Norfolk Southern train derails in Alabama while company CEO testifies before Congress

by Jacob Fuller

Willie R. Tubbs, FISM News

Had nothing else happened Thursday, Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw would have faced a tough audience in the form of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. But, when a Norfolk Southern train derailed during the hearing, any hopes Shaw might have harbored for winning the room, much less the sympathies of Americans, took a hit.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) interrupted the hearing to alert everyone, including Shaw, that a Norfolk Southern train had derailed in Alabama, the third derailment of a company train since late February.

“I certainly hope that all of your team and that anybody in the vicinity is safe and well,” Whitehouse said. “You may need to look into that.”

NBC News reported that about 30 cars derailed from a train that was traveling between Atlanta and Meridian, Mississippi.

It does not appear that anyone was injured or that hazardous materials escaped their containers.

“There is no risk at all to the public,” NBC quoted Connor Spielmaker, a spokesperson for Norfolk Southern, as saying. He added, “Derailments are a very loose term. Derailment could mean as little as one wheel off the track. So as far as an increase, decrease, I can’t really get into that.”


Back in Washington, though, Senators were in no mood to offer a benefit of the doubt. Democrats hounded Shaw, while Republicans criticized Norfolk Southern and President Joe Biden.

“I just want to say I think our leadership, our media, and our politicians were slow to respond to (a major derailment in East Palestine, Ohio), in part because a certain segment of our leadership feels like the people of East Palestine are a little out of style,” Ohio Republican Sen. J.D. Vance said. “They have their own politics. They’re a little too rural, maybe a little too White.”

Both in the hearing and on Twitter, Whitehouse lashed out at Norfolk Southern for having, he said, lobbied to deregulate the rail industry.

“Since 2002, the rail industry has spent a massive $650 million lobbying the federal government, including against regulations that could have stopped the derailment in East Palestine, or at least lessened its severity,” Whitehouse tweeted. “@NSCorp was at the center of this big-money effort.”

Shaw, for his part, absorbed the barbs and tried to paint his company as one set on making amends.

“Norfolk Southern will get the job done and help East Palestine thrive,” Shaw said. “At the direction of, and in collaboration with, the U.S. EPA [Environmental Protection Agency], state and local agencies, we are developing and implementing near and longer-term cleanup activities.

“Air and water monitoring have been in place continuously since the accident. To date, it consistently indicated that the air is safe to breathe and the water is safe to drink. We have announced direct investments of over $21 million. We have provided support to over 4,400 families.”

FISM News reported on Tuesday, however, that contrary to Shaw’s claims an independent assessment of the crash site around the February 3 train derailment in East Palestine found that nine chemicals in the air are at levels that could pose long-term health risks, despite the EPA’s assurance that it is safe for residents to return to their homes.

Researchers from Texas A&M University and Carnegie Mellon University found that the air in East Palestine contained higher-than-normal levels of acrolein, benzene, vinyl chloride, butadiene, naphthalene, o-Xylene, trichloroethylene, trichloroethane, and p-Xylene.