Second Ohio Norfolk Southern Train Derailment Escalates Rail Freight Safety Concerns
A month and a day after a Norfolk Southern train derailed in East Palestine, Ohio — forcing evacuations as it spewed toxic chemicals into the surrounding community — another train from the same company derailed in the same state.
The derailment, which took place Saturday, March 4 at around 4:45 p.m. local time near Springfield, Ohio, in the state’s Clark County, did not release any dangerous chemicals, as company and state officials were quick to reassure residents. But it did raise concerns about the safety of Norfolk Southern’s operations.
“The railroad’s got a lot of questions they’ve got to answer and they really haven’t really done it very well yet,” Ohio Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown said on “This Week,” as The New York Times reported.
Saturday’s derailment saw 28 of 212 cars derail en route from Bellevue, Ohio, to Birmingham, Alabama. The overturned cars slid along the tracks and knocked over power lines, which shut off power to 1,500 Clark County residents, as NPR reported. The four or five homes within 1,000 feet of the crash were asked to shelter in place for 10 hours after the incident as a precaution.
For residents, the incident brought up fears of a repeat of what had happened in East Palestine on Feb. 3, where hundreds of thousands of pounds of toxins including vinyl chloride were released from the crash site. Some people there are still complaining of suspicious odors and rashes. Removing contaminated soil from the area could take up to two months, as CNN reported.
The thought of another East Palestine shook Shawn Heaton as he witnessed Saturday’s derailment firsthand while waiting in his car at a rail crossing.
“Once I got back home, the first thing I did was get on my phone and check wind direction and all that stuff to make sure we were upwind,” Heaton told The New York Times. “It’s just crazy, the things that can go through your mind.”
However, in this case, it seems that history did not repeat.
“NO hazmat involved. NO injuries reported. Our crews and contractors are responding. Authorities are helping with impacted crossing closures,” Norfolk Southern spokesperson Connor Spielmaker said on Twitter. “There is NO risk to the public.”
State agencies also said the area was safe after testing.
“There was no release of any chemical or any hazardous material to the soil, to the air, to the water,” Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Director Anne Vogel said Sunday, as CNN reported.
Four tanks that derailed had previously been carrying diesel exhaust fluid and a wastewater treatment additive, but were empty at the time of the crash and only contained “very minor amounts,” Springfield Fire Assistant Chief Matt Smith said.
Another car was carrying PVC pellets that did impact the surrounding soil.
Clark County Health Commissioner Charles Patterson said that the Ohio EPA and other technicians had tested the area and would keep monitoring it.
“Technicians will continue to be on site to ensure that there isn’t any contamination that has been missed,” he said.
The cause of Saturday’s incident is unknown, and the National Transportation Safety Board is sending a team to investigate. However, the back-to-back crashes have ignited a bipartisan call for action on rail safety.
“The fact that we’re having derailment after derailment shows really the lack of investment, the disinvestment, in our infrastructure, and that needs to change,” Representative Michael R. Turner (R-Ohio), whose district includes Saturday’s crash site, said Sunday, as The Washington Post reported.
Brown and Ohio’s Republican Senator J.D. Vance worked together to introduce the Railway Safety Act of 2023 on March 1. It would, among other measures, require companies like Norfolk Southern to inform states of what toxic freight is passing through. It has been praised by both Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and President Joe Biden, who, while both Democrats, have clashed on environmental and regulatory policies.
“I applaud the bipartisan group of senators for proposing rail safety legislation that provides many of the solutions that my administration has been calling for,” Biden said in a statement Thursday. “This legislation provides us with tools to hold companies accountable to prevent terrible tragedies like the Norfolk Southern derailment in East Palestine and to make those communities whole.”