EXCLUSIVE: Transportation Secretary Buttigieg Shares Progress, Goals for Anniversary of Norfolk Southern Train Derailment

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Saturday marks one year since Norfolk Southern’s train derailing in Ohio and Pennsylvania. The derailment caused people to evacuate their homes, worry about their health and left behind a mess that is still being cleaned up today. We spoke exclusively with the Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg on the year anniversary of the crash and what else he hopes to accomplish to prevent future crashes. 

One year after the Norfolk Southern train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio and Darlington Township, Pennsylvania, the cleanup continues. In the weeks and months that followed, those that lived in the areas were worried that the hazardous chemicals from the derailed train could hurt their health and delay getting back to a normal life. After the wreck, the NTSB opened an investigation and congressional members pressed Norfolk Southern leaders.  

“I’m terribly sorry for the impact this derailment has had for the folks in that community,” said Alan Shaw, CEO of Norfolk Southern at a congressional hearing in March 2023. 

And changes were made at the federal level.  

“We’re gonna keep pushing industry to do the right thing,” said DOT Secretary Buttigieg. 

Secretary Buttigieg said right after the derailment, his Department rolled out every measure possible. 

“That’s including focused inspections, tens of thousands of freight cars that have been inspected, tens of thousands of miles of track; we’ve also been investing in making America’s railroad tracks better,” said Secretary Buttigieg. “We put more than a billion dollars in improving and sometimes eliminating railroad crossings around the country to enhance safety and we’ve put out safety advisories we’ve done technical work.” 

But he said there’s only so much they can do.  

“Without intervention from congress which is why we continue to urge congress to pass the bipartisan Railway Safety Act,” said Secretary Buttigieg. “It’s been over a year for all the things we’ve done as a Department, things we’ve pressed industry to do, all of the things the community has done to respond to this. Congress still has to do its part. They should not let America get to the one year mark without taking action. We’re going to use our powers to do the right thing, that’s how the EPA under Michael Regan can require Norfolk Southern to pay the cost of the cleanup and mess that was made by their accident but we could do so much more with help from congress that’s why we’re pushing so hard on getting that legislation done.” 

That legislation the Secretary is referring to aims to enhance safety procedures for trains carrying hazardous materials, establish requirements for wayside defect detectors, increasing fines for wrongdoing committed by rail carriers and more. So far that legislation is still in the Senate. The White House announced President Biden will visit East Palestine in February.