permission for people to return to their homes on Wednesday, they also said they would offer air quality readings from individual homes upon request. About 300 such screenings had been conducted by Thursday afternoon, said Columbiana County Emergency Management Agency Director Peggy Clark.
“It takes about half an hour to do each house,” says Clark. Four teams were working 10-hour days, he said, asking those waiting for inspection to “be patient.”
Question about crash warning
Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that two security cameras in Salem, Ohio — about 20 miles from the derailment site — showed what appeared to be sparks in one of the train cars going into derailment in East Palestine. The report includes video from one of the cameras. This raises the question of when crews are alerted to potential defects by roadside detectors. National Transportation Safety Board member Michael Graham said at a Feb. 4 press conference that the crew had been alerted to the defect and applied the brakes before the skid. [see “Vinyl chloride involved …,” Trains News Wire, Feb. 4, 2023]. There is a hotbox detector adjacent to the location of one of Salem’s security cameras; the next is in East Palestine, the newspaper reported.
Also, a fourth class action lawsuit has been filed over the derailment, WFMJ-TV reports. This one, the third in federal court, was filed by Ray and Judith Hall of East North Avenue in East Palestine, alleging negligence on the part of Norfolk Southern.