The CEO of Norfolk Southern railroad will testify in Congress next week about last month’s fiery Ohio derailment and the precautions the railroad takes to prevent similar crashes.
The railroad said Wednesday that Alan Shaw had agreed to appear before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works next Thursday. He is likely to face tough questions about whether the railroad has been investing enough in safety as it slashed jobs and streamlined operations in recent years to rely on fewer, longer trains.
Already, several lawmakers have proposed a series of rail safety reforms in response to the Feb. 3 derailment that forced the evacuation of half the town of East Palestine, Ohio, near the Pennsylvania border because of concerns about the toxic chemicals that were on fire. The National Transportation Safety Board has said that an overheating bearing likely caused the derailment that sent 38 cars, including 11 carrying hazardous materials, off the tracks.
Shaw has said the railroad is committed to helping the town recover from this derailment, and Norfolk Southern has committed millions to that effort. But he has said that major safety reforms should wait until after the NTSB investigation is complete, which might take more than a year.
Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, told reporters on a call Wednesday that he wanted to hear Shaw commit to paying for both the short-term and long-term effects of the wreck. “We want to hear his commitment to make this community whole, to make this so that people can get back to their lives the way they were — that means reimbursement for all the expenses,” Brown said.
Norfolk Southern said Shaw and other railroad officials “continue to engage in discussions with Members of Congress and other committees about additional requests to testify, while balancing his commitments to the remediation process and the community.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said earlier this week that Shaw needs to testify because Norfolk Southern is responsible for the derailment.
“The American people should hear from Norfolk Southern’s CEO precisely why they thought it was a good idea to spend years — years — lobbying to loosen regulations designed to prevent accidents like this,” Schumer said in a speech on the Senate floor. “And I especially want to hear why Norfolk Southern, after seeing a record $3.3B in profits last year, prioritized billions— billions — in stock buybacks instead of putting that money toward safety and towards their workers.”
The Federal Railroad Administration issued an advisory Tuesday urging railroads to reexamine how they use and maintain the networks of detectors they have installed along the tracks to spot overheating bearings before they fail. Regulators are expected to announce plans Wednesday afternoon to conduct additional inspections nationwide on tracks that carry large quantities of hazardous materials.