COLUMBUS, Ohio — More than a month after a Norfolk Southern train carrying hazardous chemicals derailed in East Palestine, the rail company announced plans to develop a safety training center in Ohio to better train first responders in the event of a disaster.
The announcement comes one day before Norfolk Southern’s CEO Alan Shaw is expected to testify before Congress on his rail company’s response to the derailment.
The company has faced public outcry from East Palestine residents and lawmakers – who are expected to press Shaw over the derailment on Thursday.
Ohio’s two U.S. Senators, Sherrod Brown and J.D. Vance, are both expected to testify as well. The two have announced a bi-partisan piece of legislation that would call for rail safety enhancements.
Even before the bill faces its first tests on Capitol Hill, Norfolk Southern announced plans earlier this week to conduct additional research into enhancing its defect detectors along its tracks.
The defect detectors played a key role in the derailment in East Palestine.
According to the National Transportation Safety Board’s preliminary report, the train passed over two defect detectors as it approached East Palestine from the west.
The report indicates that the crew wasn’t alerted to that a wheel bearing’s temperature had risen by more than 250 degrees. Investigators suspect its failure to be responsible for the derailment that caused a fire.
A controlled burn of chemicals afterwards prompted an evacuation and has led to ongoing concerns about environmental and health impacts to those living nearby.
On Wednesday, state lawmakers in Ohio’s statehouse heard testimony from rail unions who are pushing to enact stricter standards on defect detectors – including how far apart they are spaced and at what temperature threshold are crews alerted to a problem.
“Until it reaches that threshold as it stands now, the crew is not notified. Until we have a car that’s on fire and that’s just not the way we should be doing business," Clyde Whitaker with the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Union, which represents union rail workers in Ohio said. "It endangers the community."
But his proposals face opposition.
Art Arnold, a representative for the Ohio Railroad Association, told lawmakers he anticipated rail safety legislation to be enacted by Congress and was opposed to the need for measures to be duplicated in the Ohio Statehouse.
“Allowing states or localities to impose operating rules on freight movements would soon lead to a regulatory patchwork that would be unworkable,” Arnold said.
Arnold declined a request for an interview afterwards by 10 Investigates.