EAST PALESTINE, Ohio — Ninety days have passed since Norfolk Southern's toxic train derailment forever changed the community of East Palestine. While the company faces scrutiny, as well as lawsuits in the aftermath of the incident, Norfolk Southern says "it is making progress by making it right in the East Palestine community."
To mark the three months since the derailment, Norfolk Southern provided an update Wednesday on where the cleanup in East Palestine stands.
"A safer railroad is a better railroad. The events of the last few months have strengthened our commitment to leading the industry in rail safety. That leadership starts at home. We are a safe railroad; we can do better," said Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw.
Since February 3's derailment, Norfolk Southern says it has contributed $31.6 million into the economy of the East Palestine community. That assistance includes direct relief to more than 8,300 Ohio families, totaling $7.4 million.
Other highlights include:
- A $7.5 million commitment to reimburse various Pennsylvania government agencies and communities impacted by the derailment.
- Establishing a $1 million Community Fund to support immediate community needs in East Palestine.
- The appointment of a dedicated community liaison that reports directly to Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw, who is empowered to distribute $1 million into the community.
- A plan to reimburse the East Palestine Fire Department over $3 million for fire equipment used in the derailment response.
- The donation of $300,000 to the East Palestine City School District to support the district’s academics, athletics, and extra-curricular activities.
Going forward, Norfolk Southern says it is developing long-term programs with the goal of protecting drinking water, supporting home values, and providing medical compensation.
Both Norfolk Southern and the Environmental Protection Agency faced criticism from Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and other government leaders for a slow start to the removal of the solid waste from East Palestine. The company says as of May 3, more than 36,000 tons of soil waste have been removed along with over 14 million gallons of contaminated liquid.
With the improved pace of the cleanup, the south track soil removal and replacement process has been completed. On April 19, Norfolk Southern announced that south track rail operations had resumed with cars running at slow speed. Soil excavation is ongoing at the north track. You can see the progress of the cleanup from Norfolk Southern's drone video below:
Last week, Norfolk Southern announced that the estimated cost to clean up East Palestine stands at $387 million, but that total will likely increase over time and doesn't reflect how much the railroad's insurance companies will eventually cover. Since the derailment, several lawsuits have been filed against Norfolk Southern, including one by the U.S. Department of Justice and another by the state of Ohio.
Rail safety has also been a focus of both state and federal lawmakers since the derailment. On March 31, Gov. DeWine signed a $13.5 billion state transportation budget that mandates a two-person crew for freight trains and requires that the wayside detectors used to help spot problems be installed in shorter intervals of 10 to 15 miles apart, among other safety provisions. Ohio's two U.S. senators, Sherrod Brown and JD Vance, are co-sponsoring the Railway Safety Act of 2023.
The wreck occurred on Feb. 3, when the 150-car Norfolk Southern freight train came off the tracks and caught fire. Due to the potential for an explosion, officials evacuated everyone within a one-mile radius and conducted a "controlled release" of hazardous chemicals. Although residents were cleared to return home just days following the release, there were numerous safety concerns expressed by the community.
Norfolk Southern says it has conducted more than 600 in-home air tests in East Palestine. In addition, both the Ohio and the U.S. EPA agencies have indicated that the air and water are safe in the East Palestine community.