This week, Ohio’s U.S. senators criticized Norfolk Southern for “putting profits over people,” and insisted their legislation presents a “time for choosing,” in a closely watched committee hearing. In Ohio, meanwhile, lawmakers held their own hearing on rail safety.
Separately, the rail industry announced plans to install about 1,000 additional wayside detectors in response to the derailment in East Palestine. These hot bearing detectors offer an early warning system that could potentially reduce accidents. Norfolk Southern in particular also announced plans to build a regional training center for first responders in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
In a press release, Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw described it as a way to ensure first responders, “have the knowledge and tools to work safely and effectively to protect the health and safety of their fellow citizens.”
Whether the rail industry’s voluntary steps will be enough to hold off stricter oversight is far from clear. In an Ohio Senate Select Committee on Rail Safety hearing, state transportation officials detailed a significant communication gap in the immediate aftermath of the derailment.
At the prompting of Sen. Kristina Roegner, R-Hudson, the Ohio Department of Transportation deputy director said it was “several hours” before he knew what the train was carrying.
“The crews on the ground,” he went on, “it was probably six hours, as estimated, that we were actually informed at the district of what was on that train.”
“That’s huge,” Sen. Michael Rulli, R-Salem, said later. “Because if you guys know in the first half hour that we have toxic, you could go get your HAZMAT uniforms, bring them out to the guys and everyone’s a lot better than they are.”
They’re working now, he said, on determining the “cadence” of follow-up testing.
“We’re getting very close to the place where I think we’ll be able to say we’ve wrapped up that initial round of testing,” Vanderhof explained. “But our testing of the drinking water in that community is going to be ongoing.”
“We’re going to need to do that for years and years,” he added.
This story was originally published by the Ohio Capital Journal and republished here with permission.
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