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Norfolk Southern agrees to $310 million settlement over East Palestine derailment

(Credit: Pennsylvania Capital-Star)

Kim Lyons, Pennsylvania Capital-Star
May 23, 2024

Norfolk Southern has agreed to a $310 million settlement with the federal government over claims and costs of the February 2023 derailment of a freight train carrying hazardous chemicals in East Palestine, Ohio, near the Pennsylvania border.

The Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency said in a statement Thursday that the settlement, which still has to be approved by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, will require the railroad to improve safety. That includes reducing the distance between sensors that determine if a train is reaching dangerous temperatures, and ensuring that trains that do reach dangerous temperatures are stopped for inspection.

The company will also pay for health monitoring and mental health services for the surrounding communities; pay a $15 million civil penalty to resolve violations of the Clean Water Act; and will pay to monitor private drinking water, as well as groundwater and surface water for the next decade.

“No community should have to experience the trauma inflicted upon the residents of East Palestine,” EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan said in a statement. 

Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw said in a statement Thursday that the company was “pleased to reach a timely resolution” of the investigations. “We will continue keeping our promises and are invested in the community’s future for the long-haul.”

The company expects to spend more than $1 billion to address harms caused by the derailment, including a $600 million class action settlement announced in April.

On Feb. 3, 2023, a Norfolk Southern train more than a mile long derailed on its way out of East Palestine, sending dozens of train cars off the tracks. Several of the train cars contained hazardous materials and caught fire in the crash. As first responders fought the blaze, officials grew concerned about a series of cars containing vinyl chloride. The chemical is highly flammable, and with temperatures rising in the cars, officials worried they might explode.

The railroad conducted a “controlled venting” of the chemical. But when evacuated residents began to return, they complained of respiratory ailments and other issues. And in March, the National Transportation Safety Board cast doubt on whether the vent and burn was necessary.

President Joe Biden had faced criticism for not visiting East Palestine until a year after the derailment. 

Bills introduced in the U.S. House and Senate in the aftermath of the East Palestine accident aimed at tightening rail safety regulations and holding railroads accountable have thus far failed to advance. U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), one of the prime sponsors of the Senate measure, said more needs to be done to prevent future derailments. 

“Today’s settlement is a critical step towards providing a measure of justice for the families who are still suffering in the wake of the derailment and holding Norfolk Southern accountable for the reckless failure that imperiled the lives of so many Pennsylvanians,” Casey said in a statement Thursday.

Pennsylvania U.S. Rep. Chris Deluzio (D-17th District), who co-sponsored the House bill, said he was glad to see the federal government hold the railroad responsible.

“This derailment made it abundantly clear that we cannot trust these big railroads to regulate themselves—they will always prioritize profit over public safety,” Deluzio said in a statement Thursday. “The next step is to pass policy to make freight rail safer, and we can do that right now by passing my bipartisan bill, the Railway Safety Act.”

The NTSB is expected to issue its final report on the derailment in June. 

Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kim Lyons for questions: info@penncapital-star.com. Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.

This article is republished from Pennsylvania Capital-Star under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.