Norfolk Southern to pay $15M fine in federal settlement over Ohio train derailment

Norfolk Southern has agreed to pay a $15 million fine for last year’s fiery train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, and to spend millions more on cleanup efforts as part of a settlement with the federal government, officials announced Thursday.

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The Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Justice announced the settlement in a statement, saying that the rail company will pay more than $310 million. In all, the company estimates it will spend more than $1 billion to address the aftermath of the derailment and to improve rail safety and operations, officials said.

EPA Administrator Michael Regan said the settlement “ensures the cleanup is paid for by the company, and helps prevent another disaster like this from happening again.”

“No community should have to experience the trauma inflicted upon the residents of East Palestine,” he said, adding, “Because of this settlement, residents and first responders will have greater access to health services, trains will be safer and waterways will be cleaner.”

If approved by a judge, the settlement will require the company to spend an estimated $235 million “for all past and future costs” related to the derailment, so that taxpayers don’t have to foot the cleanup bill. The company will also pay $25 million for a 20-year community health program for those impacted by the incident, $15 million for long-term monitoring of ground water and surface water and other costs. The company has estimated it will spend more than $200 million on rail safety enhancements prompted by the incident.

“Importantly, those who will most directly benefit from this settlement are those who were most directly affected by the disaster,” Acting Associate Attorney General Benjamin C. Mizer. “And the rail safety commitments will help prevent future catastrophic railway events.”

On Thursday, Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw said the company “will continue keeping our promises and are invested in the community’s future for the long-haul.”

“We are pleased we were able to reach a timely resolution of these investigations that recognizes our comprehensive response to the community’s needs and our mission to be the gold standard of safety in the rail industry,” he said.

A Norfolk Southern train carrying hazardous materials derailed and caught fire near the Ohio-Pennsylvania border on the night of Feb. 3, 2023, sending thick plumes of smoke into the air and prompting evacuations and environmental concerns. Three days after the derailment, authorities performed a controlled explosion to release vinyl chloride from five of the train cars, heightening concerns about the toxic chemical.

The EPA has been monitoring environmental conditions since the derailment and said Thursday that it has so far collected more than 115 million air monitoring data points and over 45,000 air, water and soil samples. More than 177,000 tons of contaminated soil and more than 69 million gallons of wastewater have been removed from the area, officials said.

The National Transportation Safety Board said last year that surveillance video taken from the area appeared to show a wheel bearing overheating moments before the February 2023 derailment. Authorities continue to investigate the circumstances leading to the incident.

Last month, Norfolk Southern announced that it agreed to pay $600 million to settle a class-action lawsuit related to the derailment. The funds would be available to people and businesses impacted by the incident.

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