EAST PALESTINE, Ohio (WJW) — The FOX 8 I-Team has found the Norfolk Southern railroad paid big bucks to settle claims of safety violations just months before the toxic train derailment in East Palestine.
This comes to light in documents released to the I-Team by the Federal Railroad Administration after a records request.
The records show, last October, Norfolk Southern agreed to pay the federal government $1,348,710 to settle hundreds of alleged violations of safety rules. The records covered issues from 2020-2022.
They fell under the headings of Freight Car Safety Standards, Locomotive Safety Standards, Railroad Operating Practices, Safety Appliance/Power Brakes, Grade Crossing Signal Safety, and more.
We reached out to the locomotive engineers union. Vince Verna, VP of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen told u she thinks the public should be concerned.
“The railroads expect a hundred percent rules compliance out of all of the people I represent,” Verna said. “And, we feel that it’s our expectation that the railroads be held to the same standard. One-hundred percent compliance.”
The I-Team found safety write-ups like these can lead to a wide range of enforcement. The Federal Railroad Administration can simply order something corrected, or issue fines, or even shut down operations. A lot depends on the safety threat and how willing the railroad is to fix a problem.
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown and others want new rail safety regulations. But, it’s common for all major rail companies to meet with the Federal Railroad Administration and settle notices of safety violations.
As for this settlement, Norfolk Southern issued a statement:
“Class I railroads meet with the Federal Railroad Administration annually to address reports and citations in aggregate. Last year, 70% of the items related to Norfolk Southern were regarding ladders, footholds, or other appliances fixed to railcars that may have been damaged. These accounted for approximately 300 cases across more than171,000 rail cars that touched our network last year.
In 2022, Norfolk Southern had fewer derailments than in any other year in the last decade. Since 2019, our total number of accidents has dropped by 16%, and the number of accidents on the heaviest trafficked routes on our network has dropped by 25%. Last year, Norfolk Southern’s employee injury rate was among the lowest in the industry and has improved 35% since 2020. We remain committed to being the gold standard for safety.”