NTSB accuses Norfolk Southern of obstructing Ohio derailment investigation

June 26, 2024

Norfolk Southern accused of obstructing investigation

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has accused Norfolk Southern of obstructing its investigation into a 2023 derailment in East Palestine, Ohio.

NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy said the rail carrier “delayed or failed to provide critical investigative information,” prompting potential subpoenas.

Homendy described Norfolk Southern’s actions as “unconscionable” and “reprehensible,” alleging that the company sought to manufacture evidence and failed to provide necessary documents.

The incident involved a train derailment that released over one million gallons of hazardous materials and pollutants, forcing residents to evacuate temporarily.

NTSB findings on hazardous materials handling

The NTSB found that Norfolk Southern and its contractors did not need to vent and burn hazardous materials from tank cars after the derailment.

The incident was attributed to a defective wheel bearing.

Homendy criticized the company’s decision-making process and claimed Norfolk Southern misinterpreted evidence, leading to unnecessary actions.

Norfolk Southern, in response, stated that their actions were motivated by safety concerns for the community and first responders.

The company asserted it cooperated fully with the NTSB, maintaining transparency and ethical standards throughout the investigation.

Financial penalties and settlements

Last month, Norfolk Southern agreed to pay a $15 million civil penalty and $57.1 million in past government cleanup costs.

Additionally, the company settled a class-action lawsuit for $600 million, addressing personal injury claims from residents and businesses affected by the derailment.

Norfolk Southern has also committed to spending $244 million on safety initiatives through 2025.

The NTSB recommended new safety regulations and replacements for certain tank cars to prevent future incidents.

These measures aim to improve the inspection and maintenance of heat-bearing detectors and update tank car standards for better thermal protection.

Calls for railroad safety reforms

The incident has led to public outcry and demands for railroad safety reforms in Congress.

However, legislative efforts have stalled as lawmakers await the NTSB’s final report.

Norfolk Southern stated that the recent agreement with the U.S. government would result in no criminal penalties for the company.

The derailment highlighted significant safety concerns and prompted discussions about enhancing regulatory measures to prevent similar incidents.

The NTSB’s findings and subsequent recommendations aim to address these issues and ensure safer rail operations in the future.

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