Abstract

The train derailment that occurred in East Palestine, OH, on February 3, 2023, has been the subject of a lot of national press surrounding the railroad industry, and has focused on the limitations of the detectors currently used in the industry that can often miss bearing burn-offs of this type. While the rail industry made tremendous progress from 1980–2010 in reducing derailments caused by hot bearings, derailment prevention has long since stagnated. Considerable effort has been expended by the AAR, its member railroads, and research institutions to make the most of wayside defect detectors. But, with such little progress over the past decade, it does not appear that this existing technology can provide any further improvement to the overall safety of the rail network. Moreover, the existing practice of running equipment to failure and then relying on both wayside systems to flag the failing bearing AND train crews to respond appropriately before a derailment occurs is an unnecessary risk. Condition-based, or even time-based maintenance practices, can remove problematic bearings from service in a safe and controlled environment, rather than running equipment to failure. Additionally, extensive research has shown that temperature is a last stage indication of a problematic bearing. Other forms of mechanical condition monitoring, such as vibration-based solutions, have been used in industrial practice for decades and form the basis of regular mechanical reliability and maintenance programs across industries and geographies. Unless the rail industry embraces new methods and technologies, such as onboard monitoring of the North American rail fleet, hazardous material derailments like East Palestine will likely occur again and again. The aim of this paper is to provide the necessary context, data, and pertinent information related to this type of derailment that will highlight some historical observations on the use of wayside detector methods, i.e., their inception, their usefulness, their limitations, and the fact that they can no longer move the industry forward in reducing derailments of this type.

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