FILE PHOTO: General view of the site of the derailment of a train carrying hazardous waste, in East Palestine, Ohio, U.S., March 2, 2023. REUTERS/Alan Freed/File Photo
By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A group representing major U.S. railroads on Thursday warned carriers to stop using rail cars with loose wheels until those wheel sets can be replaced.
The Association of American Railroads (AAR (NYSE:AIR)) said Norfolk Southern (NYSE:NSC) had identified loose wheels on a series of cars that present an increased risk of an out of gage derailment.
Norfolk Southern has been under fire after a number of derailments of its trains, particularly one it operated on Feb. 3 in East Palestine, Ohio that caused cars carrying toxic vinyl chloride and other hazardous chemicals to spill and catch fire.
AAR said it was “an uncommon defect” to see in a wheelset that demanded urgent action.
“This is a voluntary, proactive step aimed at ensuring equipment health and integrity,” the association added.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said it was looking at the role of the loose wheels in recent derailments and praised the industry action.
“This is a safety win where the industry is taking action without regulation,” NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy said in an interview with Reuters.
NTSB earlier this week said it was opening a special investigation into Norfolk Southern given the number and significance of recent incidents, and urged the company to take immediate action to review and assess its safety practices.
Homendy said she has had good conversations with Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw who testified before a Senate committee on Thursday vowing to improve safety.
“We have had no pushback,” Homendy said. “We have gotten all the information from them.”
Homendy said the NTSB was investigating a new derailment of a Norfolk Southern train in Alabama on Thursday because it may have had two of those cars with potentially loose wheels.
Norfolk Southern had 517 railcars in use with the wheels at issue, she added.
“They put a message out to stop if those are on your train, inspect them, get the wheelsets replaced…immediately,” Homendy said, noting that was a costly task.
Norfolk Southern did not immediately respond to a request for comment.