Drone footage shows the freight train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, U.S., February 6, 2023 in this screengrab obtained from a handout video released by the NTSB.
NTSB Gov | via Reuters
Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw will tell a U.S. Senate panel Thursday how he plans to “make it right” after one of the company’s trains derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, last month.
Shaw will appear at a hearing of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, slated to begin at 10 a.m. ET, to address what committee Democrats called “environmental and public health threats” resulting from the derailment.
According to prepared testimony obtained by NBC News, Shaw will tell the Senate panel he is “deeply sorry for the impact this derailment has had on the people of East Palestine and surrounding communities.”
“We will clean the site safely, thoroughly, and with urgency. We are making progress every day,” Shaw plans to say, according to the written comments.
Shaw will also stress Norfolk Southern’s commitment to financial assistance for affected residents and first responders, amounting to more than $20 million in reimbursements and investments, according to the CEO.
“Norfolk Southern is working around the clock to remediate the remaining issues and monitor for any impact on public health and the environment,” Shaw plans to say. “We continue to listen to the experts and cooperate with state, federal, and local government agencies. We are committed 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 J.D. Vance and Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey, who together introduced the Railway Safety Act of 2023. The bill aims to enhance safety procedures for trains transporting hazardous materials, establish requirements for wayside defect detectors, increase fines for wrongdoing and create a minimum requirement for two-person crews.
Other committees in Congress are also investigating the East Palestine derailment.
At about 9 p.m. local time on Feb. 3, an eastbound Norfolk Southern freight train with 11 tank cars carrying hazardous materials derailed and subsequently ignited. The chemicals included vinyl chloride, a highly flammable carcinogen, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.
No fatalities were reported after the derailment, though residents and officials have raised concerns. Rail union representatives told Biden administration officials at a meeting last week that rail workers have fallen ill in East Palestine during the site cleanup.
The NTSB released a preliminary report on Feb. 23 that pointed to an overheated wheel bearing as a factor in the derailment and fire. At the time, the train was instructed to stop, the bearing’s temperature measured 253 degrees hotter than ambient temperatures, above a threshold of 200 degrees hotter at which point temperatures are considered critical, according Norfolk Southern criteria.
On Saturday, another Norfolk Southern train derailed in Ohio, after which residents near Springfield were ordered to shelter in place. The train was not carrying hazardous materials, and no injuries were reported, though there were power outages in the area.
Hours after that derailment, internal emails obtained by CNBC indicated that Norfolk Southern was making broad safety adjustments to prevent future incidents. A company spokesman told CNBC the train carrier is now mandating trains over 10,000 feet long use distributed power, such that trains are powered from several locations across their length.
The Norfolk Southern incidents have spurred wide-sweeping reviews by government agencies. On Tuesday, the NTSB said it had opened a special investigation into the company’s organization and safety culture following the derailments. Separately, the Federal Railroad Administration announced it would conduct a 60-day supplement safety assessment of the company.
In a press briefing on Tuesday, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., condemned Norfolk Southern for spending “years pushing the federal government to ignore safety recommendations,” as well as launching a $20 billion stock buyback program and laying off thousands of workers, instead of upgrading safety equipment.
On Wednesday, Norfolk Southern announced it will create a new regional training center in Ohio for first responders, as well as expand its Operation Awareness and Response program, which educates first responders on safely responding to rail incidents. Training classes will begin on March 22 at Norfolk Southern’s Bellevue, Ohio, yard.
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