Here is an interesting take on the Ohio train wreck. A hot box seems to have been the cause, and the question now is whether the sensors were being managed correctly, or if there were even enough of them, or enough people to read them and act on the results.
I’m sure we will find out what the real situation was after a while. But legislators are starting to formulate bills in congress that might mandate some standards that would be expensive for rail lines.
Views differ. We’ll see how it all plays out. But Rachel Premack lays it all out in clear words below.
When there’s a big train wreck, things are handled differently in Greece. Transport minister Kostas Karamanlis has resigned as a result of this wreck.
It’s different in the US. Here the large railroads have a lot of influence with government regulators. When someone like Pete Buttigieg comes in who is willing to put people and safety first and big rails second, we don’t want him to resign because of the Ohio accident. He’s the one pressuring the investigators to find out the answers.
Another key difference is that in Greece, the accident involved a passenger train and a freight train colliding. Apparently human error is involved. And rail in Greece is government-owned; the Hellenic Railways Organization (denoted OSE because of its Greek language name) owns, maintains, and operates all railway infrastructure in Greece except for Athens’ rapid transit lines.
So it’s not the same at all. Buttigieg, the US Transportation Secretary, does not have anything to do with day to day operation of rail lines. He can at most insure that government regulators and investigators do their research carefully and establish if any rules were violated or need to be changed to prevent this kind of accident.
The short history of the accident compiled by the BBC below details the tragedy.
The big derailment of a train carrying hazardous chemicals in East Palatine, OH has gotten new attention for hotbox detectors (HBDs.) These are electronic boxes placed along a railway that scan the wheels of cars as they go by to see if the wheels are getting too hot. Overheating is a symptom of failing bearings or other maladies in the wheels. At least 5 accidents since 2021 have been related to burnt journal bearings, which the HBD is supposed to detect.
But these detectors have to be maintained. There is always the possibility of a mistaken reading, or of no reading at all. And someone has to check these detectors frequently to ensure they are functioning.
Accidents on rail lines are not common, which speaks to the care being taken. But even one big accident with hazardous waste can destroy a town. So any failure in the maintenance or observation of the hot box monitors is quite serious.
One question unions have raised is whether there are enough qualified workers to inspect the hot box detectors often enough. Perhaps this will come out in the case of Norfolk Southern and this accident. It would be awful if major rail lines were not following through on careful inspection of their monitoring devices.