WASHINGTON — The chief executive of Norfolk Southern told lawmakers at a Senate hearing on Thursday that he was “deeply sorry” for the effects of the train derailment last month in East Palestine, Ohio, as residents continue to express deep concerns about the possible environmental damage from the accident.
In prepared remarks to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, the chief executive, Alan H. Shaw, said he was determined to “clean the site safely, thoroughly and with urgency,” adding that he was “determined to make it right.”
Federal investigators found that a wheel bearing on one of the train’s cars had been heating up as the train passed through Ohio, but that an alarm did not sound to alert the crew until it passed a sensor not far from where it derailed. Safety experts say the crew could have averted the disaster if there were more sensors closer together on the route that the train took.
The National Transportation Safety Board said on Tuesday that it had opened a special investigation into the safety practices at Norfolk Southern. Another of the company’s freight trains derailed near Springfield, Ohio, on Saturday. Norfolk Southern’s accident rate increased over the past four years, according to a recent company presentation.
Last week, lawmakers from both parties introduced legislation in the both chambers of Congress that would tighten restrictions on trains carrying hazardous materials. But the response on Capitol Hill has been marked with intense partisanship and finger pointing as details surrounding the East Palestine derailment remain under investigation. It also remains unclear if the legislation will have the support to pass in a Republican-led House and how quickly it could be considered in the Senate.
In East Palestine, residents have complained about what they view as a slow federal response and a lack of clarity about what precautions will be taken to ensure their safety. They have pointed out that shortly after the evacuation order was lifted, trains began rumbling back through town.
Residents are concerned that Norfolk Southern will not be held accountable for the damage inflicted upon the town of roughly 4,700 people and that they will be forgotten as the weeks go by.
Norfolk Southern has committed more than $20 million to supporting East Palestine and has taken steps to enhance safety by increasing its network of early-warning sensors, according to Mr. Shaw’s prepared remarks.
“We are making progress in the recovery and know our work is not yet done,” he plans to say. “I pledge that we won’t be finished until we make it right.”
Senator Thomas R. Carper, Democrat of Delaware and the chairman of the committee, said in his opening remarks that the company’s financial commitments might be insufficient to cover the cost of the cleanup.
“We also need to make sure that the impacted communities receive the resources and support they need,” he said.