Reported by Marybeth Luczak for Railway Age.
Six months after the Norfolk Southern (NS) train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, NS President and CEO Alan Shaw wrote an open letter reflecting on the Class I’s “ongoing progress, support and commitment to making things right.”
Railway Age reproduces the complete Aug. 3 letter below:
“How can we help? It’s a question my Norfolk Southern colleagues and I have been asking for the past six months.
“How can we help East Palestine?
“How can we help Darlington Township?
“How can we help the communities impacted by February’s train derailment?
“We promised to make things right for you and your neighbors, and we’ve made a lot of progress. Our work isn’t over, which is why we will keep asking you how we can make things right. I’ve been to the area almost every week, talking with folks about ideas and concerns, and checking on our progress. More than 300 of my Norfolk Southern colleagues and our contractors are doing the same thing because we promised to help your communities recover and thrive, and we’re a company that keeps its promises.
“Many of you told me you wanted the soil replaced underneath our tracks at the derailment site, and we listened. We promised to clean the site safely, thoroughly, and with urgency. We’re doing that, coordinating with local, state, and federal agencies every step of the way.
“I know there have been concerns about environmental safety and we take that seriously. Environmental monitoring continues to show the air and drinking water are safe, and to provide an additional level of assurance, we’re working closely with all relevant stakeholders on a medical compensation fund.
“We promised we would help people whose lives were disrupted by the derailment. We’re continuing to do that. Our Family Assistance Center has helped more than 10,400 families. We’re also developing an assistance plan for home sellers if their property loses value because of the derailment. Getting this and other funds right is an important part of keeping our promises.
“I’ve had conversations with you about how we can support the long-term economic vitality of communities in the area. Based on your feedback, we’re doing that, with forward-thinking investments including revitalizing East Palestine City Park, a recent donation to the Pittsburgh Foundation, and many other contributions large and small. Our, and many other contributions large and small. financial assistance and commitments to date total more than $64 million, with more to come.
“We promised to learn from what happened and make a safe railroad even safer. We’re doing that, too. I’ve asked all 20,000 of my Norfolk Southern colleagues to speak up about ways we can enhance our safety culture. Through July, accidents on our mainline are trending down 40% from last year. We went outside the railroad industry and brought in an independent consultant headed by a retired admiral from the Nuclear Navy—the gold standard in safety. We’re partnering with labor unions that represent our front-line railroaders, and I’m advocating for federal legislative provisions to enhance safety for the entire rail industry.
“Our work isn’t finished. We’re staying in East Palestine as long as it takes, and we just bought property for a new Norfolk Southern office in the village. The next time you see a Norfolk Southern railroader, I hope you’ll say hello. I hope you’ll let us know what else we can do to help. We count on your honest feedback, because we know supporting a community means listening to the people who call it home. We will continue to listen, and we will continue our work to help this community recover and thrive.
“We’re in it for the long haul. We will see this through.”
Meanwhile, the Transportation Trades Department (TTD) of the AFL-CIO on Aug. 3 released a statement, noting that “[o]n this somber occasion, rail labor unions once again renew our calls for safety reforms.”
The union said that it has “welcomed several rail safety actions from the Department of Transportation and the Federal Railroad Administration during these last six months. Still, more must be done. Congress must pass a comprehensive rail safety bill that addresses the issues rooted in the industry’s current operating practices.”
“To the people of East Palestine: we have not forgotten you,” the union concluded. “We see you. We stand with you. We fight with you. Solidarity forever.”
Read more here.