Chair Cantwell Grills Norfolk Southern CEO on Rail Industry Priorities: “We Are Not Going To Take Profits Over Safety Investments”

March 22, 2023

In questioning, Cantwell zeroes in on new requirements that could help prevent or mitigate accidents 


Opening Remarks and Witness Testimonies

During a hearing today to examine improving rail safety in the wake of the East Palestine, Ohio, train derailment, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, questioned Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw about the rail industry’s commitment to safety. The Committee heard from Ohio Senators Sherrod Brown and J.D. Vance, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine and East Palestine resident Misti Allison. Along with Mr. Shaw, members questioned several witnesses including NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy, Ohio Western Reserve Joint Fire District Chief David Comstock, Ohio State SMART-TD Legislative Director Clyde Whitaker and Association of American Railroads CEO Ian Jefferies.

"We can't have railroads adopt operating models focused on just cutting costs to achieve higher profits and then have higher accident rates,” Sen. Cantwell said in her opening statement. “From 2017 to 2021, railroads cut their workforce by 22% and reduced investment in the network by [25]% -- and at the same time, accident rates increased by 14%.”

Watch Sen. Cantwell’s Opening Statement

Sen. Cantwell also noted in her opening statement that rail safety is of nationwide importance, especially in the State of Washington.

"This hearing is not only about the East Palestine derailment,” Sen. Cantwell said. “Less than a week ago, a Burlington Northern Santa Fe train derailed in my home state of Washington, on the Swinomish Reservation in Skagit County, spilling [3,100] gallons of diesel near the Padilla Bay waterfront, a sensitive aquatic ecosystem. These are important issues for all of America."

In the State of Washington, 44 million tons of hazardous materials move to destinations in the state each year by rail. This includes four million gallons of crude oil, which are transported by train through the state each day. Many oil trains travel through cities, including Seattle, Pasco, and Bellingham.

During the hearing, Sen. Cantwell asked Shaw about a Norfolk Southern document showing that the company’s employees are only given 30 seconds to inspect one side of a train car.

“I'm not familiar with a minimum or a maximum on railcar inspection duration,” Shaw said.

“Well, maybe you can find somebody in your organization to get you this document. But it's clearly your document,” Cantwell responded.