‘Enough with the politics’: Derailment investigator takes aim at partisan sniping, misinfo

“NTSB’s preliminary report released Thursday showed that the engineer at the controls of the Norfolk Southern train that derailed in Ohio tried to stop the train following a warning about an overheating wheel, but by that time several cars had already come off the tracks.
According to the report, before it derailed, the train passed three detectors intended to alert train crew to physical problems, including overheating wheels. Though the train detectors showed one of the wheels was steadily getting hotter, it did not reach a temperature Norfolk Southern considered critical until it passed the third detector and alerted, as outlined by the National Transportation Safety Board.

When the train passed that last detector, the detector “transmitted a critical audible alarm message instructing the crew to slow and stop the train to inspect a hot axle,” the report said.

By then, the engineer was already trying to slow the train because it was behind another train. Upon hearing the alarm, the engineer increased the application of the brakes, and then automatic emergency brakes initiated, bringing the train to a stop.

When it stopped, the crew “observed fire and smoke and notified the Cleveland East dispatcher of a possible derailment,” the report said.

Thirty-eight cars derailed and 12 more were damaged in the ensuing fire.

The hopper car with the overheating bearing was carrying plastic pellets, which caught fire when the axle overheated, Homendy said.

The placards that designate which cars are carrying hazardous materials — and which she said are “critical in response and in protecting the community,” were also made of plastic and melted. NTSB may recommend a different material for the placards.

The focus of the investigation is on the wheelset and the bearings. They are also looking at the design of the tank cars themselves, the accident response, including the venting and burning of the vinyl chloride, railcar design and maintenance procedures and practices, Norfolk Southern’s use of wayside defect detectors, and Norfolk Southern’s railcar inspection practices.

NTSB plans to hold a rare investigative field hearing near the site in the spring with the goals of informing the public, collecting factual information from witnesses, discussing possible solutions and building consensus for change.”

Better buildings could have saved lives in Turkey’s earthquakes. Are contractors really to blame?

“Turkey sits along two major fault lines, and after a deadly 1999 earthquake, the country passed stricter building codes, but they were not consistently enforced. And that goes beyond builders and contractors cutting corners or using inferior materials. There are also likely inspectors and municipal and state officials who issued permits when they shouldn’t have, or who looked the other way. There are those who lobbied for (and the politicians who backed) amnesty laws for buildings, essentially overriding ordinances in the name of quick construction and profit.
“Earthquakes are a natural phenomenon. Yes, it happens. But the consequences of the earthquake are quite, I would say, governmental and political and administrative,” said Hişyar Özsoy, a deputy chair of the Peoples’ Democratic Party and an opposition member of Parliament representing Diyarbakır, a city near the quake’s devastation.

All of this happened under the rule of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who, along with his Justice and Development Party (AKP), has been in power for about two decades. Erdoğan made a construction boom the centerpiece of Turkey’s economic growth. At the same time, he has consolidated his power over institutions, the press, and the judiciary. This rapid economic growth, happening alongside democratic erosion, created layers of corruption and government mismanagement that allowed contractors to construct the buildings the way that they did.

“This is very much about the entire system that Erdoğan built — not just the politics of it, but also the economies behind it,” said Sebnem Gumuscu, a professor of political science at Middlebury College who has studied democracy and authoritarianism in Turkey. “The entire system is built around these corrupt networks, crony networks, and it is all levels: local level, national level, local branches of the party, local construction, developers — they’re all in this together.””

“Construction was also a source of political power for Erdoğan and the AKP, as major Turkish construction companies enriched themselves with government contracts and cozied up to the regime. That construction boom, which fueled other sectors of the economy, helped make Erdoğan and the AKP popular; that in turn allowed him to bolster his own authority, and helped put AKP into power at all levels of government, including state and municipal offices — often the ones tasked with overseeing permits or enforcing construction codes.

Politicians had incentives to approve things like amnesty laws. People enriched themselves through this ecosystem of cronyism, so there was no incentive to make sure earthquake-safe standards were applied. And the institutions that might hold these players and politicians accountable — the press, the civil service, the courts — were being hollowed out and eroded by Erdoğan’s increasingly authoritarian bent.

So, yes, developers and contractors likely were negligent, constructing buildings with cheap materials or designs that could not withstand a 7.8-magnitude quake. But these shortcuts couldn’t happen without the complicity or encouragement of government institutions, all of which knew the country’s vulnerabilities and pushed ahead anyway.”

Wealthy Connecticut Residents Received Millions in Federal Dollars After Hurricane Sandy

“If wealthy homeowners want to live in places likely to experience severe weather events, they’re free to do so, but it shouldn’t be the federal government’s responsibility to help protect them against the consequences.”

Where Did Puerto Rico’s Disaster Relief Go?

“Billions of dollars were allocated by the federal government to rebuild Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria and recovery efforts are projected to cost U.S. taxpayers another $50 billion, according to Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) estimates. But corruption by FEMA officials in Puerto Rico has slowed down progress dramatically. Back in 2019, FEMA’s deputy regional administrator in charge of Maria recovery was indicted as part of a $1.8 billion bribery scheme involving an Oklahoma-based electric company. Officials on the island were also indicted for allegedly steering $15 million in federal rebuilding contracts to preferred contractors. And the Jones Act shares some of the blame since its restrictions on shipping to U.S. territories like Puerto Rico drive up costs for imported products significantly and delay the arrival of necessary supplies during emergency situations.
Congress has begun to ask questions about how exactly that money has been spent over the last five years.”