Another Norfolk Southern train derails as CEO apologizes before Congress for Ohio toxic crash

Another Norfolk Southern train derails as CEO apologizes before Congress for Ohio toxic crash

Norfolk Southern’s CEO apologised for the Ohio toxic train derailment before Congress on Thursday just hours after another of the company’s trains came off the tracks in Alabama.

Approximately 30 train cars derailed around 6.45am in Calhoun County, according to a local emergency management agency statement. No injuries or leaks of hazard materials were reported. “There is NO danger to the public,” said a statement. It’s the third incident involving Norfolk Southern trains in the past week.

At 10am, Alan Shaw testified before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee about the chemical-spewing disaster which occured in East Palestine on 3 February.

“I am deeply sorry for the impact this derailment has had on the people of East Palestine and surrounding communities, and I am determined to make it right,” Mr Shaw said.

He said that the company would pay in full for the clean-up and ongoing harm caused. “Norfolk Southern will get the job done and help East Palestine thrive,” he said.

The Senate hearing focused on the ongoing environmental clean-up from the incident, and what safety measures would be needed to prevent a future disaster.

There were no injuries from the 38-car derailment but hazardous materials seeped into the soil and waters. Due to concern over a potential explosion of flammable liquids, a controlled burn of toxic vinyl chloride was carried out, sending black clouds billowing across the region.

Residents subsequently reported health issues including coughing, fatigue, and skin irritation, saying they are extremely concerned about the long-term effects on health and the environment.

Sherrod Brown, Ohio’s Democratic senator, described East Palestine as “the kind of community that’s so often forgotten or exploited by corporate America”.

He continued: “Now, these Ohioans are worried about whether their water is safe to drink, the air is safe to breathe, whether their kids will get sick, whether their crops are contaminated, whether they’ll still be able to do business and attract investment.”

Air and water monitoring has been in place since the accident, Mr Shaw told the congressional hearing. “It consistently indicated that the air is safe to breathe and the water is safe to drink,” he said.

Norfolk Southern has committed $20 million to East Palestine but that is expected to increase, particularly with civil lawsuits being filed against the company.

Some lawmakers also had criticism for how the Biden administration handled the disaster. Republican Senator Shelley Moore Capito said in her opening statement that the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) took too long to adequately respond.

She said that by simply pointing people to“fact sheets and press releases” on the EPA site had allowed misinformation to flood into the vacuum.

The Norfolk Southern freight train which derailed 3 February in East Palestine, Ohio (Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)
The Norfolk Southern freight train which derailed 3 February in East Palestine, Ohio (Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Mr Shaw, who highlighted that he had taken over the leadership role ten months ago, said that Norfolk Southern was fully cooperating with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation into the cause of the derailment.

The NTSB is investigating a total of five significant accidents involving Norfolk Southern since December 2021.

The preliminary report found that the Norfolk Southern crew was operating the train below the speed limit and in an approved manner, he said.

“Yet it is clear the safety mechanisms in place were not enough,” he added. Mr Shaw said that he was instructing his team to look at steps to improve safety “immediately”.

“The events of the last month are not who we are as a company,” he added.

Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon noted that there had been 100 train derailments in the US since 2015 but slow progress on lawmakers’ attempts to make the industry safer.

The East Palestine derailment is just one of several serious train safety incidents involving Norfolk Southern in recent weeks.

A Norfolk Southern employee has been killed after a dump truck collided with a train on Tuesday morning in Cleveland, Ohio. Last Saturday, a Norfolk Southern train derailed at a crossing in Clark County, Ohio, leading multiple cars to come off the tracks.

Norfolk Southern, whose profits topping $3bn in 2022, has thrown millions of dollars into lobbying against federal regulations on railroad safety in recent years.

But lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have taken up the issue putting forward a new piece of legislation to improve rail safety.

It would require more detectors to be installed to check the temperature of wheel bearings more frequently, make sure railroads notify states about the hazardous materials they are transporting, and fund hazmat training for first responders, The Associated Press reported.

Ohio’s Republican Senator JD Vance lambasted fellow Republicans who have dismissed the bill, during his remarks on at Tuesday’s hearing.

“We have a choice: Are we for big business and big government, or are we for the people of East Palestine?” Senator Vance said.