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National Steel Car says it didn’t cause derailment

Wheel sets manufactured by Hamilton, Ontario-headquartered National Steel Car are safe to use and weren’t a contributing factor in the March 4 derailment of a Norfolk Southern train in Springfield, Ohio, according to the company.

The statement Friday by National Steel Car follows a March advisory from the Association of American Railroads (AAR), which had cautioned rail car owners against using a specific model and series of rail cars because of concerns about loose wheels in this series. The wheel sets had been mounted by National Steel Car between August 2022 and March 2023. 

AAR’s advisory in turn was in response to claims by NS (NYSE: NSC) that it had experienced cases of unusual wheel movement in this series of rail cars.

National Steel Car said it didn’t agree with AAR’s advisory and NS’ “false claim that loose wheels … were an immediate safety concern.” But it said to ensure safe railroad operations, the company worked with AAR, NS, the National Transportation Safety Board, the Federal Railroad Administration and derailment investigation experts to collect and review data on the wheel sets.

National Steel Car determined that all of the 2,700 wheel sets applied to the 675 cars in the series complied with AAR’s wheel-mounting requirements.

“The report of loose wheels was misleading,” National Steel Car Chairman and CEO Gregory J. Aziz said in the Friday release. “Through the use of laser scan data, the three wheels which moved on their axles were proven to be a direct result of an enormous impact being applied to the wheel sets during the Springfield OH derailment.”

The company also pointed to FRA’s April 7 safety advisory, which mentioned the Springfield derailment as one of the derailments in which FRA had concerns about train makeup and its role in derailments. FRA’s advisory didn’t mention wheel sets in its description of the Springfield derailment.

National Steel Car said that AAR confirmed that it had canceled its advisory on the wheel sets on April 10.

In response to National Steel Car’s release, an AAR spokesperson told FreightWaves it had “acted based on the information available, including from the NTSB. We stand by that decision and will continue to evaluate all such factors on the network.”

National Steel Car’s statement comes as the broader rail industry and federal regulators are grappling with how to bolster rail safety, including the question of whether more regulation is warranted. The Feb. 3 derailment of an NS train in East Palestine, Ohio, catapulted the issue of rail safety into national headlines.

“We are very pleased indeed that the cancellation of AAR [advisory] EI-0033 completely exonerates National, in all respects, regarding this derailment. Additionally, National stands ready to assist Norfolk Southern Railroad in any way that we can,” Aziz said.

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Click here for more FreightWaves articles by Joanna Marsh.