US Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg Tuesday called on railway transport company Norfolk Southern to comply with safety regulations and announced steps the US Department of Transportation (USDOT) will take to ensure railway industry safety and accountability. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also ordered Norfolk Southern to assume clean-up efforts following the East Palestine, Ohio train derailment on February 3.
In a letter to President and CEO of Norfolk Southern Alan Shaw, Buttigieg urged the railway company to participate in “needed safety improvements across the industry.” To do this, Buttigieg called on the company to move toward ensuring that the number of train derailments is lowered to zero and end its history of lobbying efforts opposing safety regulations.
The EPA’s order echoed Buttigieg’s letter, only it went further to lay out the exact actions Norfolk Southern should take to clean up the East Palestine, Ohio train derailment. As part of the agency’s legally binding order, Norfolk Southern is required to identify which soil and water sources are contaminated, pay for cleaning services offered to residents and businesses, attend public meetings and post information online, and pay the EPA’s costs for work it performs.
USDOT also announced it will take steps toward ensuring freight railway industry safety and accountability. The announcement included guidelines for Norfolk Southern and other freight railroad companies to follow to ensure derailments cease, as well as enhanced steps for USDOT itself to take. These include advancing the Train Crew Staffing Rule to require a minimum of two crew members for most operations and pursuing further regulations on high-hazard flammable trains and electronically controlled pneumatic brakes.
The announcements follow a February 3 Norfolk Southern train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, which is located in east Ohio—right over the border from Pennsylvania. The train was carrying 150 rail cars, most of which contained material that was not hazardous. However, some of the rail cars carried a hazardous material known as vinyl chloride—a manmade chemical used in the production of PVC. Other rail cars carried other, similarly hazardous materials. Local residents have since complained to state and federal officials about the potential environmental and health impacts of the derailment.