In a Senate testimonial Thursday, the head of Norfolk Southern Railway said that his company is “determined to make [the East Palestine disaster] right.” Company SEO Alan Shaw apologized to senators and onlookers, saying he and his company are “deeply sorry” for the derailment and chemical spill.
“Norfolk Southern will clean the site safely, thoroughly and with urgency,” he said in his opening statement before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. He added, “You have my personal commitment. Norfolk Southern will [finish the job] and help East Palestine thrive.”
Shaw assured the committee that Norfolk is working with all forms of regulatory bodies — federal, state, and local — to clean up the site and monitor chemical levels in the water. “To date, [the monitoring] consistently indicated the air is safe to breathe and the water is safe to drink,” he said, echoing a sentiment that EPA officials declared early, but that physical evidence didn’t seem to support.
Shaw also said the company has already spent millions of dollars in the clean-up, but that they just consider the money a “down payment.”
“We will be in the community as long as it takes,” he said.
The Norfolk Southern incident may permanently alter safety standards in the rail industry
A bipartisan group of senators, including Ohio’s J.D. Vance, a Republican, and Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, and Pennsylvania’s Bob Casey and John Fetterman, both Democrats, introduced the Railway Safety Act of 2023 in response to the crash. The senators say the measure will strengthen rail safety.
Critics of the bill believe the free market should dictate industry-specific measures like rail upkeep and safety measures. But with a rash of derailments occurring at breakneck pace so far this year, government officials now want to step in and legislate more regulations in the interest of public welfare.
“Now we face a choice with this legislation, and how we respond to this crisis,” Sen. Vance said. “Do we do the bidding of a massive industry that is in bed with big government, or do we do the bidding of the people who elected us?”
According to CNN, “the bill includes a number of provisions to boost safety procedures to prevent future incidents,” including “new safety requirements and procedures for trains carrying hazardous materials like vinyl chloride.” It also includes a requirement for advance notice from railways to state emergency response officials about the contents of their loads; requirements to prevent blocked railway crossings; and new rules for train size and weight.
The legislation also requires bigger crews on long-distance freight hauls. Until now, existing labor agreements with the unions representing crew members determined the standards. The railroads say they will oppose that change in the law and that trains only need an engineer, and not a conductor, riding in the cab of locomotives.