The Washington Post

Norfolk Southern faces U.S. safety reviews; conductor killed in Cleveland


The National Transporta­tion Safety Board said Tuesday it is opening a “special investigat­ion” into Norfolk Southern’s safety culture, pointing to five serious incidents involving the railroad — including last month’s derailment and chemical spill in East Palestine, Ohio.

“The continued safe operations of Norfolk Southern is vital to the United States,” the board said in a statement. “The NTSB is concerned that several organizati­onal factors may be involved in the accidents, including safety culture.”

Also, late Tuesday, the Federal Railroad Administra­tion (FRA) said it had started a 60-day “supplement­al safety assessment” of the railroad.

The most recent incident cited by the board happened in the early hours Tuesday, when a Norfolk Southern conductor was killed as a train moving through a road crossing at a steel works in Cleveland was struck by a dump truck.

In the wake of the worker’s death, Norfolk Southern chief executive Alan Shaw said the railroad would hold safety briefings for each employee on Wednesday.

“I called together every member of our management team this afternoon to emphasize the urgency of finding new solutions,” Shaw said in a statement after visiting with the conductor’s colleagues. “Moving forward, we are going to rebuild our safety culture from the ground up. We are going to invest more in safety. This is not who we are, it is not acceptable, and it will not continue.”

The twin announceme­nts ratchet up scrutiny on the railroad, which has been growing since the Feb. 3 East Palestine derailment that led to evacuation­s and drew the attention of regulators and lawmakers in Washington. The Transporta­tion Department has been calling on the railroad industry to take steps to improve safety, issuing formal advisories in recent days. The NTSB’S announceme­nt zeroed in on Norfolk Southern, urging the railroad to take “immediate action” to review its safety practices and make changes.

“The NTSB will conduct an in-depth investigat­ion into the safety practices and culture of the company,” the board said. “At the same time, the company should not wait to improve safety.”

It is unusual for the NTSB to conduct an investigat­ion looking at practices across a company. It typically investigat­es individual accidents.

The NTSB cannot issue new rules or take enforcemen­t action against corporatio­ns, but it has broad investigat­ive authority and often uses the findings of its work to develop safety recommenda­tions for government agencies and private companies. Keith Holloway, a spokesman for the board, said the Norfolk Southern review could encompass the railroad’s staffing, training, equipment and procedures.

Labor leaders said the review was welcomed, coming at a time when they have been seeking to raise the alarm about safety concerns across the railroad industry.

“We mourn the loss of the Norfolk Southern conductor who was killed on the job today and hope that this investigat­ion will lead to real reforms to create a safer industry for workers and communitie­s like East Palestine,” said Greg Regan, president of the Transporta­tion Trades Department, a labor organizati­on.

The assessment by the FRA, an agency of the Department of Transporta­tion, will take a broad look at the railroad’s operations, reviewing findings from a past audit and helping inform regulators’ oversight, the agency said.

“We are initiating this further supplement­al safety review of Norfolk Southern, while also calling on Norfolk Southern to act urgently to improve its focus on safety so the company can begin earning back the trust of the public and its employees,” Transporta­tion Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a statement.

Norfolk Southern on Monday announced measures to improve a network of safety detectors designed to prevent derailment­s. On Thursday, Shaw is scheduled to testify before the Senate on the East Palestine derailment and its aftermath.

The NTSB’S investigat­ors have been sent to probe five significan­t incidents involving Norfolk Southern since December 2021, including three that have involved the deaths of workers. The review will also include a sixth incident, the NTSB said: an Oct. 8 derailment in Sandusky, Ohio.

The Cleveland Police Department said the latest incident happened about 1:30 a.m. Tuesday. A large Caterpilla­r dump truck carrying a load of limestone stopped at a railroad crossing, then pulled forward and hit the train. Louis Shuster, 46, was on the outside of the train and was fatally hit, officials said.

Shaw said that he went to Cleveland on Tuesday and met with Shuster’s colleagues.

“This is an awful day that leaves a hole in our company’s spirit,” he said. “We have reached out to Lou’s family to offer our condolence­s. We will give them time to grieve, and we will be there with support for anything they need.”

The Brotherhoo­d of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, Shuster’s union, said he was an Army veteran with a 16-year-old son. He had worked as a conductor since 2005.

“He was always there for his co-workers,” Pat Redmond, a local union official, said in a statement. “He was very active in helping veterans who worked on the railroad and veterans all across our community.”

Buttigieg tweeted Tuesday that the Federal Railroad Administra­tion and the Occupation­al Safety and Health Administra­tion were assisting in the latest investigat­ion.

“Our thoughts are with the family facing this preventabl­e tragedy,” Buttigieg wrote. “Now more than ever, it is time for stronger freight railroad accountabi­lity and safety.”

In launching the new review, the NTSB pointed to the Dec. 8, 2021, death of a railroad worker in Reed, Pa. The worker was assigned to help Norfolk Southern replace track and was struck by a spike machine. It also cited the Dec. 13 death of a trainee conductor in a collision in Bessemer, Ala.

The board is also investigat­ing a Norfolk Southern derailment in Springfiel­d, Ohio, on Saturday.

The Sandusky derailment that the NTSB said it would fold into the review was also cited by the FRA last week when it called for railroads to review how they use devices to detect overheatin­g bearings before they can cause derailment­s.

 ?? BILL Lackey/springfiel­d News-sun/associated PRESS ?? Crews work Sunday on the cleanup of the Norfolk Southern train derailment in Clark County, Ohio. On Tuesday, a conductor for the rail company was killed in a separate incident in Cleveland.
BILL Lackey/springfiel­d News-sun/associated PRESS Crews work Sunday on the cleanup of the Norfolk Southern train derailment in Clark County, Ohio. On Tuesday, a conductor for the rail company was killed in a separate incident in Cleveland.

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