Drone footage shows the freight train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, on Feb. 6, 2023 in this screenshot taken from handout video released by the NTSB.
NTSB Government | via Reuters
Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw will tell a US Senate panel on Thursday how he plans to “get it right” after one of the company’s trains derailed in eastern Palestine, Ohio, last month.
Shaw will appear at a hearing by the US Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works, scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. ET, to speak about the committee’s Democrats called “Threats to the environment and public health” arising from the derailment.
According to prepared testimony from NBC News, Shaw will tell the Senate panel that he is “deeply sorry for the impact this gaffe has had on the people of East Palestine and the surrounding communities.”
“We will clean the site safely, thoroughly and urgently. We’re making progress every day,” Shaw said, according to the written comments.
Shaw will also highlight Norfolk Southern’s commitment to providing financial assistance to affected residents and first responders, which the CEO says totals more than $20 million in reimbursements and investments.
“Norfolk Southern is working around the clock to address the remaining issues and monitor public health and environmental impacts,” Shaw plans to say. “We continue to listen to the experts and work with state, federal and local government agencies. We commit to this monitoring for as long as necessary.”
Shaw will appear alongside Environmental Protection Agency Regional Administrator Debra Shore, Ohio EPA Director Anne Vogel, Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission Executive Director Richard Harrison and Beaver County Department of Emergency Services Director Eric Brewer .
The committee will also hear from Ohio Sens. Sherrod Brown and JD Vance and Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey, who jointly introduced the Railway Safety Act of 2023. The bill aims to improve safety procedures for trains carrying hazardous materials and establish requirements for trackside fault detectors, increase fines for misconduct and create a minimum requirement for two-person crews.
Other committees in Congress are also investigating the East Palestine derailment.
At approximately 9:00 p.m. local time on February 3, an eastbound Norfolk Southern freight train carrying 11 tank cars carrying hazardous materials derailed and subsequently derailed. The chemicals contained vinyl chloride, a highly flammable carcinogen, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.
No fatalities were reported after the derailment, although concerns have been raised by local residents and officials. Railroad union officials told Biden administration officials at a meeting last week that railroad workers in eastern Palestine had fallen ill while the site was being cleaned up.
The NTSB released a preliminary report on February 23 that pointed to an overheated wheel bearing as a factor in the derailment and fire. At the time the train was ordered to stop, the temperature of the warehouse was measured 253 degrees higher than ambient temperature, above a threshold of 200 degrees hotter at which temperatures are considered critical under Norfolk Southern criteria.
On Saturday, another Norfolk-Southern train derailed in Ohio, prompting residents near Springfield to take shelter at the spot. The train carried no hazardous materials and no injuries were reported, although there were power outages in the area.
Hours after this gaffe, internal emails from CNBC showed that Norfolk Southern was making extensive security adjustments to prevent future incidents. A company spokesman told CNBC that the train operator is now requiring trains longer than 10,000 feet to use distributed power, so the trains are powered from multiple points along their length.
The Norfolk Southern incidents have prompted widespread scrutiny by government agencies. On Tuesday, the NTSB said it had launched a special investigation into the company’s organization and safety culture following the derailments. Separately, the Federal Railroad Administration announced that it would be conducting a 60-day additional safety assessment of the company.
In a Tuesday news conference, Sen. Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., condemned Norfolk Southern for “spent years urging the federal government to ignore safety recommendations,” launching a $20 billion stock buyback program and thousands of workers to be laid off instead of upgrading safety equipment.
On Wednesday, Norfolk Southern announced that it will establish a new regional first responder training center in Ohio and expand its Operation Awareness and Response program, which trains first responders to safely respond to railroad accidents. Training courses begin March 22 at Norfolk Southern’s Bellevue, Ohio shipyard.