EAST PALESTINE, Ohio (WKBN) – As officials continue to try to lower the risks from a train derailment and fire in East Palestine, there are still questions as to what caused it. 

In a press conference Sunday, the National Transportation Safety Board shared what it believes to be the cause.

“We have obtained two videos which show preliminary indications of mechanical issues on one of the railcar axles,” said National Transportation Safety Board member Michael Graham.

This is known as a hot box, which is a term used for when a wheel bearing overheats on a railcar. In this case, the overheating led to a fire which then led to the derailment. 

Former State Rep Bob Hagan retired in 2021 after 50 years in the railroad industry. He says there are hot box detectors that alert conductors to stop the train.

“We have, now, technology that can interpret any time a wheel is hot through that, and it would go via the radio where the engineer would be running the train, the conductor of course would be sitting next to them,” Hagan said.

Graham says the train did drive through one of these detectors shortly before the derailment.

“The crew did receive a wayside defect detector, shortly before the derailment indicating a mechanical issue. Then an emergency brake application was initiated,” Graham said.

However, the train was not able to stop in time. In a viewer video, you can see a wheel on fire as the train was still moving, just moments before it derailed.

Hagan says in his 50 years on the job, he only got about 10 hot box alerts in which he had to stop a train. He believes cutbacks on railroad jobs are partially to blame for situations like we’re seeing now in East Palestine.

“When I was working on the railroad, you would have 100 cars which would be about one mile, they’ve doubled those up, sometimes tripled those up. So now you have trains that are three miles long that are impossible to look out the back window when you’re going around a curve to see if anything is on fire,” Hagan said.

During the presser, Graham said the train was carrying 141 load cars, nine empty cars and three locomotives, which are used to pull the train.

NTSB is asking anyone with pictures or videos of the derailment to send them to witness@ntsb.gov.