Norfolk Southern CEO testifies before Pennsylvania Senate regarding East Palestine derailment
Norfolk Southern CEO, Alan Shaw appeared before the Pennsylvania Senate Monday morning regarding the East Palestine Train Derailment disaster.
During his testimony, Shaw said that there have been no signs of contaminants in PA waterways or private wells and that no long-term health effects are expected to occur as a result of the derailment.
Senator Doug Mastriano (R-33) heavily criticized Shaw for the way the controlled release of toxic chemicals conducted on February 6 was handled stating that he had served time in the military and has conducted similar chemical releases. None of them were ever referred to as "controlled."
"I can't accept any idea that any of this was controlled. Once something is set loose, it's up to the elements," Senator Mastriano said.
Despite the criticism, Shaw later doubled down on the decision to conduct the controlled release stating that it worked as intended.
"We avoided the potential for a catastrophic, uncontrolled explosion," Shaw said.
Shaw testified that the decision to conduct the controlled release was made by the unified command, which was led by East Palestine Fire Chief, Keith Drabick.
When asked who else was on the unified command, Shaw said there were "state, federal, and local authorities" and "experts" involved but did not name any of them. Shaw himself was not involved in the discussion of the release.
"We don't know how the decision was made or modeling data based on what's being answered thus far," said Senator Katie Muth (R-44). "It's difficult for the committee to understand a lot of this in the absence of information."
Senator Mastriano criticized Shaw for leaving this decision up to a fire chief without offering his own input.
The committee pressed Shaw on whether the controlled burn was a business versus an ethical decision. "Inferring you want to get the trains moving again at the fastest moment rather than safely remove the chemicals," Mastriano said.
"I've served in complex, interservice, interagency, multinational organizations. Even if it's consent around the table, there's always somebody that pulls the trigger. There's always somebody that says 'ok we're going to do this.' And I find it hard to believe that the local fire chief would be the one making the decision to set an explosion off to ignite eight cars worth of toxic chemicals," Senator Mastriano said.
Shaw responded by saying, "This is based solely on the safety and health of the community. There was a concern based on pressures in the rail cars and the fact that several of the rail cars had been in a pool fire of an uncontrolled explosion, which would shoot harmful Caesium gas and harmful shrapnel throughout the community."
Shaw said train crews immediately started breaking when a wayside detector went off and there were no track defects.
"Once the train hit that wayside detector in East Palestine, that showed that elevated temperature that you referenced, the train immediately started the breaking process," Shaw said. "However, my understanding from the report is that the train already started to derail at that point."
On the topic of rail safety, Shaw told senators that he "appreciates the leadership" of the senators pushing for the Rail Safety Act.
Senator, Katie Muth stated that she believes that one of the issues behind the derailment was the length of the train and that a shorter train would have allowed for the train to stop in time.
However, Shaw disagreed with this.
"The NTSB did not indicate that train length had anything to do with the derailment in East Palestine," Shaw said.
Shaw says Norfolk Southern will be in East Palestine for "as long as it takes," but when asked about how long water testing will be provided by the company, Shaw said this is "to be determined."
The PA Senate hearing comes as Norfolk Southern recently announced $7.5 million dollars will go towards a Pennsylvania community relief fund and reimburse first responders and environmental agencies for costs related to the derailment.