APTOPIX Train Derailment Ohio

Booms are placed in a stream that flows through the center of East Palestine, Ohio, Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2023, as cleanup continues following the derailment of a Norfolk Southern freight train over a week ago.

(The Center Square) – A letter sent Sunday warns the rail company cleaning up a derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, that it should set an example for safety in the industry.

Pete Buttigieg, the national transportation secretary, wrote words about responsibility as well in his message to Alan Shaw, the CEO of Norfolk Southern. Buttigieg was stern on safety, mentioning past congressional lobbying efforts that “undermined” the U.S. Department of Transportation’s efforts in that area.

This came just days after a group representing major railroads said 99.9% of all hazardous materials shipments reach destinations without incident and said the hazardous materials accident rate has declined 55% since 2012. Union Pacific, not involved in the derailment, was one major rail company seeking to quell safety fears that shared that information on its website.

In a release Tuesday morning, Buttigieg said, “Profit and expediency must never outweigh the safety of the American people. We at USDOT are doing everything in our power to improve rail safety, and we insist that the rail industry do the same – while inviting Congress to work with us to raise the bar.”

Shaw, on Monday, said, “I want residents to know that Norfolk Southern will be in their community to help for as long as needed. Our new community liaison is a Norfolk Southern employee and resident of East Palestine … with a direct line to me.”

His statement on the rail company’s Twitter feed also listed the $5.6 million committed to the community of just under 5,000. It includes $3.4 million directly to families, $1 million in a community assistance fund, $1 million for a new community liaison budget, and $220,000 for first responder equipment.

The train derailed on Feb. 3. Five of its cars were carrying vinyl chloride, a volatile colorless gas; a controlled release and burn on Feb. 6, later heavily scrutinized, defused a potential explosion.

There were no injuries as a result of the crash, officials have said. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said Friday chemicals that spilled and reached the Ohio River are no longer a risk. There are reports of people complaining of health issues related to the crash; there have not been descriptions of medical officials being overwhelmed.

There was news coverage immediately in the small town along the Pennsylvania border just north of the Ohio River, but little scrambling by politicians for more than a week. Social media, including misinformation, fueled momentum on the situation and brought a national spotlight.

In his letter, Buttigieg wrote, “Norfolk Southern must live up to its commitment to make residents whole – and must also live up to its obligation to do whatever it takes to stop putting communities such as East Palestine at risk. This is the right time for Norfolk Southern to take a leadership position within the rail industry, shifting to a posture that focuses on supporting, not thwarting, efforts to raise the standard of U.S. rail safety regulation.”

Managing Editor

Alan Wooten has been a publisher, general manager and editor. His work has won national or state awards in every decade since the 1980s. He’s a proud graduate of Elon University and Farmville Central High in North Carolina.