Hours of video footage that documented the events leading up to and the aftermath of a massive train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, have been lost, according to the head of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).
The video was recorded from a camera within the train’s cab, and could have provided crucial information about the derailment and what the train’s crew was doing before the fateful accident.
The camera in the train had 12 hours of recording time, but “all of that, except 15 minutes before the derailment and 5 minutes after, was overwritten after the accident because they put the locomotive immediately back in service,” said Jennifer L. Homendy, chair of the NTSB.
The NTSB is investigating the Feb. 3 incident, which saw a 38-car train carrying toxic chemicals run off the rails and catch fire, threatening to explode and flatten the nearby small town of East Palestine. Emergency crews eventually drained the hazardous materials, including known carcinogen vinyl chloride, into a trench for a controlled burn, which sent up a massive black plume of phosgene gas and hydrogen chloride into the air.
Some residents who have since returned to the town are wary of their safety and have questioned state and federal guidance that the area is safe to live in. Reports of dead animals and lingering dioxins especially have locals concerned.
Homendy revealed the loss of the video footage on Wednesday as she testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.
The CEO of Norfolk Southern, Alan Shaw, testified extensively at Wednesday’s hearing but had little more to say about the recorded-over video apart from saying the company “followed protocols.”
There are no regulations that mandate the preservation of recordings on U.S. freight trains, even when trains derail and cause damage, though there are regulations to that effect for commuter trains and air flights.
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, the ranking Republican on the Senate committee said he was shocked to hear the video was gone.
“Any time there is a locomotive involved in a serious derailment, it is lunacy that video is not preserved and that locomotive is put into alternative service,” he said, as reported by the Weirton Daily Times. “I’m confident we can get unanimity from this committee on that.”
In a statement, Norfolk Southern pushed back on the claim that the derailed train was immediately put back into service.
“Immediately following the derailment, the locomotives and uninvolved leading cars were moved from the derailment site to one of our facilities,” the company wrote. “This movement did not overwrite the videos. The locomotives were held there for NTSB inspection. Following release by the NTSB days later, the locomotives were returned to normal service. Because these cameras run continuously, information not collected prior to release was overwritten in the normal course of activity.”
Homendy implored the Senate committee to reform the video footage loophole that exempts freight trains from having to save their recordings.
She is also calling for the U.S. to expand its definition of high-hazard flammable trains to include a “broader array” of hazardous materials. Under the current rules, the Norfolk Southern train that derailed did not fall under that category.
Homendy and the NTSB are planning to hold a field hearing in East Palestine in June as their investigation continues.
“The hearing will be wholly fact-finding in nature and open to the public,” she said.
© 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.