Photo courtesy of Marc Levy / AP Photo
Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw made his second appearance before the United States Senate Wednesday to answer questions about the company’s safety records following the train derailment in East Palestine last month.
Ohio senators Sherrod Brown (D) and J.D. Vance (R) co-introduced a bi-partisan rail safety bill that would increase safety violation fines, require two individuals on board, strengthen requirements and emergency plans for trains carrying hazardous materials, and improve training and communication with first responders.
In written testimony, Shaw said the railway company could back elements of the safety legislation, including establishing performance standards, maintenance standards and thresholds for safety sensors. However, he remained silent on the most important part: Trains should operate with at least two crew members.
U.S. President Joe Biden’s Administration, and unions, argue that this is a crucial safety step. But the industry wants to experiment with other approaches and not have a standard locked into federal law.
Shaw dodged two specific questions from Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.): Why was the railroad’s accident rate up over the last decade? And which parts of the proposed railroad safety legislation did he not support?
Shaw instead reiterated which parts of a bill he would support.
“I’ll just put it in writing,” Klobuchar said.
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said Norfolk Southern had 579 violations in a single year and averaged a fine of less than $3,300.
“You heard that right — not $30 million. Not $3 million. Just over $3,000,” he said in opening remarks.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said last month that he wants Congress to raise the cap on fines for railroad safety breaches to deter huge companies that dominate the industry. The current maximum fine is $225,455, according to federal rules.
Cleanup of the toxic derailment site in East Palestine, Ohio could take up to three more months, according to the head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
EPA Administrator Michael Regan said 6.8 million gallons of liquid waste and over 5,400 tons of solid waste have been transported out, with more to come.
About half of the contaminated soil from under the tracks was excavated, including the entire south track, Regan told CNN. He said the north track excavation should be done early next month.
Norfolk Southern is handling and paying for all necessary cleanup. However, they have been sending hazardous waste out of state, fueling more concerns about safety.
Though there has been some progress in cleanup, according to Regan, he said Norfolk Southern could be moving faster to remove contaminated soil from East Palestine.
In a statement, Norfolk Southern said it shares “the EPA’s urgency to complete the remediation safely and thoroughly,” at the derailment site.
Norfolk Southern Corp shareholders have accused Norfolk Southern of illegally obtaining money from prioritizing profit over safety prior to last month’s derailment of a train that released toxic chemicals into the air, water and soil in East Palestine, Ohio.
In a lawsuit filed in Columbus, Ohio on March 16, shareholders claim Norfolk Southern downplayed the risks of using “Precision Scheduled Railroading.” This requires longer and heavier trains that need fewer workers.
Shareholders said Norfolk Southern cultivated a culture of increased risk-taking, making the railroad more susceptible to derailments. This makes public statements about the safety of its operations seem false or misleading, according to those involved in the lawsuit.
Pennsylvania’s Bucks County Employees Retirement System seeks damages for shareholders between Oct. 28, 2020, and March 3, 2023, according to Reuters.
The Rocket is committed to bringing you the latest updates on Norfolk Southern Railway Company. We have covered the Ohio train derailments and the Slippery Rock class-action lawsuit. The Rocket will follow the Norfolk Southern lawsuit and other happenings as they develop.