Norfolk Southern CEO ‘Proud’ of Progress in East Palestine

EAST PALESTINE, Ohio – The work may have been completed over the weekend, removing 170,000 tons of contaminated dirt created by the derailment of a Norfolk Southern train Feb. 3, but Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw says he’s far from finished helping the residents of East Palestine.

On Tuesday, Shaw told The Business Journal that an economic development summit will be held Nov. 30 as part of a continuing effort to help the village recover. Although no site has been chosen, the summit will include Shaw, JobsOhio and state elected officials.

It goes along with the $500,000 Norfolk Southern gave the city to hire an economic development consultant, who has begun meeting with business owners and the community to look for ways to bring long-term economic growth to East Palestine.

Shaw says when he took the position of CEO at Norfolk Southern, less than a year before the derailment, he began looking at ways to improve the railroad long-term instead of focusing on the short-term. He seems to have brought that same philosophy with him in addressing the needs of East Palestine.

Shaw said while he regrets that the derailment occurred, he is proud of the work Norfolk Southern has completed in just nine months, under the oversight of the EPA and with thousands of tests indicating that the air, soil and water are safe.

“You know, what I was telling the [East Palestine] students today – sometimes bad things happen, and it’s really about how you respond to those obstacles,” Shaw said. “I’m very proud of our progress to date, and I’m proud of how the community has been receptive to what we’ve done.”

Norfolk Southern may have completed the removal of contaminated soil, but Shaw indicated the railroad is not leaving. It has purchased property in downtown, the former Brittain Chevrolet salesroom at 248 N. Market St., which will become a more permanent office for the railroad and those who continue working on the recovery process.

Since the early days following the derailment, Norfolk Southern has had a daily presence at the Centenary Methodist Church, where it has set up meeting rooms, offices and a home base throughout the building. They have used the church to game-plan the next steps in the cleanup at the derailment site and meet with the EPA and community leaders to discuss what making things right for East Palestine really means to the railroad.

Shaw has returned several times a month and believes the best thing he can do is listen to the residents of East Palestine and then use Norfolk Southern’s resources to make improvements.

And while Shaw admits there is some understandable anger from residents, particularly in the immediate aftermath of the derailment, he believes the railroad is doing a good job of working with the community members.

“There are generally about 300 NS employees or contractors who are here every day,” Shaw said. “They don’t live here. They go home, and when they go home, they want to come back.”

Shaw said that tells him employees are having a positive impact here in East Palestine and the community is having a positive impact on the Norfolk Southern team.

“That’s not an easy thing to do,” Shaw said of the relationship with the community. “It was a Norfolk Southern train that derailed here and upended the town. But what I think, what we’re seeing, is that the community sees that we’re keeping each and every one of our promises – that we’re going above and beyond.”

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.