The CEO of Norfolk Southern has reiterated his apology for the derailment of rail cars carrying hazardous chemicals in East Palestine, Ohio — but he’s resisting proposals to mandating train crews of at least two.
Chief Executive Alan Shaw testified Tuesday before the Ohio Senate Railroad Safety Committee, facing wide-ranging questions about the derailment and ensuing controlled chemical burn that rocked the small village in February.
I deeply regret the impact this derailment has had on people in the area. Xu told the committee: I am determined to make it right. “We are making progress every day as we clean the site safely, thoroughly, and expeditiously.”
Shaw said Norfolk Southern has committed more than $30 million to support East Palestine residents, first responders and community organizations, including $13 million to support more than 7,600 families.
However, the company is also facing a lawsuit from Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost over costs of cleaning up a toxic chemical spill and environmental damage.
Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw, right, testifies before the Ohio Senate Railroad Safety Committee Tuesday at the State House in Columbus, Ohio
The federal government also sued the railroad for environmental damages from the derailment on February 3.
Shaw said he supports federal efforts to strengthen rail safety legislation, which is being led by Ohio’s US senators and representatives.
These measures include provisions for increased oversight of railway inspection, increased investment in road detectors and stricter standards for tank cars.
However, when pressed to mandate a two-person crew for all trains, Shaw argued that there was no data to support that a two-person crew helps prevent derailment.
We rely on data, and we will follow science. And at this point, I haven’t seen any data that provides a direct link between crew size and derailments,” he told the Ohio commission.
The train that derailed in eastern Palestine was carrying three crew members, including a trainee.
However, crew-size mandates became a controversial topic after railroad workers’ unions argued that widespread job cuts across the industry in the past six years had made railroads riskier by increasing the frequency of one-person crews.
They say staff are spread too thin after nearly a third of all railway jobs have been cut and that train crews, in particular, are dealing with fatigue because they are on call 24/7.
A black plume rises over East Palestine, Ohio on February 6, as a result of the controlled burning of a portion of a derailed Norfolk Southern train carrying hazardous chemicals.
Shaw testified Tuesday before the Ohio Senate Railroad Safety Committee, where he faced wide-ranging questions about the East Palestine derailment.
Ohio lawmakers recently passed a two-person crew mandate for trains that run through the state, though the legality of the rule is still up for debate.
The Ohio Railroad Association, a trade group, has argued that many of the measures are preempted by federal law. Lawmakers say the General Assembly could put in place statewide safeguards to help protect voters.
Bipartisan legislation introduced in Congress after the derailment would require training crews to continue with a two-man presence.
The Federal Railroad Administration is also considering a rule requiring two-person crews in most cases.
No one was hurt in the East Palestine derailment, but half of East Palestine’s roughly 5,000 residents were evacuated for days.
Parts of the Southern Norfolk freight train are seen burning after derailing. Chemicals from derailed cars and firefighting foam seeped into streams and rivers near the village
A view of the scene on February 24, as cleanup continues at the site of a Norfolk Southern train derailment that occurred in East Palestine, Ohio
Many say they still suffer from health problems such as rashes, headaches and difficulty breathing.
Chemicals from derailed cars and firefighting foam seeped into streams and rivers near the village, some of which eventually ended up in the Ohio River.
To date, more than 9 million gallons of sewage have been removed from the site and transported to hazardous waste storage sites in Ohio and other states, according to state officials.
Government officials say tests have not revealed dangerous levels of the chemicals in the air or public drinking water in the area, but many residents remain concerned about their long-term health.