A device that can play a role in preventing derailments is the wayside hot-box detector. It uses infrared sensors to detect bearings, axles or other components of a rail car that are overheating, then uses radio signals to flag rail crews of any overheated components.
Specialized signalmen called “electronic leaders” specialize in maintaining devices like hot boxes.
As recently as three years ago, Norfolk Southern employed five electronic leaders in the area of its rail network that includes East Palestine. Today, it employs zero, according to Christopher Hand, director of research at the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen.
Hand said electronic leaders know hot-box detectors “inside out.” But the position, which typically requires years of experience and higher pay, has become less common at railroads across the country. Electronic leaders also taught newer signalmen how to operate devices like the hot boxes.
After that position was eliminated in Norfolk Southern’s Division B, Hand said its responsibilities were likely transferred to a signal maintainer. Their main role is to keep up with government-mandated tests of equipment — and hot boxes aren’t under federal regulations.
Yes, we would like to know if the derailed train had gone past a hot box detector, if the detector reported the hot box, and how the railroad responded. And of course if the hot box detector was properly maintained and monitored.
Some rail routes are specifically designated to carry hazardous materials. They especially should have working hot box detectors. And perhaps requirements for those routes should be reviewed and updated.
“The entire Ohio River may be poisoned for generations” is a bit extreme. Vinyl chloride monomer is flammable with a boiling point like that of propane. It is not soluble in water. If present you should get an oil slick.
I think we’d like to know why the black smoke when burned. And what are the combustion products. People were advised to shelter at home. Contamination in home should be minimal. But the smoke could leave an oil film on land and surfaces. Power wash or detergent should take care of most of it. Treat it like an oil spill.
It has become clear that, the Shiny CEO considers dilapidated plant and obsolete product the next CEO’s problem. Remember how Union Pacific’s system collapsed when they bought Southern Pacific, which had been starved of CAPEX for years?