Schumer: Expand Norfolk Southern Investigation to Other Railroads

March 15, 2023

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has asked the National Transportation Safety Board to expand its investigation into Norfolk Southern to include other major railroads.

In his letter to the NTSB, Schumer told agency chair Jennifer Homendy that its investigation should include all Class I freight railroads—those that have the largest operating revenues in the U.S.

Those railroads include BNSF Railway, CSX, Union Pacific, Canadian National, Canadian Pacific and Kansas City Southern. The latter two, Canadian Pacific and Kansas City Southern, are in the middle of a $31 billion merger that’s just been approved by federal regulators.

“[D]ue to a troubling and fatal combination of: dangerous deregulations implemented; over 26,500 accidents and incidents in the rail industry in the past 5 years; and the over 30,000 employees cut—roughly 20% of its workforce—in the past five years, it is jarringly evident that the freight rail industry is in desperate need of a full and comprehensive investigation,” Schumer said in his letter.

On February 3, a Norfolk Southern train derailment in East Palestine, OH sparked a fire and a miles-wide toxic chemical spill. This Tuesday Ohio’s Attorney General sued Norfolk Southern over the disaster, saying it was “entirely unavoidable.”

The NTSB’s preliminary inspection in late February concluded that there “appeared to be a wheel bearing in the final stage of overheat failure moments before the derailment,” forcing the train to stop automatically.

Hundreds of East Palestine townspeople were forced out of their homes when the train derailed, and Norfolk Southern was forced to vent and burn carcinogenic chemicals from crashed rail cars to prevent an explosion.

According Ohio’s Attorney General, the 38 cars that derailed were carrying one million gallons of hazardous chemicals, all of which are toxic to humans and the environment.

In his letter Schumer said, “As we have seen firsthand, the freight rail industry has time and time again dangerously played fast and loose with the regulations while endangering millions of Americans throughout the country.”

The Senator added that the NTSB should consider how deregulatory pushes have contributed to derailments and deaths and to what extent are companies following or ignoring safety protocols for their workers.

He also stressed that the East Palestine derailment was not the only dangerous incident for Norfolk Southern, noting that two other accidents have occurred since February 3 just inside the state of Ohio.

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