The Washington Post

We’re committed to helping East Palestine recover

- BY ALAN SHAW The writer is chief executive of Norfolk Southern.

It has been almost five weeks since the tragic derailment in East Palestine, Ohio. On Thursday, I will appear before Congress to talk about the progress we’ve made cleaning the derailment site, providing financial assistance to residents whose lives have been disrupted, and investing in the future of the community. We have a responsibi­lity to make it right, and we’re committed to do what it takes to help East Palestine recover and thrive.

We are also committed to working with public officials and the industry to make railroads safer. Every accident must be an opportunit­y to learn what can be done better.

The National Transporta­tion Safety Board’s preliminar­y report gives us a place to start. It confirmed that the crew was operating the train within our rules and below the speed limit. The sensors in place to identify overheated axles operated properly, and the crew took the appropriat­e action when they received the alert.

Yet we know there is more that can be done. And, as the NTSB continues its work, we are not waiting to act. As an initial step, we are strengthen­ing our network of early-warning sensors. That means installing more safety devices along our tracks that identify overheated wheels and axles, and reducing the distances between them. Together with other railroads, we will launch a deeper analysis of the billions of data points the existing sensors generate to improve our ability to predict problems and respond to alerts along our routes. And we will make our safety culture the best in the industry. The events of the past month are not who we are as a company. I’ve had positive discussion­s with several union leaders about our shared goal of enhancing safety and look forward to collaborat­ing.

We’re also accelerati­ng the developmen­t and deployment of new technologi­es with the ability to proactivel­y identify equipment in need of repair or replacemen­t.

We have a responsibi­lity to safely move every rail car that travels on our network, regardless of who owns it, who made it or where it comes from. We also know from the NTSB report that improving railroad safety will require the combined efforts of rail car owners, tank car manufactur­ers, leasing companies, equipment makers and the other railroad companies to make the nation’s rail network safer. It’s going to take all of us.

At the same time, we are firmly committed to the residents of East Palestine and the surroundin­g communitie­s in Ohio and Pennsylvan­ia. I’ve been to the area five times since the accident. Many of the people I’ve met are angry, scared and concerned about the future. I understand their skepticism that a big corporatio­n such as Norfolk Southern will do the right thing, and we are determined to earn their trust.

Working closely with federal, state and local officials, we have taken every action with public health and safety in mind. We’re cleaning up the site safely, thoroughly and as quickly as possible. Air and water monitoring have been in place continuous­ly since the accident. More than 2,000 tons of soil and 3 million gallons of water have been removed and are being transporte­d to facilities that regularly accept and safely handle such material.

Working with and at the direction of the U.S. Environmen­tal Protection Agency and the Ohio Environmen­tal

Protection Agency, we’ll continue to test, monitor and listen to the experts for guidance as long as it takes for the community to feel safe.

Financial assistance can’t change what happened, but it is an important part of doing the right thing. Our family assistance center was open in East Palestine within hours of the derailment, and to date, we have distribute­d more than $21 million in immediate support. There are no strings attached — if residents have concerns, we want them to come talk to us.

The steps we are taking are just a beginning. I’ve met with community leaders, business owners, school officials, clergy and residents to begin to identify ways we can invest in the future prosperity of East Palestine and support the long-term needs of its people.

Shortly after the derailment I received an email from a resident of East Palestine that affected me deeply. The author wrote, “Unity and security are what a small town can give a family. They feel that if they need someone, they always have someone to call. An extra gallon of milk, a kid’s ride to practice, or even a last-minute haircut before a big event. East Palestine, for as long as I have known, has always had someone to step up to the occasion when someone’s in need.”

A few days later, I met the author of that email and told him personally how sorry I am for the way this has affected his community. I promised him that Norfolk Southern would indeed “step up.”

We will see this through. We are going to make it right.

 ?? MATTHEW HATCHER/BLOOMBERG NEWS ?? Contractor­s with Norfolk Southern use pumps to reroute creeks in East Palestine, Ohio, on Feb. 16.
MATTHEW HATCHER/BLOOMBERG NEWS Contractor­s with Norfolk Southern use pumps to reroute creeks in East Palestine, Ohio, on Feb. 16.

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