Buttigieg, NTSB blame Ohio train disaster on Trump, Norfolk Southern

by Jacob Fuller

Lauren C. Moye, FISM News

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released their preliminary report of the East Palestine, Ohio train derailment on Thursday, the same morning that U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg finally visited the site of the crash.

Buttigieg has been under heavy pressure after a Norfolk Southern train carrying hazardous materials derailed in East Palestine, Ohio on Feb. 3. Despite reports of animal deaths and illnesses in locals since then, Buttigieg did not make any public remarks on the incident until ten days later. He has faced bipartisan criticism for his delays.

Despite this, the current U.S. transportation department administration takes no ownership in the Feb. 3 derailment or the series of train derailments since then.

“I can tell you this much: This was 100% preventable,” NTSB chair Jennifer Homendy said during a news conference Thursday. “We call things ‘accidents.’ There is no accident.”

While Homendy and the NTSB point fingers at Norfolk Southern, Buttigieg continues to shift blame to the Trump administration.

Meanwhile, over 42,000 aquatic animals have likely perished due to the train derailment according to an Ohio Department of Natural Resources report released yesterday. Many of these dead minnows, fish, invertebrates, and other deceased specimens remain in the water.

The report concluded that a 5-mile span of the watershed along Bull Creek, leading into a fork of Little Beaver Creek, was impacted by the toxins. However, there were no signs of aquatic life in the Ohio River being affected so far.

“Because the chemicals were contained, we haven’t seen any additional signs of aquatic life suffering,” Mary Mertz, director of the natural resources department, said.

The report will most likely not do much to alleviate concerns that East Palestine residents have of long-term damage and illnesses.


The NTSB concluded its on-site investigation of incidents related to the East Palestine incident on Wednesday. While the safety board will continue to evaluate key elements for the next several months, they released their initial findings yesterday.

The report said that a hot bearing detector along the railroad issued an alarm instructing the crew to stop for an investigation of a hot axle. At the time, the train was traveling about 47 mph. The maximum allowed speed is 50 mph.

However, as the crew began to brake, the wheel bearing failed completely and derailed the train, Homendy said. The train’s emergency brakes then kicked in.

The heat detector reported the axle temperature was 253 degrees higher than the air temperature at that time.

The NTSB also reported the train had passed two other hot-bearing detectors within the past 30 miles. However, Norfolk Southern’s own internal guidelines did not consider those reported numbers to be critical.

“You cannot wait until they’ve failed,” Homendy said. “Problems need to be identified early so something catastrophic like this does not occur again.”

Homendy confirmed that temperature limits are not regulated by the federal government. Instead, each railroad company sets its temperature limits. Norfolk Southern’s guides state that anything under 200 degrees is non-critical and only requires a stop and inspection.

The car that initiated the wreck was bearing plastic pellets. This was the cause of the fire.

The NTSB will also take the rare step of holding a field investigative hearing in East Palestine this spring.

The investigation will now focus on the wheels and tank car design as well as the controlled burn of five cars of vinyl chloride that Norfolk Southern conducted out of concern that the gas might explode. It was this controlled burn that created the plume of black smoke over East Palestine.


Buttigieg visited East Palestine yesterday, one day after former President Donald Trump visited and distributed bottle water and other necessities to citizens at his own cost.

Trump’s visit fed into Buttigieg’s remarks and his favorite game of blaming the recent derailments on railroad safety deregulation.

“I heard [Trump] say he had nothing to do with it [deregulations], even though it was in his administration,” Buttigieg said. “So if he had nothing to do with it and they did it in his administration against his will, then maybe he could come out and uh – say he supports us moving in a different direction.”

While the call-out is at face value an eloquent plea for cooperation, this merely disguises the moment for what it is. Buttigieg’s statements show that not only does he believe it is Trump’s fault, but he also will blame any failures in the future in tightening regulations on Republicans for not being vocal enough about the need to prevent disasters.

“You’ve been Secretary of Transportation for two years now. How long can you blame the Trump administration for your failures?” Buttigieg was asked at a moment between photo-ops.

In response, Buttigieg said it was time for “Trump administration alumni to take responsibility” for their part in the problem. However, Buttigieg simply walked away when asked why he didn’t simply reverse course and increase regulations on train safety.