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Norfolk Southern discovers issue with wheel sets

Updated with statement from National Steel Car

Norfolk Southern has alerted the broader rail industry of a potential issue involving a specific model and series of rail cars, and that alert has led to a call to remove those rail cars from service until the wheel sets in question can be replaced.

NS (NYSE: NSC) said late Thursday that the specific model had loose wheels. The railroad said it has alerted the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Railroad Administration about its findings, and NS is inspecting other cars from this series on its network.

“Upon identifying additional cases of unusual wheel movement, we acted swiftly. We issued orders to remove these cars from service until their wheelsets could be replaced, and we have taken steps to remove this specific model and series from service until they can be fully inspected,” NS said. “We also notified the manufacturer and worked urgently to inform the rest of the railroad industry, as Norfolk Southern is not the only user of these cars. As a result, the Association of American Railroads issued an advisory to halt the use of these cars. Norfolk Southern will continue to investigate this matter and take appropriate action.”

NS’ alert did not name the rail car model with the loose wheels, nor the rail car manufacturer.

In AAR’s safety advisory issued Thursday, the group noted that a member railroad had discovered three loose wheels in this car series, which was also a series of newbuilds. These wheel sets were mounted by National Steel Car of Ontario between August 2022 and March 2023, and these wheel sets “are at an increased risk of an out of gage derailment.”

AAR urged companies to remove the wheel sets “immediately” and replace them with new wheel sets. 

“Two days ago now, Norfolk Southern identified loose wheels on a series of steel coil cars that presents an increased risk of an out of gage derailment. Yesterday, AAR through its committee structure took expeditious action and has issued an advisory to stop cars with these wheels from use and interchange until those wheel sets can be replaced,” AAR told FreightWaves. “This is an uncommon defect to see in a wheelset that demanded urgent action. This is a voluntary, proactive step aimed at ensuring equipment health and integrity.”

NS’ findings on the wheel sets could be related to the derailment last weekend of an NS train in Springfield, Ohio, according to a Friday statement from National Steel Car. 

“National Steel Car is cooperating fully with Norfolk Southern Railroad and the AAR, who have contacted us regarding their investigation,” National Steel Car said. “We have provided the initial records requested by Norfolk Southern and the AAR, with respect to three wheelpairs, on the two railcars of concern that were in the train consist that derailed.

“To our knowledge, no conclusions have been reached at this time as to any cause of the March 5, 2023 Norfolk Southern derailment. We await the findings of the NTSB investigation and will continue to cooperate fully.”

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Click here for more FreightWaves articles by Joanna Marsh.