A Tragedy: Derailed Ohio Train


Emma Lin, Writer

In East Palestine, Ohio, a train carrying nearly a million pounds of vinyl chloride and other harmful chemicals derailed. This caused multiple tanks containing volatile chemicals to be broken, resulting in the chemicals contaminating the surrounding soil, air, and water.

Due to the concerns over the chemicals exploding, Norfolk Southern (the derailed train’s company) crews launched a controlled burn. The Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, also tested the air and installed booms and underflow dams to restrict the spread of contaminants in the waters. The EPA has also ordered Norfolk Southern to pay for the cleanup of the wreckage, and basically the aftermath of it.

And according to federal officials’ report, the train wreck was avoidable.

“This was 100% preventable. … There is no accident. Every single event that we investigate is preventable,” Jennifer L. Homendy, chair of the National Transportation Safety Board, said during a news conference Thursday.
NTSB will also have an investigation focused on Norfolk Southern’s safety and culture.
“The last time the NTSB made such a move was in 2014, when it investigated Metro-North for several significant accidents.” according to ABC news. So, this is kind of a big deal since these NTSB special investigations are so rare.

Ohio is suing Norfolk Southern over this incident. The lawsuit filed against them alleges illegal disposal of toxic waste, unauthorized discharge to the waters, not having a contingency plan, and other demands for relief.

The lawsuit was designed to address any long-term and health related effects this incident may have upon the community, according to Yost, attorney general of Ohio.

Alan Shaw, President and CEO of Norfolk Southern Corporation, apologizes about the incident, saying, “I want to begin today by expressing how deeply sorry I am for the impact this derailment has had on the residents of East Palestine and the surrounding communities.”

Shaw had also told of ways his corporation is contributing in rebuilding the communities, “We have announced direct investments of over $21 million. We committed $7.5 million to Pennsylvania for a community relief fund.” (The derailment transpired close to the state line of Ohio and Pennsylvania).

A bipartisan group of senators have created a new bill, one they hope Norfolk Southern would agree to, which focuses on rail safety. This new bill is called the Railway Safety Act of 2023.

When pressed on for an answer to the Railway Safety Act, Shaw did not support all the provisions in the act, though he said, “we are committed to the legislative intent to make rail safer.”
Shaw also said Norfolk Southern would work on tighter railroad tank car standards as well as “training and more funding for first responders.”

This is undoubtedly a tremendously unfortunate incident to have occurred. But this also gives a rise to rail safety getting the attention and also solutions it needs. However, this is still a terrible occurrence to push the concern to rail safety.

Train derailments, sadly, are quite common in the United States. Studies show more than a thousand derailments per year across the country! This makes the standard set to three derailments per day.

So, with that all said, train derailments are harmful not only to human society but also to the environment and the animals we share the planet with. Be careful if you come across railroad tracks; you never know when a train is coming. To wrap it all up, we must acknowledge this terrible incident and learn from it what can happen in the worst cases of a derailment of a train.

Works Cited
Deliso, Meredith. “Ohio sues Norfolk Southern over East Palestine toxic train derailment.” ABC News, 14 March 2023, https://abcnews.go.com/US/ohio-ag-announce-steps-accountability-east-palestine-toxic/story?id=97852609. Accessed 17 March 2023.
Ebrahimji, Alisha, and Holly Yan. “Timeline of the East Palestine, Ohio train derailment.” CNN, 23 February 2023, https://www.cnn.com/2023/02/23/us/east-palestine-ohio-train-derailment-timeline/index.html. Accessed 17 March 2023.
Elamroussi, Aya, and Alisha Ebrahimji. “A first report on the Ohio toxic train wreck was released. Here’s what it found — and what investigators are still looking into.” CNN, 25 February 2023, https://www.cnn.com/2023/02/24/us/ohio-train-derailment-east-palestine-friday/index.html. Accessed 17 March 2023.
Foran, Clare. “Key takeaways from the Senate hearing on the East Palestine, Ohio train derailment.” CNN, 9 March 2023, https://www.cnn.com/2023/03/09/politics/takeaways-ohio-train-derailment-senate-hearing/index.html. Accessed 17 March 2023.
Hernandez, Joe. “There are about 3 U.S. train derailments per day. They aren’t usually major disasters.” NPR, 9 March 2023, https://www.npr.org/2023/03/09/1161921856/there-are-about-3-u-s-train-derailments-per-day-they-arent-usually-major-disaste. Accessed 27 March 2023.
Hulsey, Lynn. “See pictures of the Norfolk Southern train derailment and cleanup in Ohio.” Dayton Daily News, 27 February 2023, https://www.daytondailynews.com/local/photos-train-accident-and-hazardous-release-in-ohio/ZEAWWRMA3NCUFMEPJC34NVY3QA/. Accessed 20 March 2023.