(WASHINGTON) — Some East Palestine, Ohio, residents are still grappling with the aftershock of last month’s train derailment, with one mother offering compelling testimony about how the incident traumatized her young child.
The night of the incident, a “huge fireball” was visible from East Palestine resident Misti Allison’s driveway, she testified to the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, vowing, “We will never forget the night the train derailed.”
“My seven-year-old has asked me if he is going to die from living in his own home. What do I tell him?” she asked lawmakers Wednesday.
Allison said the accident “put a scarlet letter on our town” that has resulted in tumbling home values and financial strain for the village.
“I’m here to put a face on this disaster,” said Misti Allison, a mother of two who lives in East Palestine. “This isn’t just a political issue. It is a people issue.”
Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw has repeatedly refused to commit to certain points on rail and worker safety and commitments to the East Palestine community. During the same hearing at which Allison spoke, Shaw refused to commit fully to backing the RAIL Act, proposed by Reps. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio, and Emilia Strong-Sykes, D-Ohio, and the Railway Safety Act, proposed by Sens. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and J.D. Vance, R-Ohio, — saying the bills contained “potential for meaningful improvement,” going just slightly further than prior remarks in which he refused to commit to backing the bipartisan Railway Safety Act amid intense political fallout.
Though Shaw offered his “full-throated endorsement” for “many provisions” in the Railway Safety Act, which was proposed by Ohio’s two senators in the wake of the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, last month, he still dodged when asked whether he’d support the legislation and did not offer a specific long-term safety plan. Shaw testified earlier this month he’d commit to “the legislative intent to make rail safer” without citing specific elements of the legislation he would support.
“We are committed to getting better,” Shaw said Wednesday when asked by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., whether he supported the bill, citing Norfolk Southern’s support for the acceleration of the phase-in of the DT-117s, funding first responder hazmat training, and expanding advanced notification.
Asked by Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., whether he would support legislation requiring at least a two-person crew on all freight trains — which will become a requirement if the RSA is enacted — Shaw sidestepped, saying he was “not aware” of data supporting the notion that having more than a one-person crew aboard all trains would improve safety.
“Mr. Shaw, will you commit to supporting legislation requiring at least two-person crews on all freight trains?” Markey asked.
“Senator, we’ll commit to using research and technology to ensure the railroad operates safely,” Shaw said.
When Sen. Peter Welch, D-Vt., pressed Shaw on who was responsible for preventing the derailment, which Shaw said in prior testimony was preventable, the CEO responded, “We are responsible for safety on our network and working within the entire industry to enhance safety.”
“Okay, let me understand this. You’ve just reluctantly acknowledged A) it’s preventable, and B) it was your responsibility to prevent it. Am I incorrect?” Welch asked.
“Senator, I’m taking responsibility to enhance safety throughout the entire industry,” Shaw said — a reply Welch said “sounds like a lobbyist response.”
“Small communities have something that’s really very, very special,” Welch said of the derailment. “It’s trust. You trust one another. And there’s been a breach of trust here.”
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