Federal investigators to probe Norfolk Southern’s ‘safety culture’

The federal agency probing the Feb. 3 derailment of a Norfolk Southern train that spewed toxic chemicals in East Palestine, Ohio, announced Tuesday that it plans a special investigation into the railroad’s safety culture — an unusual move for the agency, which typically focuses on the causes of individual accidents.

The independent National Transportation Safety Board said it’s undertaking a focus on the railroad itself “given the number and significance of recent Norfolk Southern accidents”

The NTSB cited five “significant” accidents involving Norfolk Southern since December 2021, including two that have happened in the last three days. Those two involve a 212-car freight train that derailed in Springfield, Ohio on March 3, and one on March 7 where a dump truck collided with a train car in Cleveland, killing a Norfolk Southern conductor. The NTSB said that as part of the investigation they would also review an Oct. 28, 2022, Norfolk Southern derailment in Sandusky, Ohio.

NTSB urged the company to “take immediate action today to review and assess its safety practices, with the input of employees and others, and implement necessary changes to improve safety”

Norfolk Southern announced several safety measures on Monday, but most were focused on addressing one of the specific problems thought to have caused the Feb. 3 derailment, primarily involving an overheating wheel and the adequacy of detection technology.

Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw said in a statement that he went to Cleveland as soon as he heard the news about the death of the conductor. He said he offered his condolences to the family as well as the promise of “support for anything they need.”

He also said he called together every member of the management team Tuesday afternoon “to emphasize the urgency of finding new solutions” and that on Wednesday, the company will take time out of the workday to discuss safety with “every employee across our network.”

“Moving forward, we are going to rebuild our safety culture from the ground up,” he said. “We are going to invest more in safety. This is not who we are, it is not acceptable, and it will not continue.”

Shaw is scheduled to testify Thursday before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee — his first time facing lawmakers following the East Palestine derailment.

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