Reported by Trains.
Six months after the disastrous hazardous materials derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw has penned a letter to area residents outlining the railroad’s ongoing commitment to the community and to improving its safety culture.
“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,” Shaw wrote.
The railroad continues to clean the derailment site, where ongoing environmental monitoring shows that air and drinking water are safe. Some residents, however, continue to report health problems in the wake of the wreck that spilled and burned toxic chemicals.
“To provide an additional level of assurance,” Shaw wrote, “we are working closely with all relevant stakeholders on a medical compensation fund.”
The railroad has provided financial assistance to more 10,400 families whose lives were affected by the derailment. “We’re also developing an assistance plan for home sellers if their property loses value because of the derailment,” Shaw wrote. “Getting this and other funds right is an important part of keeping our promise.”
NS also has contributed more than $64 million in financial assistance and commitments to date, including economic revitalization efforts and community improvements in East Palestine and neighboring Pennsylvania.
Through July, NS main line accidents are down 40% from last year, Shaw says, and management and labor are collaborating on ways to improve safety. The railroad also has hired a safety consultant.
“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,” Shaw wrote. “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.”
The Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO today renewed its calls for safety reforms.
“On this somber occasion, rail labor unions once again renew our calls for safety reforms. For years, workers have sounded the alarm about deadly safety conditions in the freight rail industry. The industry’s safety failures contribute to more than 1,000 freight train derailments a year,” the union said. “There have been more than 60 high-profile derailments since East Palestine, including multiple in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Montana. Through it all, freight rail companies have maintained their fundamental disregard for public safety. Safety is just a buzzword to the railroads.”
The union urged Congress to pass a comprehensive rail safety bill. Measures filed after the East Palestine wreck are currently stalled on Capitol Hill.
The East Palestine derailment, which the National Transportation Safety Board suspects was caused by the catastrophic failure of a wheel bearing, has put the railroad industry in general and NS in particular under intense scrutiny.
To date, the response to the derailment has cost NS more than $800 million plus around $200 million in lost revenue due to service disruptions that followed the East Palestine wreck. The cost tally, revealed last week during the railroad’s quarterly earnings call, does not include the potential for recoveries from insurance claims or legal action NS has taken.
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