Feb 18, 2023 - Economy

Norfolk Southern reported rise in railway accident rates ahead of Ohio train derailment

Smoke rises from a derailed cargo train in East Palestine, Ohio, on February 4, 2023. The train was shipping cargo from Madison, Illinois, to Conway, Pennsylvania, when it derailed in East Palestine, Ohio. Photo by DUSTIN FRANZ / AFP

Rail operator Norfolk Southern executives reported a rise in accident rates in recent years just weeks before a train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio forced the company to vent and burn carcinogenic chemicals, according to the New York Times.

The big picture: The rate of accidents on the company's railway increased in each of the last four years, according to a Norfolk Southern earnings call presentation on Jan. 23.

  • CEO Alan Shaw told shareholders that Norfolk Southern's service was “at the best it’s been in more than two years," the Times reports.
  • Just days later, a 150-car freight train, which was pulling at least five tanker cars containing vinyl chloride, a colorless but hazardous and carcinogenic gas, derailed in Ohio.
  • Another Norfolk Southern train derailed near Detroit, Michigan on Thursday.

Why it matters: The crash forced hundreds of East Palestine residents to evacuate before the release and burn-off of the vinyl chloride. They were allowed to return two days later.

  • But some residents who returned have complained of smells, headaches, nausea and other ailments, according to the Washington Post.

Between the lines: Executives at Norfolk Southern and other railroads had been telling investors that they can bolster their profit margins by keeping a lid on costs, the Times writes.

  • At the same time, railway companies have lobbied against new rules aimed at making trains safer, per the Times.

Go deeper:

Go deeper