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Norfolk Southern CEO claims lowest derailment rate in decades

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(NewsNation) — Despite a train derailment that spilled toxic waste into a small Ohio town and additional derailments across the country making headlines in the last month, the CEO of Norfolk Southern told lawmakers Thursday his company experienced fewer derailments in 2022 than in any year in the last decade.

Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw faced a grueling barrage of questioning Thursday before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

Shaw said the company’s operation was safer in several areas last year than during the previous decade.

“We currently spend $1 billion a year on technologies, equipment, and infrastructure to enhance safety,” Shaw said. “But the safety mechanisms in place did not prevent this accident, so we are focused on learning from this incident and working with industry to make changes.”

The company made $3 billion in profits last year and committed $1 billion to safety, Shaw said Thursday.

His comments were part of a larger investigation into railway safety practices in the wake of the Feb. 3 crash that led to the release of toxic chemicals in East Palestine, Ohio.

Norfolk Southern reported 197 total accidents in 2022, according to the most recent data available from the Federal Railroad Administration. The FRA categorizes accidents as mechanical and electrical failures, and derailments, among others.

Over the years, the company’s total number of accidents has remained relatively stable, with a record-low of 171 crashes in 2019. The year prior saw 272 accidents — the most reported by Norfolk Southern in the past decade.

Union Pacific and BNSF, both much larger companies, consistently reported more crashes than Norfolk Southern.

Data analyzed by Politico found that Norfolk Southern saw the most significant accident rate increase over the past 10 years, “rising nearly three times as fast as the industry average.”

Norfolk Southern’s accident rate rose by more than 80% between 2013 and 2022, according to Politico’s analysis. The company had 27% more accidents per million miles traveled compared to the remaining six “Class 1” railroads.

Reached by email Thursday, Norfolk Southern clarified that it specifically had fewer derailments than in any other year in the last decade. The company’s total number of accidents also fell by 21% since 2019, and the employee injury rate improved by 35% over the past two years, a company spokesperson wrote.

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