I have had a fascination with trains since I can remember. As a small child my parents used to take me to the rail yards after church on Sunday and let me have a gander at all the rail cars and diesel locomotives. Then one of them would board a passenger train with me for a ride to the next town. The other parent would meet us there. It was a Sunday ritual. The things parents do for their kids. Those days are long gone, but my fascination with trains remains. So, when I hear about a rail incident, like the recent one in East Palestine, OH, I want to know all about it. What follows here are the results of my investigations…
Starting with the event, at 8:55 pm EST on 3 February in East Palestine, OH, a Norfolk and Southern (‘NS’ from here on) freight train bound for Conway, Pennsylvania derailed, causing an ‘environmental incident’. Wikipedia has the following entries:
“The derailed train was a Norfolk Southern freight train, which consisted of three locomotives, nine empty cars, and 141 loaded cars. The train was operating from the Terminal Railroad Association of St. Louis yard in Madison, Illinois, to Norfolk Southern’s Conway Yard in Conway, Pennsylvania.
The train was not equipped with electronically controlled pneumatic brakes, which a former Federal Railroad Administration official claimed would have mitigated the severity of the accident. In 2017, Norfolk Southern successfully lobbied the Trump administration to repeal the regulations requiring the use of such brakes on trains carrying hazardous materials.”
We’ll have more on the bolded text in a bit, because it is central to what happened. Continuing with Wikipedia:
“Around 8:55 pm local time on February 3, 2023, approximately 50 cars derailed in East Palestine, a small village near the Ohio–Pennsylvania border with a population of 4,800 residents. Out of the 141 cars on the train, 20 were carrying hazardous materials, with 14 of them carrying vinyl chloride. Other chemicals present included butyl acrylate, ethylhexyl acrylate, ethylene glycol, monobutyl ether, isobutylene, combustible liquids, and benzene residue.”
Lovely stuff. A complete manifest for the cargo was listed in a PDF by the EPA. From the information above we have the basis for the event chart, which is below (bigger):
This chart has ‘disaster’ written all over it. We have the following indicators for that:
- The Sun in partile square to Uranus at the 15th degree of fixed signs
- Neptune in partile conjunction to the Descendant
- The Uranus/Pluto midpoint on the Midheaven
- The comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) directly overhead at the Midheaven and square to Neptune
We will take each of the above bullet points in their turn. But to start, trains are co-ruled by Mercury (transport, logistics), Uranus (technology), Pisces (shipping) and the 3rd house (transit, short journeys). Taking the bullet points in sequence we start with the Sun/Uranus square.
The 15th degree of fixed signs are known ‘disaster degrees’ when eclipses occur on them. The 15th degree of fixed signs semisquare the Aries points (0° of cardinal signs) and are thereby known stress points in the natural zodiac. To have such a close square almost exactly on the 15th degrees of two fixed signs – Aquarius and Taurus in this case – already tells us the possibility for a sudden change in events and that perhaps a disaster is possible. Aquarius is ruled by Uranus, the latter being involved in the square in the powerful sign of Taurus (which also brings in an economic/financial note to the event, covered shortly) and ruling trains as well. The square speaks of an accident waiting to happen.
Neptune conjunct the Descendant brings in several factors – something hidden from view or obscured, fraud especially relative to contracts (7th house), cover-ups (as in keeping secrets), obfuscation, perjury; and then the chemical side, with Neptune ruling liquids of all sorts, chemicals and poisons. The train was loaded with hazardous materials and was not up to spec in terms of maintenance, covered later.
The Uranus/Pluto midpoint was at the Midheaven. That midpoint is associated with accidents as well as revolutions, violence, precipitative action and ‘the mania of destruction’, as Ebertin describes it in his Combination of Stellar Influences. Then we have that midpoint connected with the last bullet point, and a most interesting combination: Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF)=Uranus/Pluto.
Comets have long been associated with disasters and warfare. There is a report in astro.com that describes the effect of comets from our modern perspective. Still, reading that report we see disasters do tend to happen when comets appear, both natural and human. The tendency is for political upsets, deaths and installments of leaders and natural disasters, the character of which will depend upon the sign in which a particular comet appears.
A map of this comet’s visibility shows it started on 7 Jan 2023 and will fade from view at the end of February. What have we seen since the 7 January this year, given the study from astro.com? We have the following events:
- 8 Jan: The storming of the Brazilian National Congress in a failed coup attempt
- 12 Jan: A tornado outbreak in the American Southeast
- 17 Jan: Nguyễn Xuân Phúc resigns as President of Vietnam
- 19 Jan: Jacinda Adhern resigns as Kiwi PM
- 20 Jan: The Parliament of Trinidad and Tobago elects former senate president, minister and lawyer Christine Kangaloo as president of the country in a 48–22 vote
- Chris Hipkins succeeds Jacinda Ardern as Prime Minister of New Zealand
- 27 Jan: Widespread unrest erupts in Israel following an Israeli military raid in Jenin which left nine Palestinians dead
- 30 Jan: A Jamaat-ul-Ahrar suicide bombing inside a mosque in Peshawar, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan, kills at least 101 people and injures over 220 others
- 3 Feb: The start of the balloon-fest in the US, which turned out to be UFOs (satire) and the train derailment being examined here
- 6 Feb: The Turkiye-Syria earthquake
- 8 Feb: Sy Hersh and the bombshell Nord Stream report
- 11 Feb: The Canadians bring their balloons to the American party
- 15 Feb: Nicola Sturgeon suddenly resigns, perhaps due to a potential email scandal and definitely from the fallout from the gender prison incident (gender recognition reforms). Apparently the public is a little less than happy with her. The Scottish independence movement would appear to be dead now as a result.
The comet started its naked-eye visibility for us in the projected longitude of Scorpio through January, for the most part. Hence we see the political intrigue and events during that period. The last two days of January it dipped into Libra. Since the start of February the comet has been transiting through Gemini, astrologically. Hence we see all sorts of events connected with transit and transport as well as the press. The earthquake in Turkiye-Syria disrupted transport of aid to the affected areas in Turkiye. The mainstream press turned a blind eye to the Hersh report and instead tried to distract the public with tales of alien invasion (which didn’t work). Now the Nord Stream saga is starting to divide Europeans, especially in Germany.
Given the preceding, and that the comet’s longitude was at the Uranus/Pluto midpoint, and on the Midheaven as well, this was to be a very public disaster, and with political consequences as we will see. And as it turns out, there have been two other minor derailments since the 3rd of February. America’s rail system appears to be in need of a major overhaul. This brings us to more details about the catastrophe.
The cause of the derailment was what is known as a ‘hot box’ – an overheated bearing and axle contained in a journal box on one of the trucks under the train carriage. There is a video that shows the hot box on that NS train just before the derailment.
There were hot box detectors along the rail line. There was one just before Salem, OH, a larger community in Ohio on the rail line just before East Palestine. Salem is about 20 miles from East Palestine. Those detectors also detect dragging equipment. That hot box detector apparently failed to work or was ignored. A hot box detector further down the line on the other side of Salem detected the hot box and the braking sequence was initiated. That braking sequence in itself raised many questions. So, here we have the gist of the cause of the ‘accident’:
“It looks like a faulty bearing caused a catastrophic derailment. These railroads are turning profits hand over fist. They’ve cut their workforce to bare bones. And now they’re paying the price for it because the wheels are falling off the train basically. Carmen [the workers who inspect the rail cars] were inspecting cars about three minutes per car. That’s always been the industry standard. Now it’s 90 seconds per car…Yes. It’s a rush job right now. These guys are under pressure. I mean, they’re working men and women. And, you know, if they don’t hurry up and get this car done, they’re gonna be fired.”
Bolding added. What we have with this incident is a case of cost-cutting for profits causing a lack of proper inspection and maintenance – financial capitalism at work: maximize profits, minimize costs. And from working in industry in the years after financial capitalism (neoliberal capitalism) became the norm, I can personally testify it is a maintenance man’s nightmare. Just-in-time scheduling means production takes precedence over safety. And this is particularly a problem in the shipping industries, where scheduling is everything.
Continuing from the previous link:
“Rail workers warned us about a disaster like this. I heard firsthand months ago about the corporate practice of Precision Scheduled Railroading [PSR]. Precision Scheduled Railroading is shorter staff, longer hours, longer trains, less safety, less maintenance…A lot of the derailments you’re seeing on national TV, it’s one of the few things. It’s lack of maintenance on the track where they’ve cut the track gangs too short and they can’t get out to fix it. Or they’ve cut the Carmen’s, which is a union that works on the rail cars.”
That testimony is from a railroader with 22 years on the job. The railroad workers tried to strike over PSR, but they were shot down by Congress. Wall Street owns about 75% of NS stock, meaning the hedge fund managers call the shots instead of actual experience or safety concerns. This brings us to the more grisly part of the incident.
When the train derailed we learned the following, from the Railroad Workers United:
“This particular train had 40% of its weight on the rear 1/3 of the train. Most of this tonnage was made up of loaded tank cars which are very heavy and slosh back and forth when coming to a sudden stop. This sloshing after a stop can continue the pushing of more cars off a track in a jackknifing situation which is what occurred in this Ohio wreck.”
Those sloshing tank cars were the very ones carrying the toxic and highly flammable materials (see Wikipedia entries at top of post). The most dangerous cargo was vinyl chloride, which has a boiling point of only 8°F (-13°C) and which is used to make the plastic PVC. So, vinyl chloride from a leaking tank car evaporates immediately into the air. When the train derailed the tanks ruptured on some of those cars, releasing the vinyl chloride into the air and the ground below, flowing also into the river runs and eventually into the Ohio River.
Due to current regulations the train was not listed as having highly hazardous materials. The laws were relaxed due to lobbying from the rail industry:
“Documents show that when current transportation safety rules were first created, a federal agency sided with industry lobbyists and limited regulations governing the transport of hazardous compounds. The decision effectively exempted many trains hauling dangerous materials — including the one in Ohio — from the “high-hazard” classification and its more stringent safety requirements.
Amid the lobbying blitz against stronger transportation safety regulations, Norfolk Southern paid executives millions and spent billions on stock buybacks — all while the company shed thousands of employees despite warnings that understaffing is intensifying safety risks. Norfolk Southern officials also fought off a shareholder initiative that could have required company executives to “assess, review, and mitigate risks of hazardous material transportation.”
Again, this is unregulated capitalism and corruption at work. Dead fish were commonly reported in the runs and the river. Hazardous material from the incident is still reported in the tributaries as of this writing. This happened about an hour’s drive from where some of my relatives live, in the tip of West Virginia, hence also my interest in this disaster.
At the derailment, 50 of the 151 cars derailed and caught fire, releasing a huge black mushroom cloud into the air. It was visible in the cloud cover from planes flying overhead (below).
That cloud brings to mind another environmental disaster associated with the US, but that is another story. Part of the town close to the fire was evacuated. This went on for three days, until the authorities decided they had better do a ‘controlled release/burn-off’, lest the tank cars explode. After three days. Meanwhile, people’s pets and livestock in the region were dying from the released chemicals.
Vinyl chloride is particularly nasty stuff. One of the main products of its combustion is hydrogen chloride. Then there is the byproduct phosgene, which was used as a chemical weapon in WWI. When HCl mixes with moisture in the air it becomes hydrochloric acid. Acid rain was reported miles from the derailment site. Vinyl chloride is also associated with increased risk of liver cancer and other cancers. There is a list of the chemicals found in the air samples taken around the site if you want a bit of relaxing reading. People had been told it is safe to return to their homes from the 9th of February. Yet, people even now complain of headaches and nausea after returning. An ominous black cloud still hangs over the area.
On the 10th the EPA sent an email to NS advising them they were likely liable for damages and cleanup of the site. The enforcement officer gave them a day to respond. Some of the incidents observed were chemicals released into Sulphur Run, Leslie Run, Bull Creek, North Fork, Little Beaver Creek, and the Ohio River. Those also went into storm drains. Five rail cars were intentionally breached (from the EPA email):
“The vinyl chloride was diverted to an excavated trench and then burned off. Areas of contaminated soil and free liquids were observed and potentially covered and/or filled during reconstruction of the rail line including portions of the trench/burn pit that was used for the open burn off of vinyl chloride.”
NS in its generosity initially gave the town $25,000 for putting people up during the evacuation. That amounted to about $5/person. We might expect after the lawsuits have been settled (likely out of court) NS will be paying a little more than a few thousand dollars. NS have since assisted about 1,000 families and business to the tune of $1.2 million. The cleanup of the site will cost them quite a bit more than that.
A reporter was arrested at a news conference soon after the derailment concerning the incident, allegedly for trespassing. He was released a few hours later. The Governor denied knowing anything about the arrest, which was heavy-handed. There was video.
Lawsuits have been filed in federal courts against NS:
“They say the company was negligent, and one thing they want is the company to fund court-supervised medical screenings for serious illnesses that may be caused by exposure to those chemicals.”
“Alan Shaw, the CEO Norfolk Southern, pledged that the railway operator would guarantee the cleanup from the accident, Dewine [Governor of Ohio] said…Norfolk Southern is responsible for this problem”…”We fully expect them to live up to what the CEO committed to me. Is that they will pay for everything.” The NTSB is conducting a safety investigation to determine the probable cause of the derailment, the agency said.”
When it comes to it, the main cause of the derailment was poor maintenance due to cost-cutting. The US Transportation Secretary, one Pete Buttigieg, came under fire, too, with allegations he was asleep at the wheel regarding the incident. He sent a tweet 10 days after the incident. We waited 10 days for a tweet from this ex-Presidential candidate. If he chooses to run again it would be a surprise.
Buttigieg is also accused of passing the buck, blaming the Trump administration for waiving the electronic braking mandate on rail cars. We might wonder how many other bucks have been passed to regulators and members of Congress under the table that have allowed regulations to be this lax. There are now calls for Buttigieg to reinstate rail regulations put in place during the Obama administration. Marco Rubio and JD Vance have sent a letter to Buttigieg demanding answers about the incident.
With US election campaigns starting next year this is one of many incidents that will be rolled out and politicized. Meanwhile, what is being done for the residents of East Palestine? Well, they can drink bottled water, for a start (probably a no-brainer anyway).
A town meeting was held, headed by local officials, where concerned residents voiced their concerns and fears about whether or not it was safe to return. Was East Palestine the place they wanted to be, they wondered? Representatives of NS were supposed to have been in attendance, but bailed at the last minute, citing fears for their employee’s safety – and that was from fears of the toxic atmosphere from the fuming residents of East Palestine.
This derailment has been called an ‘American Chernobyl’. That’s a bit over the top – well, more than a bit – but the fact it has been an environmental disaster will linger in the US for a long time. It will change local politics for a start. The best outcome would be if it serves to reinstate sensible rail regulations, which would mean reining in the rail industry and hedge funds. How long can we hold our breath?
Cynicism aside, at least no one was killed in the derailment or in the containment after – at least, not yet. Who knows what the lingering effects of the chemicals in the soil and water will do over time, if anything? Periodic health exams would be a good start, along with monitoring and environmental checks. And yes, the company should pay for that, perhaps from some of the billions they made from stock buy-backs instead of cutting more costs. Again, how long can we hold our breath?
At least one humorous side was that some residents wanted the authorities in Ohio to rename the town ‘Kyiv’:
“As local residents complain, the authorities do nothing at all to eliminate the consequences, and the American press is simply silent. In Ohio, they are already proposing to rename the affected city to Kyiv and install Ukrainian flags there so that the White House will finally pay attention to this catastrophe.”
Yes, the press has been rather silent on the whole matter, compared to their floating of UFOs and balloons. Returning to the chart after this discussion and rounding out this post, Mercury rules the press. It sits at the Uranus/Neptune midpoint in the event chart: “A peculiar imagination, occupation…with supernatural problems, the investigation or exploration of the unconscious. – A longing for far-distant places, plans without the possibility of realisation, journeys.”
We can probably safely say the American press does have a peculiar imagination these days, and quite aside from this incident. The occupation with supernatural problems (as in UFOs) was evident, and many of the residents of East Palestine probably do long for far-distant places now.
But the indications in the chart regarding this derailment were all there, as described above – poisoning (Neptune), avoidance of responsibility (Neptune at the Descendant), the sudden and unexpected nature of the disaster (Sun/Uranus), and so on.
Meanwhile the residents of East Palestine have to live with the consequences of what happened. With any political will and public pressure at all, the feet of the execs at NS will be held to the fire and they will be made to be responsible and pay up. And to my relatives in West Virginia a mere hour from the event, make sure your environment has been untouched by it. More than that, a financial system that rewards profiteering and tramples over people needs to meet its end. May this event help to return some sanity to American politics and corporate practice.
Featured pic from East Palestine Chamber of Commerce