U.S. NewsDERAILED: Disaster in East Palestine


Norfolk Southern CEO issues apology before Senate questioning

CEO Alan Shaw was among the officials questioned by senators Thursday, nearly five weeks after the derailment in a small Ohio town.
Posted at 7:02 AM, Mar 09, 2023

Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw was among those questioned by a Senate panel Thursday as a bipartisan group of senators pitch rail safety legislation. 

The questioning came over a month following a train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, that prompted the town near the Pennsylvania border to evacuate as toxic chemicals were released in hopes of preventing an explosion. The result was a plume of smoke traveling miles into the sky, prompting environmental concerns. 

Shaw apologized to the community for the incident.

"I want to state again how deeply sorry we are for the impact of this derailment on East Palestine, surrounding communities and all of the people who have been affected," Shaw said in prepared remarks. "We are making progress in the recovery and know our work is not yet done. On behalf of the more than 19,700 hard-working employees of Norfolk Southern, I pledge that we won't be finished until we make it right."

The U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works welcomed testimony from three of the region’s senators: Ohio Sens. Sherrod Brown and J.D. Vance, and Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey. Shaw appeared, along with EPA regional administration 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 of hazardous materials response Eric Brewer. 

The hearing comes days after Norfolk Southern released a six-point safety plan in response to the derailment. The plan was based on the National Transportation Safety Board's initial findings,Norfolk Southern said. The company also had to respond to a derailment on Saturday in Springfield, Ohio, which temporarily prompted a “shelter-in-place” order for nearby residents. 

A Norfolk Southern freight train waits to pass through East Palenstine, Pa., Thursday, Feb. 9, 2023, where cleanup continues

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"The NTSB's preliminary report released last month reflected that the Norfolk Southern crew was operating the train within our protocols and below the speed limit," Shaw said in prepared remarks. "The sensors in place to identify overheated axles operated properly, and the crew took the appropriate action when they received the alert. 

"We currently spend $1 billion a year on technologies, equipment, and infrastructure to enhance safety. But the safety mechanisms in place did not prevent this accident, so we are focused on learning from this incident and working with industry to make changes."

Meanwhile, lawmakers are drafting their own proposals that would bolster safety requirements. 

One of the proposals in the legislation would require rail carriers to provide advance notification and information to state emergency response officials about what they are transporting, the senators said. It would also require trains carrying hazardous materials to be scanned by hotbox detectors every 10 miles. It would also mandate wayside detectors. 

An interim report by the NTSB indicated that a hotbox detector found the train’s bearing temperature was 253 degrees above the ambient temperature. Anything above 200 degrees is considered critical.