Norfolk Southern to end relocation aid right after one-year anniversary of its fiery Ohio derailment

Norfolk Southern railroad plans to stop paying relocation aid to people displaced by last February's fiery derailment in eastern Ohio right after the one-year anniversary of the crash.

Railroad officials announced the change this week as they reiterated their long-term commitment to helping the town of East Palestine, Ohio, and the surrounding area near the Pennsylvania border recover. Norfolk Southern has committed more than $103 million in aid to the area, including nearly $21 million paid out directly to residents whose lives were upended by the derailment.

When the train careened off the tracks on the night of Feb. 3, several tank cars filled with hazardous chemicals ruptured, and their contents caught fire. Then a few days later officials blew open five more tank cars to keep them from exploding. The chemical spill left residents with lingering health worries about potential long-term effects.

With the completion of soil removal from the derailment site in October, the Atlanta-based railroad decided it was time to stop paying the expenses of people who still haven't returned to their homes. A Norfolk Southern spokesman said fewer than 100 households are still receiving that aid because most residents have already returned to East Palestine.

“This program was always a temporary one for those residents who chose to relocate during the site remediation process,” spokesman Tom Crosson said.

The move to end relocation aid, which will take effect Feb. 9, had been rumored for months. But the decision still angered some residents like Jami Wallace, who posted online “Thank you NS for flipping another bird at residents."

“It's truly bad timing,” Wallace said in a message to The Associated Press. “Most were financially devastated by the derailment. It's already a financially stressful time of year and now to worry about where you are going to live.”

The railroad is offering to pay to clean the homes of anyone who hasn't returned home yet as long as they didn't already take advantage of a similar program earlier. And for residents who decided to move, Norfolk Southern has offered to compensate them for any lost value in their homes as long as they agree to give up any other property damage claims against the railroad.

Norfolk Southern has estimated that its response to the derailment has already cost nearly $1 billion and that total will only grow as the cleanup continues, three funds it has committed to create are finalized and various lawsuits are addressed. But the railroad will get compensation from its insurers and likely other companies involved in the derailment to offset some of that cost.

Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw said he knows there is still more work to do in East Palestine, but he is proud of the progress that has been made since the derailment.

“We’ll continue keeping our promises and listening to the community,” Shaw said. “Together, we’re focused on economic development to help the East Palestine community thrive for the long term.”