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Governor’s office in Pennsylvania makes criminal indictment for train derailment in Ohio

Updated Feb 22, 2023 at 5:08 PM ET

Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro said The state’s interim attorney general is investigating whether the criminal charges were justified in the derailment of a Norfolk Southern Railroad train just across the state line in eastern Palestine, Ohio.

Shapiro criticized Norfolk Southern’s “arrogance and incompetence” in an interview with Morning Edition’s Leila Fadel on Wednesday, saying the railroad did not participate in joint efforts with Pennsylvania and Ohio emergency services after the derailment.

“We made a criminal referral to the attorney general’s office. They will determine whether or not there was criminal activity,” Shapiro said. “What I do know is that Norfolk Southern is governed every day, not by concern for the communities through which they send their trains, but by corporate greed.”

When asked by NPR about the nature of the possible allegations, Pennsylvania Attorney General Michelle Henry said her office “will act expeditiously to investigate this incident, gather facts, and then evaluate the evidence to make a decision under Pennsylvania law.” “.

On Tuesday, the Environmental Protection Agency announced it would take over cleaning up the derailment that released dangerous chemicals into the environment.

In statement to NPR on Tuesday, Norfolk Southern said it has already paid for the cleanup and will continue to do so.

“We recognize that we have a responsibility and are committed to doing what is right for the residents of eastern Palestine,” the railway said. “We are committed to a thorough and safe clean up of the site and we are reimbursing residents for the inconvenience this has caused in their lives.”

Shapiro said tests of municipal water supplies and wells have shown no “worrisome readings” of the toxins and will continue testing “for months and months and months, if not years” to ensure the water is safe for residents .

About three dozen Norfolk Southern boxcars derailed near East Palestine, a city of about 4,800. National Transportation Safety Board investigators indicated that the derailment was likely caused by a wheel bearing failure; a preliminary report is expected next week.

In an interview with PBS NewsHour on Tuesday, Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw said he would not speculate on a cause for the derailment, but that the railroad is committed to ensuring the safety of the community.

“Yes, we will get this thing done. This is my commitment to the Eastern Palestinian community,” he said.

We’re going to invest in environmental cleanup. We’ve made a lot of progress. We’ve got air monitoring, water monitoring. We’re coordinating with the Ohio EPA. And we’re going to invest in this community for the long haul and help this community recover and help this community to thrive”.

But Shapiro told NPR on Wednesday that “I don’t believe for a second that Norfolk Southern would do it itself,” if not forced by the federal government.

The railroad has “given the middle finger to the good people of Pennsylvania and Ohio by not showing up for community gatherings, really insulting the community with little investment in their recovery.”

“And I’m frankly sick and tired of the way their CEO has acted like a king, as opposed to someone who is contrite and willing to work with the community to get it back on its feet,” the governor said.

“This is the same company that has infamously and successfully lobbied Congress for several years to eliminate safety measures that would cost them a few dollars but could keep the community safer.”

“They side with lawyers and lobbyists to get out of control and I’m sick and tired of it.”

Shapiro said Congress must act to make the railroads safer.

“They need to get their real teeth into some of these laws that affect the safety of our railroads. They need to force Norfolk Southern and other railroad companies to put real money into their braking systems and the safety of their trains.”

He argued: “Lowering the bar, if you will, what is a high-risk train, which would then require those train companies to notify states like mine when they pass so our emergency personnel can be on alert and be prepared in the event that there is a disaster”.

Shapiro, a Democrat, said he and Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, have discussed appearing before Congress to inform them of the steps they need to take to make the railroads safer.

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