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Norfolk Southern train got alarm before Pennsylvania derailment -NTSB

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -A Norfolk Southern freight train that derailed near New Castle, Pennsylvania, on Wednesday night received an alarm several miles before the incident, according to preliminary findings released Friday by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

The derailment of nine train cars was about 20 miles (32 km)from the site of a Feb. 3 incident in East Palestine, Ohio, in which Norfolk Southern-operated train cars carrying toxic vinyl chloride and other hazardous chemicals spilled and caught fire.

The railroad said Thursday there were no reported injuries or hazardous material concerns in the Pennsylvania derailment. The NTSB said preliminary information indicates the train received an alarm "from a wayside defect detector, or hot bearing detector, several miles before the train derailed."

The devices are used to detect the temperature of wheel bearings on rail cars. Norfolk Southern did not immediately comment.

The NTSB said in the East Palestine derailment a wayside defect detector transmitted a critical audible alarm message instructing the crew to slow and stop the train to inspect a hot axle.

Some experts have said the derailment in East Palestine may have been averted if detectors had been placed closer together. That derailment and the subsequent fire sent a cloud of smoke with billowing black plumes over the town of East Palestine, outraging thousands of residents who were forced to evacuate.

Earlier Wednesday, the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee passed bipartisan sweeping rail safety reform legislation.

Commerce Committee chair Maria Cantwell noted that hours after passage "another train derailed likely due to a bad wheel bearing. This could have been prevented had the commonsense reforms in our bill been in place.... It’s time for Congress to get on board to improve rail safety."

The legislation would require hotbox detectors be deployed an average of every 15 miles, a reduction of the current voluntary practice of installing defect detectors an average of every 25 miles today.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Thursday he looks forward to bringing the rail measure to the Senate floor "as soon as possible."

(Reporting by David Shepardson; editing by Jonathan Oatis and David Gregorio)