Norfolk Southern CEO to testify before Senate next week and 'share what he knows' about derailment

The train was carrying hazardous materials on Feb. 3 near East Palestine, Ohio.

ByAllison Pecorin ABCNews logo
Wednesday, March 1, 2023
Ohio senators introduce rail safety bill after fiery crash
Ohio senators have proposed legislation that would make railroads subject to a series of new federal safety regulations and financial consequences.

The CEO of Norfolk Southern, the rail company responsible for the East Palestine, Ohio, train derailment, has agreed to appear before a Senate committee next week.

Alan Shaw will appear before the Senate's Environment and Public Works Committee during a March 9 hearing.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Norfolk Southern said Shaw told the committee "that he will appear voluntarily .... We continue to engage in discussions with Members of Congress and other committees about additional requests to testify, while balancing his commitments to the remediation process and the community."

"Alan will share what he knows about the incident," the spokesperson continued. "As the [National Transportation Safety Board] has noted, there are also industry-wide issues, and we would expect that other industry participants will also be involved in future hearings. The rail industry needs to learn as much as it can from East Palestine, as can the owners of the rail cars."

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer had called for Shaw to appear for a hearing during floor remarks on Monday.

"The American people should hear from Norfolk Southern CEO precisely why they thought it was a good idea to spend years lobbying to loosen regulations designed to prevent accidents like this," Schumer said. "And I especially want to hear why Norfolk Southern, after seeing a record $3.3 billion in profits last year, prioritized billions in stock buybacks instead of putting that money towards safety and towards their workers."

Norfolk Southern President and CEO Alan Shaw speaks to reporters, Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2023, near the site where a freight train derailed Feb. 3 in East Palestine, Ohio.
Matt Freed

The hearing has not yet been formally noticed by the committee, but other witnesses are expected.

The freight train carrying hazardous materials derailed on Feb. 3 near East Palestine, sending toxic chemicals into the air, soil and creeks in the area. The derailment has caused concerns for residents as well as increased scrutiny of railway regulations and calls for reform.

A bipartisan group of senators, led by Ohio Democrat Sherrod Brown and Ohio Republican J.D. Vance, introduced legislation on Wednesday looking to regulate the railroad industry.

Among the proposals in the legislation are measures to enhance safety precautions for trains carrying hazardous material, like requiring that wheels of trains carrying hazardous materials be scanned for heat every 10 miles; mandating a two-person crew aboard all trains; and increasing the fines that the Department of Transportation can levy against corporations for breaking rules.

"Through this legislation, Congress has a real opportunity to ensure that what happened in East Palestine will never happen again," Vance said in a statement. "We owe every American the peace of mind that their community is protected from a catastrophe of this kind."

The Norfolk Southern spokesperson said in their statement, of proposed rail legislation, "The rail industry needs to learn as much as we can from East Palestine. Norfolk Southern has committed to working with industry to develop practices and technologies that could help prevent an incident like this in the future. This incident requires a broad industry response, and we will also work with the owners of the rail cars on the integrity and safety of the equipment we use."

Federal officials say contaminated waste from the site of a fiery train derailment in Ohio have started moving out

This is the first major legislative foray for Vance, Ohio's freshman senator. The bill boasts an impressive group of bipartisan co-sponsors, including Sens. Bob Casey, D-Pa., John Fetterman, D-Pa., and Marco Rubio, R-Fla.

It's not yet clear whether the legislation will have the necessary 60 votes to clear the Senate, but the bipartisan group of co-sponsors suggests it'll have more than a fighting chance.

"These commonsense bipartisan safety measures will finally hold big railroad companies accountable, make our railroads and the towns along them safer, and prevent future tragedies, so no community has to suffer like East Palestine again," Brown said in a statement.

In floor remarks Wednesday, Schumer announced his support for the bipartisan Railway Safety Act and said he would work with the bill's sponsors to advance it forward for a vote.

"This is precisely the kind of proposal we need to see in Congress," he said.

"The bill is as smart as it is necessary," Schumer said.

ABC News' Sasha Pezenik contributed to this report.