BREAKING: Norfolk Southern Agrees to Pay More Than $310 Million Over Ohio Train Derailment

News & Politics

On Thursday, court records were released showing that Norfolk Southern has agreed to pay $1.5 million in civil penalties plus $57.1 million to cover past governmental cleanup costs for the 2023 train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio. 

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“Under a proposed consent decree,” reported by USA Today, the railroad also agreed to cover millions in future cleanup costs and “make significant safety improvements, install additional safety equipment, improve training and to pay for medical monitoring for health impacts tied to the derailment and release of hazardous chemicals.”

On Feb. 3, 2023, Norfolk Southern hazardous material-carrying freight train 32N derailed and caught fire near East Palestine, a small village near the Ohio-Pennsylvania border. Five of the derailed train cars contained an extremely hazardous and flammable gas called vinyl chloride, which is known to cause cancer. Authorities feared a possible explosion and ordered the evacuation of the surrounding areas while a controlled release of the gas was performed.

In March 2023, the U.S. Justice Department and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sued Norfolk Southern “to ensure the railroad pays the full cost and any long-term effects of the derailment.” It must also reimburse the EPA for future costs.

These penalties result from violations of the Clean Water Act; however, the company admitted no wrongdoing as part of the lawsuit settlement. The penalties are in addition to the $600 million Norfolk Southern already agreed to pay in April 2024 in a class-action lawsuit over the damages resulting from the train’s derailment. That settlement covered “claims from residents and businesses in the city [of East Palestine] and impacted surrounding communities.”

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Recommended: NTSB Releases Preliminary Findings on the East Palestine Disaster

On Tuesday, federal U.S. District Court Judge Benita Pearson granted preliminary approval of the $600 million settlement in Youngstown, Ohio. Pearson described the class-action settlement in court documents as “fair, reasonable, and adequate, entered into in good faith, and free from collusion.” This suit is set to be finalized on September 25.

“No community should have to experience the trauma inflicted upon the residents of East Palestine,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan in an online statement. “That’s why President Biden pledged from the beginning that his Administration would stand with the community every step of the way. Today’s enforcement action delivers on this commitment, ensures the cleanup is paid for by the company, and helps prevent another disaster like this from happening again. Because of this settlement, residents and first responders will have greater access to health services, trains will be safer, and waterways will be cleaner.”

In an open letter on the Norfolk Southern website, Norfolk Southern President and CEO Alan H. Shaw said, “We promised we would help people whose lives were disrupted by the derailment. We’re continuing to do that… We promised to learn from what happened and make a safe railroad even safer. We’re doing that, too.”

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