NTSB chair: East Palestine derailment was '100% preventable'

During a press conference on the investigation into the Feb. 3 Norfolk Southern freight train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, National Transportation Safety Board Chair Jennifer Homendy said she believed the accident was preventable. “We’ve never seen an accident that isn’t preventable,” she said, adding, “Our job is to determine how this happened, and issue safety recommendations to prevent this one from happening again.”

Video Transcript

JENNIFER HOMENDY: The question is, what gives me the certainty that this was 100% preventable? We've never seen an accident that isn't preventable. And I actually think that I don't like the word accident. I hate to use it. Nothing is an accident.

And so when it comes to prevention, it could be actions on be-- on the railroad's part for maybe not having more conservative policies on thresholds. Or it could be some sort of problem with the wheel bearing that could have been addressed earlier. Those are just examples. We don't know that yet.

We are still conducting our fact-finding portion of the investigation. But we will know that at some point. That's when we issue the probable cause. And there's often not just one probable cause, which is, this derailed. It's usually a number of contributing factors that contribute-- a number of factors that contributed to that derailment.

What are we investigating that's preventable? Pretty much everything about this accident. It's everything from the wheel bearing to the railcars to the tank cars to the actions of federal entities or inaction of federal entities. We'll look at state entities. We'll look at locals, especially with emergency response and information they did or did not have, likely did not have.

And we'll look at Norfolk Southern, their policies. So there is-- there are often a lot of considerations in what goes into what is preventable. There is usually far more than one thing.

Our job is to determine how this happened and to issue safety recommendations to prevent this one from happening again. That's why I got so frustrated and tweeted. Nobody tweets for me. I tweet my own tweets. That's why I got so frustrated and tweeted because there's a lot of misinformation on what would have prevented this. And I'm happy to go through some of those.

This is a community that has been devastated. They deserve to know what happened, how to prevent it from happening again. They deserve to have the right solutions.

Often during our investigations, everyone is guessing. I saw it all over media, which was driving me nuts. And the-- those solutions, all of the ones I heard of are not the solutions. And so we'll do a little evaluation to prove that they're not. But I get frustrated because what happens is everybody jumps to those solutions. And then when we issue our final report, we get ignored. That is frustrating.

So when we issue our final recommendations, I want Norfolk Southern to act if they get one. I want FRA and PHMSA to act if they get some. I want others to. We need action on what would prevent that from happening again. That is our goal.