UPDATE 1-Norfolk Southern CEO to apologize before US Senate for Ohio derailment

(Adds details, quotes, additional testimony)

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON, March 8 (Reuters) –

Norfolk Southern Chief Executive Alan Shaw will apologize on Thursday at a U.S. Senate hearing over the Feb. 3 derailment of an Ohio freight train carrying hazardous materials and pledge to improve safety, according to testimony seen by Reuters.

“We won’t be finished until we make it right,” Shaw says in written testimony ahead of his appearance before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. “I am deeply sorry for the impact this derailment has had on the people of East Palestine and surrounding communities.”

His testimony says that to date the railroad has committed to reimbursements and investments of more than $20 million, but emphasizes that is only a start.

“This is a down payment. I am going to see this through. There are no strings attached to our assistance,” Shaw’s testimony says.

Norfolk Southern has been under fire after a number of derailments of its trains, particularly one it operated in East Palestine, Ohio, that caused cars carrying toxic vinyl chloride and other hazardous chemicals to spill and catch fire.

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) both announced new safety probes of the railroad Tuesday after the death of a conductor in Cleveland, Ohio, when a train was struck by a dump truck.

The NTSB said given the number and significance of recent Norfolk Southern accidents it was opening a special investigation and “urges the company to take immediate action today to review and assess its safety practices.”

Following the East Palestine derailment, some of the town’s 4,700 residents have reported ailments such as rashes and breathing difficulties and fear long-term health effects. No deaths or injuries were reported after the accident.

Debra Shore, a regional administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, will tell lawmakers at the hearing that about 600 homes had been screened for air quality and vinyl chloride or hydrogen chloride detected.

“Every time a train whistle blows, they are reminded of the trauma visited upon them by Norfolk Southern,” she said in her written testimony for Thursday’s hearing.

Shaw pledged to “clean the site safely, thoroughly, and with urgency.”

Ohio Environmental Protection Agency Director Anne Vogel will tell the committee that her agency “will not stop until the science definitively shows that the residents of East Palestine are safe in their beautiful community.” (Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Leslie Adler and Deepa Babington)