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Oversight Committee Democrats Press Norfolk Southern for Answers After Prioritizing Profits Over Safety

Committee Democrats Call on Norfolk Southern CEO to Make Derailment Victims Whole

Congressman Gerry Connolly (D-VA) and Democrats on the Committee on Oversight and Accountability in sending a letter to Alan Shaw, CEO of Norfolk Southern, the owner and operator of the derailed train in East Palestine, Ohio, demanding answers and information on its role in, and response to, the February 3, 2023, train derailment and calling on him to make the victims of the derailment whole.  The letter follows Committee Republicans’ refusal to send a public letter to Norfolk Southern despite evidence of the company’s increased rates of train accidents, longstanding efforts to lobby against federal safety regulations, and reports that the company has scaled back train safety measures in order to maximize company profits.

In their letter, the Members highlighted Norfolk Southern’s pattern of train safety problems, including accidents, and its history of aggressive lobbying against railroad safety regulations.  

“In 2017, for example, Norfolk Southern successfully lobbied the Trump Administration to repeal federal railroad guidance and rules, including certain Obama-era regulations.  As recently as last November, you met with Secretary Buttigieg to lobby against a proposed rule that would require freight trains to have at least two crew members on board—a measure designed to enhance rail workers’ responses to train derailments and other emergencies,” wrote the Members.

On February 23, 2023, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued a preliminary investigative report suggesting that “a wheel bearing in the final stage of overheat failure moments before the derailment” may have caused the accident, which NTSB Chairwoman Jennifer Homendy called “100% preventable.”  Prior to the accident, Norfolk Southern had drastically reduced the number of specialized workers responsible for maintaining sensors designed to identify potential mechanical failures and put policies in place that may have delayed alarms triggered by such sensors. 

“Rather than invest in commonsense safety measures, you have prioritized rewarding company shareholders.  Since approximately 2018, Norfolk Southern has paid its shareholders nearly $18 billion through stock buybacks and dividends, while simultaneously scaling back its workforce and running longer, heavier trains in an apparent effort to reduce costs,” wrote the Members.  “Norfolk Southern recently committed ‘to learn as much as we can from this event,’ but that is simply not enough.  You must stop prioritizing profits over people and securities over safety.  You must call on the federal government to strengthen transportation safety rules and regulations.  You must lead by example and ensure that those you harmed in East Palestine are made whole,” the Members concluded.

In their letter, the Members request that Norfolk Southern provide documents and information by March 20, 2023.

Click here to read the letter.

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