Railway CEO apologizes for toxic train accident at US Senate hearing | transport news

The CEO of Norfolk Southern Railway has apologized to the United States Congress and pledged millions of dollars to help the city of East Palestine, Ohio, which was hit by the derailment of a train carrying hazardous materials last month. Will help you recover.

But Alan Shaw did not fully support stricter safety regulations or specific commitments to pay for long-term health and economic damages.

At a packed Senate hearing Thursday, Shaw said his railroad strongly supports the goal of improving rail safety, but he also defended his company’s record.

He was closely questioned by both Democrats and Republicans about specific commitments to pay for long-term health and economic damages — and about making decisions that led to five tanker cars releasing and burning toxic vinyl chloride — along with as well as the company’s commitment to safety and helping residents.

Shaw told the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, “I am deeply sorry for the impact this derailment has had on the people in that community.” “We will be there as long as eastern Palestine is helped to flourish and recover.”

But the sentiment and commitment to $20 million in aid has so far hardly satisfied lawmakers or the many East Palestine residents who traveled to Washington, D.C., for the hearing.

Jami Koza said, “How can we trust the man with our health and the health of our children when he won’t even answer the questions we should be answering.” derail

The company has announced several voluntary security upgrades. However, senators have promised to investigate the derailment, the response of President Joe Biden’s administration, and the company’s safety practices, which involved 38 railcars, including 11 carrying hazardous materials.

Federal regulators have also said that Norfolk Southern itself must do more to improve safety.

No one was injured in the accident, but state and local officials decided to release and burn toxic vinyl chloride from five tanker cars, prompting the evacuation of half of East Palestine’s roughly 5,000 residents.

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Scenes of smoke billowing over the village, as well as residents’ outcry that they are still suffering from diseases, have brought a high level of attention to rail safety and how hazardous materials are transported.

Democratic Senator Tom Capper, the committee’s chairman, opened Thursday’s hearing by calling it “an opportunity to put ourselves in the shoes of those affected by this disaster, to examine the immediate response and ensure long-term accountability for the cleanup efforts.”

Caper joined the top Republican on the committee, Senator Shelley Capito of West Virginia, on a call with reporters Wednesday to emphasize that he would work in a bipartisan fashion “to hold accountability to communities and those who are affected.” Has happened”.

Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw testifies before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on March 9, 2023 [Kevin Wolf/AP Photo]

senate resolution

The East Palestine disaster as well as the recent train derailment have demonstrated bipartisanship in the Senate.

The committee also heard Thursday from senators from Ohio and Pennsylvania — Republican JD Vance and Democrats Sherrod Brown and Bob Casey — who are pushing new safety regulations called the Railway Safety Act of 2023.

Brown, of Ohio, said in prepared remarks, “Elected officials shouldn’t derail a train to put aside partisanship and work together for the people we serve — not corporations like Norfolk Southern. ” “Lobsters for rail companies have spent years doing everything they can to strengthen regulations to make our trains and rail lines safer. Now Ohioans are paying the price.”

Train derailments are becoming less common, but there were still more than 1,000 last year, according to data collected by the Federal Railroad Administration. The derailment of even a single train carrying hazardous materials can be catastrophic.

Noting that a train derailed in his home state of West Virginia on Wednesday, Capito held the hearing as the Senate’s first step on railway safety and emergency response.

Hazardous material shipments account for 7 to 8 percent of the approximately 30 million shipments throughout the United States each year. But railroads often mix shipments and almost any train may contain one or two cars of hazardous materials.

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The Association of American Railroads trade group says that 99.9 percent of hazardous material shipments reach their destination safely, and railroads are generally considered the safest option for transporting hazardous chemicals over land.

But legislators want to make the railroad safe.

The Railway Safety Act of 2023, which has received support from Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, would require more detectors to be installed to check the temperature of wheel bearings more often, ensure railroads allow states to transport those hazardous materials. Inform about what they are transporting, and fund hazmat training for first responders.

Meanwhile, Republicans in the House of Representatives have expressed skepticism about passing new rules on the railroads. GOP senators discussed the bill at their weekly luncheon on Tuesday, but Republican Senator Mike Rounds said most would prefer the bill go to a committee.

Vance, a senator from Ohio who won re-election last November, slammed fellow Republicans who rejected his bill, saying they were ignoring GOP changes to appeal to blue-collar voters. Are.

“We have a choice: are we for big business and big government, or are we for the people of East Palestine?” They said.

federal investigation

Norfolk Southern is also under pressure from federal regulators. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the Federal Railroad Administration both this week announced investigations into the company’s safety culture. The NTSB said its investigators would investigate five significant accidents involving Norfolk Southern beginning in December 2021.

The company has said it is immediately implementing security upgrades, including adding “approximately 200 hot-impact detectors” to its network. The NTSB has said that a detector warned the crew operating a train of a February 3 derailment outside East Palestine, but they did not stop the train before more than three dozen cars derailed and caught fire. Could stop

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The Senate bill also touches on disagreements between railroad workers’ unions and operators by requiring train crews to continue to have two people.

Unions argue that the railroad is risky because of job cuts in the industry over the past six years. Nearly one-third of all rail jobs were eliminated and train crews said they deal with fatigue as they are on call night and day.

Shaw said Norfolk Southern has gone on a “hiring spree” in the past year, but did not back other proposed changes, including the requirement to maintain two-person staffs on freight railroads.

Republicans, at the same time, are more eager to delve into the emergency response to the derailment of eastern Palestine. Thursday’s Senate hearing also included environmental protection officials at the federal, state and local levels.

Shaw and state and federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials overseeing the cleanup all said they would feel comfortable living in East Palestine today because air and water tests all show it is safe.

Republicans have repeatedly criticized Biden for not visiting the community after the derailment. The Democratic president has said he will visit at some point, although Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg visited East Palestine last month and pushed for increased security protocols for the trains.

Several East Palestine residents made their way to Washington, D.C., for Thursday’s hearing, including Misty Ellison, who has joined a group called Moms Clean Air Force.

Allison and other residents worry about possible long-term effects, even though tests don’t show dangerous toxin levels.

“Everyone here wants it to be okay. We want it so badly to be true. Everyone loves this community and no one wants to leave,” Ellison said. “But if it isn’t, that’s what we need to know.”

He said that sometimes a chemical odor could also be smelled in East Palestine.

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