Live updates: East Palestine, Ohio train derailment Senate hearing
Norfolk Southern Chief Executive Alan Shaw testified on the East Palestine, Ohio train derailment before a U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing today on Capitol Hill. (Mary F. Calvert/Reuters)

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle tried to get some answers about the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, during a Senate committee hearing Thursday.

A Norfolk Southern train crashed on February 3, releasing toxic chemicals into the air, water and soil of the town. The Senate Environment and Public Works committee heard from witnesses, including Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw.

Here are some key takeaways from the hearing:

Norfolk Southern CEO apologizes: Shaw began his testimony with an apology to the individuals and communities hurt by the derailment and said that Norfolk Southern will work to help East Palestine recover. He outlined a number of financial commitments as part of that effort and said the company “will be in the community for as long as it takes.”

“I am determined to make this right. Norfolk Southern will clean the site safely, thoroughly and with urgency. You have my personal commitment. Norfolk Southern will get the job done and help East Palestine thrive,” he said.

Concerns from the community: The hearing featured several senators as witnesses: Ohio Sens. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, and J.D. Vance, a Republican, and Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey, a Democrat.

They spoke about what they are hearing from constituents in communities affected by fallout from the incident and said people are worried about everything from drinking water and air quality as well as if their crops or livestock are contaminated.

Rail safety legislation: A bipartisan group of senators has proposed a new bill aimed at shoring up rail safety. The Railway Safety Act of 2023 has been introduced by Vance and other Republican Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Josh Hawley of Missouri, as well as Brown, Casey and fellow Democratic Sen. John Fetterman of Pennsylvania. In his testimony, Casey said he hopes to hear Norfolk Southern say they support the bill.

“It’s bipartisan — that never happens around here on big bills, or rarely I should say,” Casey said. “If a major rail company said, ‘we support these reforms and will help you pass this bill,’ That’s what I think the people of both states deserve,” he later added.

Later in the hearing, Shaw was asked if he would commit to supporting the bipartisan bill. Shaw wouldn’t endorse all of the provisions of the bill, but he said, “we are committed to the legislative intent to make rail safer.”

Sanders presses Norfolk Southern CEO on health care costs for residents following train wreck: Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders pressed Shaw on health care needs in East Palestine, asking if his vow to help the community following the train derailment will include paying for health care costs for residents. 

Shaw did not make a definitive commitment, but said that “everything is on the table.”


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