Two federal agencies announce Norfolk Southern safety probes

by Jacob Fuller

Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw said on Tuesday the railroad will hold safety meetings and work to revitalize its safety culture as U.S. officials announced two new wide-ranging reviews in the wake of a spate of accidents.

Norfolk Southern has been under fire after a number of derailments of its trains, particularly one it operated on Feb. 3 in East Palestine, Ohio that caused cars carrying toxic vinyl chloride and other hazardous chemicals to spill and catch fire.

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) both announced new safety probes.

The announcements came after the death of a conductor in Cleveland, Ohio on Tuesday when a train was struck by a dump truck. The NTSB, Federal Railroad Administration, and Occupational Safety and Health Administration earlier on Tuesday said they were investigating the death.

“Tomorrow we will hold safety stand-down briefings reaching every employee across our network,” said Shaw, who will testify Thursday before a Senate Committee hearing into the East Palestine derailment. “Moving forward, we are going to rebuild our safety culture from the ground up. We are going to invest more in safety. This is not who we are, it is not acceptable, and it will not continue.”

Late Tuesday, the FRA said it would conduct a 60-day supplemental safety assessment of Norfolk Southern Railway.

“After a series of derailments and the death of one of its workers, we are initiating this further supplemental safety review of Norfolk Southern, while also calling on Norfolk Southern to act urgently to improve its focus on safety so the company can begin earning back the trust of the public and its employees,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.

FRA will use information collected “to push Norfolk Southern to develop measures to mitigate risks while identifying appropriate enforcement actions” and will issue a public report, Buttigieg added.

The NTSB said that given the number and significance of recent Norfolk Southern accidents it is opening what it called a special investigation and “urges the company to take immediate action today to review and assess its safety practices.”

Shaw added he “called together every member of our management team this afternoon to emphasize the urgency of finding new solutions.”

Following the East Palestine derailment, some of the town’s 4,700 residents have reported ailments such as rashes and breathing difficulties and fear long-term health effects but no deaths or injuries were reported after the accident.

Since December 2021, NTSB has launched investigation teams to five significant accidents involving Norfolk Southern including a March 4 derailment of a Norfolk Southern freight train derailed near Springfield, Ohio.

“The continued safe operations of Norfolk Southern is vital to the United States. The NTSB is concerned that several organizational factors may be involved in the accidents, including safety culture,” the NTSB said.

Copyright 2023 Thomson/Reuters