East Palestine - Can It Happen Here?

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Three weeks ago, a day after the railroad accident in East Palestine, residents of Lakewood asked, “Can it happen here?” At the time no one knew the cause. Today we have been told that it was a wheel bearing axle failure. Which means, yes it can happen here. So Deb and I took a field trip to East Palestine to speak with the people and see the layout.

News reports had the train going through Cleveland on the way to East Palestine. Also reports had the bearing failing and the fire starting as much as an hour before the accident, and video of the train on fire 30 minutes before the accident. This puts the accident starting just outside of Cleveland.

After speaking with a guy who has been a railroad electrician for decades, but not on Norfolk and Southern, his thoughts were, “Possibly a failure in a heat box.” Heat boxes are located at random distances of 20-50 miles. They are about the size of a shoebox. They attach to the outside of the rail, measure the heat, and take photos of each wheel, the axle and bearing go over it. If excess heat is detected it sounds an alarm that is sent to the engineer and at the next station they stop the train immediately. He thought only a failure would allow this to happen as the distance was so great. This indicates to me, and the electrician concurs, that bearings and axles are a weak spot for trains. After all, why the expense to monitor? This again underlines the idea that it can happen here.

On Lakewood social media this week, where everyone is an expert, while some residents asked for more oversight and inspections, some actually argued for less. While this smells much like troll farts, all I can ask is, really? Your answer for an accident is less oversight, disband the EPA and the NTSB? Lakewood: too many trolls.
What is not being reported nor cared about by the trolls of Lakewood are the residents of East Palestine, or here. So let’s take a look.: An impoverished county, with a nice but shrinking city, as the young move out. Families that have invested everything in a home, schools, libraries just like Lakewood. Now the homes are worth 10% of what they were a month ago. Living paycheck to paycheck, the evacuation, the troubles, the closures have you three checks behind, and the railroad is offering $1,000 to settle! (This was the actual initial offer.) People lives changed and/or ruined forever. Instead of days at their sons or daughters baseball games, days, weeks, months with lawyers, courts, doctors, and meetings.

Having had the pleasure of working at BP America through many of their accidents, I know first hand, they do and pay as little as they are forced to. In the Gulf of Mexico they offered shrimpers $5,000 for 1 year of not being able to work their waters. Then $10,000 after a couple months. Most had to take it. Those who could afford to wait did so and got settlements in the hundreds of thousands and even millions. But that was the handful that could afford to wait, afford good lawyers, and went to thousands of meetings. I do not see East Palestine or Lakewood in that camp.

As we watch the news on East Palestine, understand the real forces at work there. Realize that these people’s live are ruined or changed forever. They will never be made whole again. Then think what you would do here in Lakewood. Now think of the Lakewood trolls arguing on behalf of the railroad, the chemical companies, and against safety. 

But also realize, there is no safer way to transport large quantities of hazardous chemicals and freight. It is nearly impossible to keep all of it from going through communities. Realize that even with nearly one thousand train “derailments” a year, the chances of it happening here are very low, but not ZERO.

As a community we should demand increased safety and maintenance from the railroads in our town and in other towns. We need the railroads, but they must be safer.
Prayers to those in East Palestine.

While I was talking with a resident about the entire experience, she showed us the rashes that she and her son have on their skin. She mentioned the headaches and the smell. She lives on one of the many streams running through town, all now polluted. I asked about the evacuationnand she said that the first night everyone stayed and watched the fire. The fumes were blowing away from the city. The next day everyone was forced out for the burn and placed in hotels. “Most of us snuck back. We were all afraid the meth-heads and crack-heads would come down into town knowing it was empty. So my fiancé and I took turns sitting in the house with our guns, hoping they didn’t come.” I mention this because Lakewoodites are worried about speeders and drunks. They have no idea what it is like to hide in your house waiting for drug addicted intruders to come and hoping that you can out-gun and out-shoot them.

Jim O'Bryan

Publisher, Lakewood Observer, Inc.

Volume 19, Issue 5, Posted 8:21 PM, 03.01.2023