Even the WaPo scuttles 'Trump's fault' Ohio train derailment narrative
Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler wrote that former President Donald Trump is not responsible for the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio.
On Feb. 3, 2023, a Norfolk Southern train derailed in East Palestine. About 38 cars derailed, and a fire ensued, damaging 12. Several of them carried vinyl chloride, a hazardous chemical shown to cause liver cancer.
The Biden administration's response to the incident has received criticism after transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg took weeks to visit East Palestine. President Joe Biden has yet to go.
White House deputy press secretary Andrew Bates blamed Trump for the train derailment.
"Congressional Republicans and former Trump Administration officials owe East Palestine an apology for selling them out to rail industry lobbyists when they dismantled Obama-Biden rail safety protections as well as EPA powers to rapidly contain spills," he told USA Today.
On ABC's "The View," host Joy Behar blamed Trump voters for the incident.
"I don't know why they would ever vote for him, for somebody who, by the way, he placed someone with deep ties to the chemical industry in charge of the EPA's chemical safety office. That's who you voted for in that district. Donald Trump, who reduces all safety," she said.
In his analysis, Kessler wrote that the regulatory changes made during the Trump presidency are not responsible for the train derailment in East Palestine.
"From our analysis, none of the regulatory changes made during the Trump administration at this point can be cited as contributing to the accident," Kessler wrote.
Kessler noted that in 2017, the Trump administration repealed an Obama-era policy that would have required electronically controlled pneumatic (ECP) brakes on long trains. The Biden administration has made no effort to reinstate the policy. The train that derailed in East Palestine did not have ECP brakes.
Therefore, according to Kessler, the policy's repeal in 2017 had a "minimal" impact on the incident.
Kessler determined that by the time the train's crew activated its emergency braking system, the train had already derailed.
National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) chair Jennifer Homendy also dismissed claims that Trump was responsible, explaining that ECP brakes would not have prevented the derailment.
This means even if the rule had gone into effect, this train wouldn't have had ECP brakes.— Jennifer Homendy (@JenniferHomendy) February 17, 2023
Kessler also cited a 2020 Trump rule that extended the time a freight train could park with its air brake system depressurized before requiring a new brake inspection. He concluded that the rule's implication in the accident was "unclear," writing that there "is no determination yet that the braking system played a role in the accident."
Regarding the number of crew present, the Trump administration withdrew a proposal in 2019 that required two crew members on all trains. Kessler noted that the derailed train had two crew members and a trainee on board.
Kessler analyzed other Trump-era reversals like minimum rail safety requirements, recurring safety audits, and deregulation of ethylene oxide, finding that Trump's decisions minimally impacted or had no impact on the East Palestine train derailment.
Image: Gage Skidmore via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0.