Norfolk Southern’s CEO Plans to Apologize for Toxic Crash in Senate Hearing

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(Bloomberg) -- Norfolk Southern Corp.’s leader plans to tell US lawmakers on Thursday he’s sorry for the train wreck that spilled toxic chemicals in Ohio last month and the company is “determined to make it right.”

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Chief Executive Officer Alan Shaw said in prepared testimony reviewed by Bloomberg that the railroad has committed to $20 million in reimbursements and other payments in East Palestine and is urgently working to remove waste from the area.

“To date, nearly 600 homes have been screened; none of the results indicate a health risk from incident-related substances,” Shaw said in remarks submitted to a Senate committee in advance of Thursday’s hearing. “We are committed to this monitoring for as long as necessary.”

Dozens of rail cars jumped the tracks in East Palestine on Feb. 3 after a wheel bearing failed, prompting a fire and, days later, the burning of toxic vinyl chloride to prevent an explosion. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will hear from Shaw and other witnesses.

While no one was directly injured in the violent wreck, it has set off a political inferno for weeks. A string of other accidents, including a fatal wreck involving a Norfolk Southern train in Cleveland March 7, also prompted federal agencies to open broader reviews of the railroad’s safety practices.

Shaw is likely to face harsh questioning from lawmakers. Senator Shelley Moore Capito, of West Virginia, who is the ranking Republican on the committee, told reporters Wednesday she would demand Norfolk Southern pay for all damages.

“The people of East Palestine need to know that we care,” Capito said.

Shaw said in his prepared remarks that the railroad operator’s payments include funding a family assistance center to support more than 4,200 families, as well as reimbursing local firefighters and payments to local schools.

“I want the people of East Palestine and the surrounding communities to know that Norfolk Southern and I are deeply committed to them and their recovery,” he said.

The company is also working to improve safety based in part on findings so far in the investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board, he said. He defended the engineers on the East Palestine train, saying they were operating below the speed limit and followed proper protocols.

(Updates with testimony, background from fifth paragraph)

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