Norfolk Southern CEO Testifies Before Senate

March 9, 2023

The CEO of Norfolk Southern, the company whose train derailed February 3 in East Palestine, Ohio sparking a fire and a miles-wide toxic chemical spill, testified before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on Thursday.

Alan Shaw told the committee that he is “deeply sorry” for the derailment’s impact upon the East Palestine community. He added that Norfolk Southern has made $20 million in assistance available to the families and first responders affected by the toxic chemicals that were released amid the disaster. 

“I am going to see this through. There are no strings attached to our assistance,” Shaw said, adding, “I pledge that we won’t be finished until we make it right.”

The train’s 38 cars that derailed were carrying substances that included vinyl chloride, butyl acrylate, ethylene glycol monobutyl ether, ethylhexyl acrylate and isobutylene, all of which are toxic to humans and the environment.

Nevertheless, EPA officials have sought to reassure the people of East Palestine and surrounding communities that the water is safe and the air quality is normal.

The Senate panel also heard from three Senators—Ohio’s Sherrod Brown (D) and J.D. Vance (R) along with Pennsylvania’s Bob Casey (D). 

The Senators were among a group that introduced a bill on March 1 aimed at strengthening rail safety following the East Palestine disaster.

The proposed legislation calls for “new safety requirements and procedures for trains carrying hazardous materials like vinyl chloride,” as well as a mandate that railways give advance notice to state emergency response officials about what their trains are carrying. The bill also includes requirements to prevent blocked railway crossings and new rules for train size and weight.

President Biden has endorsed the new legislation and has urged Congress to pass it swiftly. Sen. Vance told reporters outside the rail safety hearing that he believes the bill can pass the Senate, but he was less sure about its survival in the House.

“There is nothing about the conservative worldview or our principles that requires us to take a knee to a massive corporation that’s in bed with the government that gets special privileges with the government and is refusing to do its job,” said Vance.

The National Transportation Safety Board this week opened its own special investigation into Norfolk Southern. That followed a preliminary report by the NTSB that found a wheel bearing overheated, causing an automatic stop, just before the February 3 derailment.

Mere hours before CEO Shaw testified before the Senate, a Norfolk Southern train derailed in Alabama. There were no injuries or hazardous leaks involved in this incident; however, it was reportedly the fourth derailment of a Norfolk Southern train in just over a month.

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