Derailed freight train leaves city in Ohio in state of emergency

In this photo provided by Melissa Smith, a train fire is seen from her farm in East Palestine, Ohio, Friday, Feb. 3, 2023. A train derailment and resulting large fire prompted an evacuation order in the Ohio village near the Pennsylvania state line on Friday night, covering the area in billows of smoke lit orange by the flames below. (Melissa Smith via AP)Associated Press

A derailment of a freight train in the US state of Ohio that occurred on Friday evening has left the city in a state of emergency. As the train was carrying dangerous goods, there is risk of explosion. Residents living nearby have been evacuated, schools have been closed and businesses are down.

On Friday evening about 9pm 50 wagons derailed in East Palestine, a city in Ohio. According to NTSB, the National Transportation Safety Board in the US, 20 of the wagons on the train were carrying cargo that is classified as dangerous goods. Of these wagons, ten were involved in the accident, and five of these ten were carrying vinyl chloride.

“We have not confirmed vinyl chloride has been released other than from the pressure release devices” said the NTSB on Sunday 5 February. Vinyl chloride is associated with increased risk of liver cancer and other cancers.

State of emergency

The Mayor of the city ,Trent Conaway, declared a state of emergency. Schools and official offices will be closed at least today, and businesses within the evacuation zone are not allowed to open.

The evacuation of residents in a 1.6 radius from the accident took place over the weekend, when a fire that was reportedly as large as the train itself covered the region. The fire has now been reduced, but the risk of explosion is still very realistic.

Officials warn that a catastrophic tank failure could take place after a drastic temperature change was observed in one of the rail cars, local media reports. Residents that refused to evacuate over the weekend are urged to do so today.

Norfolk Southern

The train was operated by Norfolk Southern. On Sunday, they wrote: “Norfolk Southern team members are on scene, and will be assisted by multiple derailment and environmental contractors. In addition to working closely with first responders, we are coordinating with federal, state and local agencies. The NTSB will be the lead agency for providing updates on the incident.”

The rail freight operator has established a Family Assistance Center to address the needs of the community and support those directly impacted. Additionally, it has donated 25,000 dollars to the American Red Cross, which is at the scene to provide temporary community shelters.

Author: Majorie van Leijen

Majorie van Leijen is the editor-in-chief of, the online magazine for rail freight professionals.

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