East Palestine Train Derailment: Exclusive sit down with Norfolk Southern CEO nearly 1 year later

EAST PALESTINE, Ohio — Roughly a year ago, Channel 11 was showing you the black plume of smoke hanging heavy over East Palestine.

Channel 11′s Amy Hudak back to sit down exclusively with the CEO of Norfolk Southern to talk about his commitment to the community, what he’s learned along the way and his investment in the future of rail.

The CEO of Norfolk Southern, Alan Shaw, said in the immediate aftermath of the fiery derailment, “We’re going to see this through.” He made a promise to make it right.

“I didn’t really know what that meant. It was really important to me that I spent a lot of time in the community, listening to the community, let the community guide where NS applied its resources,” Shaw said. “We have exited the most intensive phase of environmental remediation; we’ve committed over 100 million dollars to help the community recover.”

Those investments include a firefighter safety training facility, upgrades to the municipal water authority system and East Palestine Park, a home value protection program, a family assistance center and a field office, to name a few.

But not everyone in town feels safe staying and some can’t afford to leave.

Channel 11′s Amy Hudak asked Shaw, “What would you say to people who are still concerned about their land, their soil, the water, their homes?”

“I am sensitive to that. I look at the data. I know the US EPA and Ohio EPA have the highest standards. There have been thousands of tests and millions of data points. They all indicate that the air is safe to breathe, and the water is safe to drink,” Shaw said.

Then there are the first responders from over 60 departments in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia who ran into a fire with burning chemicals like carcinogenic vinyl chloride.

“These chemicals react with people differently,” East Palestine Fire Department Chief Keith Drabick said.

Drabick says Norfolk Southern failed when it came to timely testing and health monitoring.

“It never should have taken this long. We requested health monitoring and testing Feb. 4 at noon and that didn’t start until months later because frankly nobody knew what to test for or what we needed to do,” Drabick said.

Norfolk Southern did cut the check for a new firetruck when East Palestine’s ladder truck was destroyed in the initial firefight.

The corporation also replaced all contaminated firefighting gear.

But Drabick says he’s still working with a very lean budget.

Everyone thinks NS cut us a big fat bank account to pay us off. We got no money from them,” Drabick said.

Drabick says he wants to see Norfolk Southern implement all NTSB safety recommendations.

“I think as long as they follow through with improving safety, improving training of first responders, it will benefit people as a whole.,” Drabick said.

Shaw says NS is investing in more hotbox detectors. They’ve brought on safety consultants who used to run the navy nuclear program. They’re also harnessing AI to detect everything from minor to catastrophic flaws.

“We’ve made a lot of promises. We’ve kept every single one,” Shaw said.

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