NTSB launches special investigation into Norfolk Southern’s safety culture

Published: Mar. 8, 2023 at 10:49 PM EST
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - On Tuesday the National Transportation Safety Board launched a special investigation into Norfolk Southern’s safety culture.

“We are sorry, we are very, very sorry,” said Daryl Wilson, Associate Vice President for Government Relations for Norfolk Southern, to an angry crowd during an East Palestine town hall.

Since December 2021, the NTSB has launched teams to investigate five significant incidents. Those include one incident in 2021 and one last December, where two people were killed on the job. The other three happened in Ohio including the hazardous derailment in February in East Palestine where fears have reached a fever pitch.

“At nighttime especially when we smell it the most,” said East Palestine resident Desiree Walker. “Our throats are sore, we’re coughing a lot now... my son his eyes matted shut.”

We now know hot box detectors on the train tracks played a major role in alerting crews there was a problem with a wheel bearing before the East Palestine derailment but 19 Investigates learned railroad workers with Norfolk Southern are sometimes told to ignore those alerts.

We’ve also learned that over the last decade, some of the largest freight railroads in the United States have implemented new systems to increase efficiency and reduce costs.

Clyde Whitaker State Director of the largest railroad union in the country says some of these practices are not safe. He also claims railroad companies are pushing for one person to expect a railcar in 90 seconds or less, which just doesn’t cut it.

“They’re rolling the dice,” Whitaker said. “Our organization has been sounding the alarm for several years.”

There was another derailment near Springfield three days ago and on Tuesday a Norfolk Southern train conductor was killed in Cleveland.

The NTSB said they will also be reviewing the October Norfolk Southern train derailment that happened in Sandusky.

Just a couple of weeks ago 19 News spoke with another derailment victim in Ravenna Township this time from a Norfolk Southern train derailment in November.

“I’m gonna have to move,” Chuck Knight said. “There’s no way I can live here, not under these conditions. I just can’t.”

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, there were 114 derailments involving Norfolk Southern in 2022, and 12 of those happened in Ohio.

President and CEO of Norfolk Southern Alan Shaw sent 19 News a statement that reads in part, “Moving forward, we are going to rebuild our safety culture from the ground up. We are going to invest more in safety. This is not who we are, it is not acceptable, and it will not continue.”