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Norfolk Southern CEO to tell Congress he is ‘deeply sorry’ for East Palestine derailment

Alan Shaw is expected to tell lawmakers he's “determined to make it right,” according to written testimony. A train carrying hazardous chemicals derailed Feb. 3 in the Ohio town.

Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw will tell lawmakers Thursday that he is “deeply sorry” for a train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, and that he is “determined to make it right,” according to written Senate testimony obtained by NBC News.

“We will clean the site safely, thoroughly, and with urgency. We are making progress every day,” Shaw is expected to tell members of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, according to his prepared testimony.

The Senate hearing is scheduled to start at 10 a.m. ET.

The Norfolk Southern train carrying hazardous chemicals derailed in East Palestine, a village of around 4,700 near the Pennsylvania border, on the night of Feb. 3.

There was a fire, and residents were ordered to evacuate their homes. The railroad conducted a “controlled breach” of cars that contained vinyl chloride to prevent an explosion, and materials burned off, officials said.

The Norfolk Southern CEO on Thursday is also expected to stress the importance of financial assistance to affected residents, noting that the company has “committed to reimbursements and investments of more than $20 million in total,” allocated to families and first responders.

Image: Norfolk Southern President and CEO Alan Shaw speaks to reporters on Feb. 21, 2023, near the site where a freight train derailed Feb. 3 in East Palestine, Ohio.
Norfolk Southern President and CEO Alan Shaw speaks to reporters on Feb. 21 near the derailment site in East Palestine, Ohio.Matt Freed / AP file

“I want to be clear: this financial assistance is just a down payment,” Shaw will say, according to the testimony.

“I’ve met with community leaders, business owners, school officials, clergy, and others to begin to identify ways we can invest in the future prosperity of East Palestine and support the long-term needs of its people,” he will say. “We will continue to invest in East Palestine for as long as it takes to help the community recover and thrive.”

Vinyl chloride is a flammable gas that is linked to increased risk of cancer. Some residents have complained of irritation and other health effects, and some have said they were afraid to shower or otherwise use water.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been conducting air monitoring, among other steps. The agency has said all it has detected has been low levels of the compound 1,4-dichlorobenzene that are typical of ambient background concentrations.

Soil is also being removed and sent to sites for treatment and disposal, officials have said.

Shaw is expected to tell the Senate committee Thursday that “Norfolk Southern is working around the clock to remediate the remaining issues and monitor for any impact on public health and the environment,” according to the written testimony.

Portions of a Norfolk Southern freight train that derailed Feb. 3, in East Palestine, Ohio, are still on fire on Feb. 4, 2023.
Portions of a Norfolk Southern freight train that derailed Feb. 3, in East Palestine, Ohio, on fire Feb. 4. Gene J. Puskar / AP file

According to the testimony, Shaw will conclude his prepared remarks by pledging to make things right.

"I want to state again how deeply sorry we are for the impact of this derailment on East Palestine, surrounding communities and all of the people who have been affected,” he plans to say.

“We are making progress in the recovery and know our work is not yet done," the testimony reads. "On behalf of the more than 19,700 hard-working employees of Norfolk Southern, I pledge that we won’t be finished until we make it right."

The 150-car Norfolk Southern Railway train was traveling from Madison, Illinois, to Conway, Pennsylvania, when it derailed shortly before 9 p.m.

Five of the cars that derailed carried vinyl chloride, the National Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating the derailment, has said.

Vinyl chloride is used to used to produce polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic for packaging materials and a range of electronic, medical and construction products.

A cause has not been determined. A preliminary report by the NTSB said an overheated wheel bearing was 253 degrees hotter than the air temperature.

The NTSB has identified the rail car that caused the derailment, and the agency said surveillance video "showed what appears to be a wheel bearing in the final stage of overheat failure moments before the derailment."