(The Center Square) – Norfolk Southern agreed this week to reimburse first responders, county relief funds and state agencies nearly $7.4 million in the wake of the Feb. 3 train derailment near the Pennsylvania-Ohio border.
Gov. Josh Shapiro said Monday he secured a deal with Alan Shaw, the railroad’s chief executive officer, to cover all of the costs the state incurred responding to the accident, as well as establishing a $1 million community relief fund in Beaver and Lawrence counties for impacted residents and businesses.
“Norfolk Southern’s train derailment has hurt communities in western Pennsylvania, and to make matters worse, the company’s disregard for crisis management best practices injected unnecessary risk into the situation and created confusion for residents and first responders,” Shapiro said. “Norfolk Southern must do better – and the entire cost of this derailment and its impact on the commonwealth must be picked up by them, not the people of Pennsylvania.”
The railroad will pay $5 million to local fire departments in western Pennsylvania; $1 million to the community relief fund; $950,000 to the Department of Environmental Protection; $400,000 to the Department of Health; and $30,000 to the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency.
“I think it’s a very positive development,” Morgan Boyd, chairman of the Lawrence County Board of Commissioners, told The Center Square on Monday. “It helps us in Lawrence and our counterparts in Beaver County with managing the local side of this disaster.”
Boyd said although the “bulk” of the local costs fell on volunteer fire departments, the county lacks the resources to do independent air and water testing. The relief funds can also reimburse residents for hotel stays and business owners who took a financial hit following the accident.
The promised funding comes more than one month after a Norfolk Southern train carrying vinyl chloride derailed less than 10 miles from the Pennsylvania border in East Palestine, Ohio.
To prevent a dangerous explosion, the railroad performed a “controlled release” of the chemicals that gave way to concerns about air and water pollution in the surrounding communities. In a letter to Shaw sent last month, Shapiro accused Norfolk Southern of prioritizing speed over safety in their rush to reopen the rail line and called on the state legislature to use their oversight authority to investigate further.
Last week, the Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee heeded that advice and invoked its subpoena powers to encourage Shaw to testify before them about the emergency response that followed the derailment.
The action comes after Shaw declined an invitation to speak at the committee’s Feb. 23 public hearing in Beaver County about the accident. He also missed a town hall in Pittsburgh, leaving residents feeling frustrated and abandoned, The Center Square previously reported.
“I know the governor’s administration responded quickly and with the full force of numerous departments behind them,” Boyd said. “I wish Norfolk Southern had been more forthcoming in the early hours after the derailment, but after those few communication hiccups, I’ve been pleased with the state and federal response.”
— Christen Smith