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Ohio lawmakers demand Norfolk Southern pay for damages caused by Sandusky train derailment last October

The wreck on the Columbus Avenue overpass sent wax spilling into the street and caused significant damage to city infrastructure.

WASHINGTON — Ohio U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown and JD Vance as well as U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur are taking Norfolk Southern to task for a recent Ohio train derailment, only this time it has nothing to do with the situation in East Palestine.

In a letter sent to CEO Alan Shaw Wednesday, the three lawmakers demanded the railroad "take responsibility and pay immediately for costs to repair the damage" caused by an earlier wreck in Sandusky last October. Roughly 10 cars came off the tracks on the bridge over Columbus Avenue, sending paraffin wax spilling into the street while causing delays to both cars as well as Amtrak passenger trains.

Unlike the Columbiana County derailment involving toxic chemicals like vinyl chloride, the Sandusky incident did not pose a significant environmental risk. However, the city endured significant damage to its sewer water system as well as the road, sidewalk, safety lights, and other infrastructure.

"Norfolk Southern must take responsibility for the damages suffered by the City of Sandusky and its residents," the lawmakers wrote.

According to the letter, Norfolk Southern contractors caused further damage to the area during cleanup. While the company apparently agreed to repay both the city as well as a construction company for repairs, officials say that has not yet occurred.

The National Transportation Safety Board did not investigate the crash, but Brown, Vance, and Kaptur (whose district includes Sandusky) cited a ProPublica article claiming a dispatcher told the train to continue onward to Cleveland despite learning a wheel was heating up on an engine being towed in the consist. This partly echoes the East Palestine derailment, which the NTSB says was caused by a hot axle on one of the cars. The board is now conducting a separate inquiry into the railway's culture and safety practices.

"Ohioans are rightfully concerned about the safety of railroads traveling through their communities," the letter further states. "The Norfolk Southern derailments in Ohio have highlighted many known deficiencies in safety practices in the freight rail industry."

Both Brown and Vance are two of the primary sponsors of the Railway Safety Act of 2023, which would strengthen federal oversight of trains carrying hazardous materials and require railroads to come up with disaster plans. On a more local level, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine also approved new rail regulations as part of the state's annual transportation budget, including requiring crews of at least two people on freight trains and mandating wayside track detectors monitoring axles be placed no more than 10 to 15 miles apart.

The lawmakers requested a response from Shaw within the next two weeks. You can read the full letter below:


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