The toxic train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, is drawing new attention to the dangers of increasingly long freight trains — part of a series of cost-savings efforts by freight railroads that have drawn scrutiny from the industry’s critics.
The sheer bulk of the 150-car train that went off the rails Feb. 3 is just one factor investigators are expected to consider amid the unfolding ecological disaster near the Ohio-Pennsylvania border, which caused a massive fireball, forced an evacuation and has left a lingering odor, fears of lasting contamination and thousands of dead fish. But union officials, regulators and congressional researchers say the industry’s trend toward ever-growing train lengths is causing a host of safety concerns that regulators need to address.
“The longer the train, the heavier the train, the more wear and tear it puts on the actual rail itself, as well as the equipment,” said Jared Cassity, a legislative director for the country’s largest rail union, SMART-Transportation Division. “We’re seeing more wear and tear. We’re seeing more unintended train separations, which is where the train breaks apart.”
The Ohio derailment is still under investigation by multiple agencies, including the Department of Transportation, the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Transportation Safety Board. The NTSB, an independent agency, has said preliminarily that an overheated wheel bearing on one of the cars is partially the culprit for the derailment.
However, derailments like these typically have multiple points of failure, and the NTSB’s investigation will likely take over a year to complete. Such NTSB probes typically examine any conceivable cause that could have led to a crash, including equipment malfunctions, poor system design, the lack of safety precautions, inadequate training, crew fatigue and myriad other factors.
The Guardian: What do we know about the Ohio train derailment and toxic chemical leak?
On the night of Friday 3 February, at least 50 out of 150 train cars of a train heading from Conway, Pennsylvania, to Madison, Illinois, derailed. The train derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, a town of about 5,000 residents along the Ohio and Pennsylvania border. A huge fire that spanned the length of the derailed cars erupted. No injuries or deaths were reported.
Marshall’s House, Edward Hopper
Residents within a one-mile radius of the derailment were evacuated as officials noted that over a dozen cars carrying vinyl chloride, a carcinogenic chemical, were involved in the derailment and could have been exposed to the fire.
On Monday 6 February, officials enacted a mandatory evacuation, threatening to arrest residents who refused to evacuate, as fear of an explosion rose. Governor Mike DeWine told residents that leaving was “a matter of life and death”. Crews ended up releasing toxic chemicals from five derailed tanker cars to prevent an explosion. Small holes were made into the train cars, whose chemicals were released into pits that were lit on fire. Pictures of the chemical release showed huge clouds of black smoke billowing into the sky over homes.
Evacuated residents, who were staying at shelters and schools, were given the clear to return to their homes on Wednesday 8 February as officials deemed air and water samples safe for residents.
On the chemicals that were released:
The most concerning chemical being carried by the derailed train was vinyl chloride, which is used to make polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, a hard resin used in plastic products. Vinyl chloride is colorless and highly flammable. It has been linked to a rare form of liver cancer, as well as other types of cancer like leukemia and lung cancer. Short-term exposure effects include dizziness and drowsiness, while high exposure can lead to hospitalization and death. Another chemical on board was butyl acrylate, also used in plastic production.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) later released information that showed three previously unreported chemicals were also released upon the derailment: ethylhexyl acrylate, isobutylene and ethylene glycol monobutyl ether. Exposure to the chemicals can cause shortness of breath, burning in the skin and eyes, coughing, headaches and nausea, among other symptoms.
In total, the EPA has reported five chemicals that were contained in rail cars that were “derailed, breached and/or on fire”, in a letter the agency wrote to Norfolk Southern.
There’s more at the link, if you’re interested.
This story on Elon Musk’s giant ego is a couple of days old, but I wanted post it, just in case you haven’t heard about it. Platformer: Yes, Elon Musk created a special system for showing you all his tweets first.
At 2:36 on Monday morning, James Musk sent an urgent message to Twitter engineers.
“We are debugging an issue with engagement across the platform,” wrote Musk, a cousin of the Twitter CEO, tagging “@here” in Slack to ensure that anyone online would see it. “Any people who can make dashboards and write software please can you help solve this problem. This is high urgency. If you are willing to help out please thumbs up this post.”
By Andrew Wyeth
When bleary-eyed engineers began to log on to their laptops, the nature of the emergency became clear: Elon Musk’s tweet about the Super Bowl got less engagement than President Joe Biden’s.
Biden’s tweet, in which he said he would be supporting his wife in rooting for the Philadelphia Eagles, generated nearly 29 million impressions. Musk, who also tweeted his support for the Eagles, generated a little more than 9.1 million impressions before deleting the tweet in apparent frustration.
In the wake of those losses — the Eagles to the Kansas City Chiefs, and Musk to the president of the United States — Twitter’s CEO flew his private jet back to the Bay Area on Sunday night to demand answers from his team.
Within a day, the consequences of that meeting would reverberate around the world, as Twitter users opened the app to find that Musk’s posts overwhelmed their ranked timeline. This was no accident, Platformer can confirm: after Musk threatened to fire his remaining engineers, they built a system designed to ensure that Musk — and Musk alone — benefits from previously unheard-of promotion of his tweets to the entire user base.
A bit more:
In recent weeks, Musk has been obsessed with the amount of engagement his posts are receiving. Last week, Platformer broke the news that he fired one of two remaining principal engineers at the company after the engineer told him that views on his tweets are declining in part because interest in Musk has declined in general.
His deputies told the rest of the engineering team this weekend that if the engagement issue wasn’t “fixed,” they would all lose their jobs as well.
Late Sunday night, Musk addressed his team in-person. Roughly 80 people were pulled in to work on the project, which had quickly become priority number one at the company. Employees worked through the night investigating various hypotheses about why Musk’s tweets weren’t reaching as many people as he thought they should and testing out possible solutions.
There’s more at the link, believe it or not. I never thought anyone could be more of a malignant narcissist than Donald Trump, but Musk might actually surpass him.
I’ll end there. Please share your thoughts on these stories, and post links to stories you have found interesting.
Have a nice Thursday afternoon and evening!
Musk is a more dangerous narcissist than Trump.
Wow, my TL must be immune to those Musk tweet algorithms. I got a few, but not very many — usually when someone I followed mentioned him, which wasn’t very often. I think I muted him anyway. Also I set my TL display preference to be on “Follow” rather than the “For You” once I noticed that change. I haven’t had to re-set that TL display, although I’ve seen other say they need to change a Chrome browser setting to do this. Chrome is a privacy-thief browser so I don’t use it. I use Firefox and Safari.
Unfortunately behind a paywall.
That is a *brilliant* article.
I have a gloom-and-doomy feeling that people are going to do their best to ignore the connection between the tsunami of long covid and being stupid about public health. I mean, admit you were wrong? And now you’re stuck? All it would achieve is avoiding the _next_ problem? Pfft, who cares about that.
Be nice if I was too pessimistic again.
I think you’re realistic.
Beautiful paintings today! I’d like a rocker on that top porch to sit in anytime!
Yes, me too!
Sorry to hear that. He’s my Senator.
He’s been through a lot. I hope gets the help he needs.
That’s brave to be transparent about mental-health conditions. We need more people to see that there’s no shame to these conditions. Mental-healthcare is healthcare.
Norfolk Southern passes near my home. This derailment strikes literally too close.
I have observed since the building up of the Ukraine war,the unusual length of the trains. One morning,there were 5 locomotives pushing,pulling a length that was nearly 4 miles. Many were fuel tanker cars with toxin labels(guess was LNG) to be sent before they had the receiving platform built in North Sea. Other massive trains at night, move very slowly,vibrate w/ low frequency, waking me.
A horror is a derailment near where hazardous material is stored.
They come through here too. Oil tanks and tankers are all over the place too. Very scary!
Trump rolled back safety regulations on train brakes and limits on number of cars in a train. What could go wrong?
AI has been *made* to be a bullshit generator. And the techbros thought that would be enough because they seem to swim in the stuff.
In fact, AI could be trained in any number of ways. Not a near-infinite number, like humans, but a lot. AI could be good at turning raw data into natural language, human-readable sentences or visuals. Which could be useful. You could have your bot argue with the cable bot about your bill and when to send a repairman. Those are based on data.
But you’re not going to get an AI to *think*. Maybe when we get quantum computers, but we’re nowhere near it now. All they can do is that facsimile of it which is bullshit and bafflegab.