Omaha, Neb. Federal investigators are conducting a broad investigation into one of the nation’s largest railroads after a fiery derailment at the Ohio-Pennsylvania border last month and several other accidents involving the Norfolk Southern, including the death of a train conductor Tuesday .
The National Transportation Safety Board said Tuesday it will conduct a comprehensive look at the company’s safety culture — the first such investigation within the rail industry since 2014. The NTSB said it has sent teams to investigate five significant accidents involving Norfolk Southern since December. 2021.
The agency also urged the company to take immediate action to review and assess its security practices.
The Federal Railroad Administration also announced its own investigation of Norfolk Southern on Tuesday. According to a release from the US Department of Transportation, FRA will issue a public report after 60 days of safety evaluation.
In the release, the FRA said Norfolk Southern should go beyond the steps announced yesterday and take action “compared to the seriousness of recent events”.
Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw pledged on Wednesday to hold a series of company safety meetings — a day before he was scheduled to testify in Congress at a hearing on the East Palestine derailment.
“Going forward, we are going to rebuild our safety culture from the ground up,” he said in a statement. “We are going to invest more in security. This is not who we are, this is not acceptable, and it will not continue.”
In response to the Ohio derailment, the railroad on Monday announced plans to improve the use of detectors placed along the railroad tracks to detect overheating bearings and other problems.
Investigators with the NTSB said the crew operating the train that derailed on February 3 outside East Palestine, Ohio, received a warning from one such detector, but were alerted to the derailment and fire of more than three dozen cars. Could not stop the train before it started.
Half the town of about 5,000 people had to be evacuated for days after responders deliberately burned toxic chemicals in some derailed cars to prevent an uncontrolled explosion, causing health concerns for residents. Government officials say tests have not found dangerous levels of the chemicals in the air or water in the area.
Within the industry, Norfolk Southern has had a strong reputation for being a safe railroad over the years, said Christopher Barkan, director of the Center for Rail Transportation and Engineering at the University of Illinois.
FRA figures show that accidents involving Norfolk Southern have decreased since 2019, but the rate of accidents has increased over the past decade. The 119 derailments involving Norfolk Southern last year was the lowest number in the last decade. Across the industry, there were more than 1,000 derailments last year.
But the pressure on the rail company is mounting after the East Palestine disaster.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg in February told the nation’s freight railroads to act immediately to improve safety while regulators focused on strengthening safety rules. Buttigieg said the department would hold the railroad accountable for any safety violations that contributed to the February 3 accident.
President Joe Biden said on Twitter after the derailment that past patterns of railroads opposing safety rules must change and that Congress should support the effort to improve safety.
Even though government data shows that there has been a decrease in derailments in recent years, there were 1,049 of them last year.
While most don’t pose any major problems, three of the five accidents the NTSB points to involving Norfolk Southern through late 2021 resulted in the deaths of three workers.
No one was hurt when a Norfolk Southern freight train derailed near Springfield, Ohio, on Saturday.
In the latest incident, a train and a dump truck collided at a steel plant in Cleveland on Tuesday, killing the train’s conductor, who was standing outside a car, officials said. The company said the cause of the accident was not yet known.
Eddie Hall, president of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen union, which represents the slain worker, said the death was a reminder of the need for safety reform.
“All train accidents are avoidable,” said Hall. “This collision underlines the need for significant improvements in rail safety for both workers and the public.”
Seaver reported from Toledo, Ohio.