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Norfolk Southern Issues Safety Plan Following Second Ohio Train Derailment

The company's president said that ’meaningful safety improvements require a comprehensive industry effort’

Norfolk Southern released a six-point safety plan after another train derailment in Ohio.

Approximately 28 cars of a 212-car train managed by the operator derailed on March 4 near Springfield, Ohio. The derailment site is just over 200 miles from East Palestine, where multiple cars carrying hazardous materials derailed in February. The operator ultimately held a controlled burn of the chemicals with photographs of the resulting cloud of dark smoke going viral online. 

Norfolk Southern said the second derailed train was not carrying hazardous materials and was not a threat to the community. The local authority had initially announced a shelter-in-place order for residents within 1,000 feet of the derailment site, per NPR. The order was lifted after 10 hours.

On March 6, Norfolk Southern announced its new safety plan “to immediately enhance the safety of its operations” based on “the preliminary findings of the National Transportation Safety Board.”

“Reading the NTSB report makes it clear that meaningful safety improvements require a comprehensive industry effort that brings together railcar and tank car manufacturers, railcar owners and lessors, and the railroad companies,” said Alan H. Shaw, the President and CEO of Norfolk Southern, in a press release. “We are eager to help drive that effort and we are not waiting to take action.”

The train operator will evaluate where to install 200 additional hot bearing detectors along its core network of tracks, including on the Western approach to East Palestine where an axel on the first derailed train reportedly caught fire. The company will also install more acoustic bearing detectors which can detect the vibrations of an axel and predict problems that might not be noticed during visual inspections.

The company also plans to complete a review of the “standards and practices for the use of hot bearing detectors.”

“In addition to reevaluating the temperature threshold at which an alarm is triggered, the company plans to work with peers to analyze data for patterns that could provide earlier warnings of potential safety issues,” per the press release. “Norfolk Southern also plans to partner with other railroads to review best practices, including response to high-temperature alarms.”

As part of the safety plan, the company will partner with Georgia Tech Research Institute to develop the “most advanced safety inspection technology” incorporating ultra-high-resolution cameras and artificial intelligence to “identify defects and needed repairs much more effectively than traditional human inspection.”

The company will also join the Federal Railroad Administration’s Confidential Close Call Reporting System. 

On the same day Norfolk Southern released the safety plan, Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro announced the company will pay $5 million to local fire departments to replace equipment and $1 million to a Community Relief Fund to help residents of counties impacted by the East Palestine chemical burn. Norfolk Southern will also pay $950,000 to the state’s Department of Environmental Protection and to its Department of Health.

“In Ohio, Norfolk Southern previously announced more than $1 million to replace fire equipment used in the response to the fiery wreck, plus $1 million for East Palestine and more than $1.2 million for evacuation costs for nearly 900 families and businesses,” per CBS News.

Norfolk Southern’s stock has fallen roughly 10% since the Feb. 3 derailment.

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