By SAMANTHA HENDRICKSON
Associated Press/Report For America
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Norfolk Southern’s CEO reiterated apologies Tuesday for the East Palestine train derailment and vows to make things right during his first testimony to Ohio lawmakers since the fiery accident, expressing support for some additional safety proposals but resistance to others.
An Ohio Senate panel on rail safety questioned Alan Shaw over a wide range of topics related to the derailment and subsequent controlled chemical release that rocked the small village on the Ohio-Pennsylvania border, including long-term support systems for the community, two-person crew mandates and tanker car safety standards.
Shaw has promised millions of dollars to help the community recover but also faces a lawsuit from Ohio’s Attorney General Dave Yost over costs for the toxic chemical spill cleanup and environmental damage, even as they work together to establish funds for resident health care, property value issues and water protections.
The federal government has also sued the railroad.
Shaw said he supports Congress’ efforts in railway safety legislation, spearheaded by Ohio U.S. senators and representatives, including provisions to increase inspection oversight for railways, further investment in wayside detectors and stricter standards for tanker cars, such as those that were carrying hazardous materials on Feb. 3.
However, when pressed on a two-person crew mandate for all trains, Shaw stated that there is no data to support that two-person crews help prevent derailments and that his railroad will “follow the science.”
Ohio lawmakers recently passed a state transportation budget that would impose new rail safety measures on Norfolk Southern and other railroads traveling through their state, including a two-person crew mandate.
Whether they’re allowed to do so, however, remains a point of debate. The Ohio Railroad Association, a trade group, has argued that several of the measures are preempted by federal law. Legislators say the General Assembly can put statewide safeguards in place to help protect constituents.
No one was injured during the Feb. 3 derailment, but half of the nearly 5,000 East Palestine residents were evacuated for days. Many say they continue to suffer from health problems such as rashes, headaches and trouble breathing.
Samantha Hendrickson is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.