The CEO of Norfolk Southern whose rail firm is responsible for a catastrophic derailment in Ohio has sparked outrage after publishing an open letter to those affected, assuring them: ‘We will not walk away.’ It come less than a day after representatives for the company made a last-minute decision not to attend town hall meeting in the village of East Palestine, citing safety concerns over their physical safety. The open letter triggered furious responses on Twitter, with users quick to accuse CEO Alan Shaw of hypocrisy.
‘You really should have shown up and faced the people. The response of a true coward,’ wrote one. Others undermined the letter, intended to console the residents of East Palestine, by referencing accusations the company of lobbied against laws that might have prevented the accident on February 3. ‘You’ve been fighting safety changes and regulations for years — you’re just hoping the PR nightmare goes away sooner than later,’ wrote another.
For weeks the people of East Palestine have been asking how the derailment and the subsequent controlled explosion of toxic chemicals on their doorstep would affect their lives. First they were asked to evacuate their homes. Days later they witnessed the explosion at the crash site which put plumes of black smoke into the air. Afterwards they discovered their water was contaminated and wildlife was dying. Then the icing on the cake: On Wednesday night company officials failed to show up to the East Palestine town hall meeting due to a ‘growing physical threat to our employees.’ ‘I know you also have questions about whether Norfolk Southern will be here to help make things right,’ Shaw told the nearly 2,000 residents in a letter sent on Thursday. ‘My simple answer is that we are here and will stay here for as long as it takes to ensure your safety and to help East Palestine recover and thrive,’ he added.
Responding directly to the letter, which was posted by the Norfolk Southern corporate Twitter account, one person replied: You didn’t even show up at the residents’ town hall. ‘You lobbied repeatedly to gut safety regulations, laid off a large percentage of your staff, refused to give the rest of your staff sick days, and spent billions of dollars on stock buybacks. You’ve lost all credibility.’
Some responded to Shaw’s letter with allegations that under his watch the company fought against rules that might have prevented the derailment.
Another Twitter user attacked the CEO for laying of staffing and denying them sick leave.
Shaw refers in the letter to a visit he made to the village last week, telling them: ‘When I visited East Palestine last week, you told me how the train derailment has upended your lives.’ He managed to keep an exceptionally-low profile during that visit, as it’s the first time his presence at the site has been confirmed. It’s unclear if he is still there. The CEO acknowledged that the people wanted assurances that the safety of their ‘air, water and land’ would be addressed. ‘I hear you. We hear you,’ he said. Although company executives hadn’t been present to engage with residents just one day prior, he assured them Norfolk Southern was fulfilling its duties. Shaw wrote: ‘Our work is underway. Crews are cleaning the site thoroughly, responsibly, and safely. Our Family Assistance Center is helping community members meet immediate needs.’
‘Together with local health officials, we have implemented a comprehensive testing program to ensure the safety of East Palestine’s water, air, and soil. And we have established a $1 million community support fund as a down payment on our commitment to help rebuild.’ The company has announced that it would create a $1million fund to help East Palestine residents while continuing remediation work, and will expand how many residents can be reimbursed for their evacuation costs. Shaw was last seen publicly just days before the train carrying toxic chemicals overturned in East Palestine, just a few hundred miles away in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. He shared a photo of himself in a yellow vest with other railroad workers on LinkedIn, writing: ‘I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, the best part of my job is getting out in the field!’
Since then, he has only released a statement vowing to help clean up the contaminants from the train derailment and pledging to refund residents who were forced to evacuate as officials conducted a ‘controlled burn’ of five train cars carrying vinyl chloride. ‘We will be judged by our actions,’ he said in the statement. ‘We are cleaning up the site in an environmentally responsible way, reimbursing residents affected by the derailment and working with members of the community to identify what is needed to help East Palestine recover and thrive.’ But when representatives from the company were expected to answer community member’s questions Wednesday night, they abruptly decided not to attend. Pictured: Residents poured into a town hall meeting in East Palestine.
Just hours before the meeting, Norfolk Southern released a statement saying they ‘hoped to join’ local, state, and federal officials at a town hall to update the East Palestine community on the steps we are taking to thoroughly, responsibly, and safely clean up the accident site and to provide the latest results from ongoing water and air testing. ‘We also wanted to be available to provide information on resources from our Family Assistance Center. At the same time, we know that many are rightfully angry and frustrated right now. Unfortunately, after consulting with community leaders, we have become increasingly concerned about the growing physical threat to our employees and members of the community around this event stemming from the increasing likelihood of the participation of outside parties.’
The statement added: ‘With that in mind, Norfolk Southern will not be in attendance this evening. We want to continue our dialogue with the community and address their concerns, and our people will remain in East Palestine, respond to this situation, and meet with residents. We are not going anywhere. We are committed to East Palestine and will continue to respond to community concerns through our Family Assistance Center and our hotline for citizens to ask questions regarding return to home and health questions.’ Mayor Trent Conaway (pictured) told residents at the meeting on Wednesday night that he speaks with representatives from Norfolk Southern every day. ‘They have been working with us,’ he said. ‘They should. They are the ones who screwed this up. By God we are going to get some answers for people.’
In a statement to DailyMail.com, a spokeswoman for the railroad operator touted its efforts in East Palestine, saying it has already distributed over $1.5million in direct financial assistance to more than 1,000 families and a number of businesses to cover the cost of evacuation. It is also reimbursing the East Palestine Fire Department $220,000 to replace Self Contained Breathing Apparatuses and provided more than 100 air purifiers for residents to use in their homes. The company further announced on Tuesday that it is creating a $1million fund to help the community of some 4,700 people, and will expand how many residents can be reimbursed for their evacuation costs.
And speaking with WFMJ on Wednesday, Norfolk Southern Senior Director Will Harden — who is apparently on the scene — said the representatives of the company will continue to be in East Palestine until the cleanup is complete. But when asked about the long-term health concerns, Harden diverted the question, only saying that the company is in the remediation phase and is working with local, state and federal agencies. The state’s Environmental Protection Agency said Wednesday that the latest tests show water from five wells supplying the village’s drinking water are free from contaminants. Still, the EPA is recommending testing for private water wells because they are closer to the surface. Pictured: Machinery sat along the railroad tracks on Tuesday as cleanup efforts continued.
And the Ohio Department of Natural Resources estimates that the spill affected more than seven miles of streams and killed some 3,500 fish, mostly small ones such as minnows and darters. Several East Palestine residents have now filed a class action suit alleging that Norfolk Southern is negligent in the derailment. Harold Freezle, a local business owner; Susan Scheufele, a resident; and David Scheufele, who says he suffered injuries as a direct result of the toxic chemicals being released from the site, filed a federal suit last week. It says Norfolk Southern did not exercise ‘reasonable care’ when transporting hazardous materials, and allege the company caused ‘unreasonable interference for residents,’ carried out ‘conscious disregard for the rights and safety of other persons’ and allowed ‘hazardous substances to invade the property of each and every member of the community.’
The suit also asks the company to release all studies and reports connected to the derailment and vinyl chloride release, which would prevent the company from deleting any records about the train for a 72-hour period before the incident or removing any property from the site that could help determine the cause of the crash. Meanwhile, Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro (pictured) slammed Shaw and Norfolk Southern for its response to the derailment in a letter, after meeting with elected officials and emergency management officials in Beaver County. He claimed that the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency and Department of Environmental Protection were not notified about the crash on the border with Pennsylvania until hours afterward, and said that Norfolk Southern’s mismanagement of the disaster put emergency responders and residents at risk.
Additionally, Shapiro argued, the railway company provided inaccurate information about the effect of the controlled release of chemicals, and failed to update state and local officials on its plan to release vinyl chloride from all five cars carrying the chemical rather than just the one car it had originally identified. And, he said, Norfolk Southern did not immediately inform officials of the number of rail cars carrying toxic chemicals. ‘Norfolk Southern’s failure to participate in the unified command and share accurate information led to confusion and wide variability in potentially affected population estimates in the downward plume affecting the commonwealth,’ Shapiro wrote in the letter, obtained by the Pennsylvania Capital-Star.
‘Norfolk southern failed to explore all potential courses of action, including some that may have kept the rail line closed longer but could have resulted in a safer overall approach for first responders, residents and the environment,’ he continued. The governor is calling on the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, which is charged with overseeing railroads in the state, to review the company’s conduct. ‘Like me, members of our state legislative delegation are troubled by the conduct of Norfolk Southern during this incident. As they proceed with their review and oversight responsibilities, I have pledged the full cooperation of my administration in order to help them facilitate holding your company accountable to Pennsylvania,’ the governor wrote in a letter to Shaw.
He also noted that he spoke with President Joe Biden and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, and urged the federal agency that regulates the transportation of hazardous material to review its definition of a high-hazard flammable train — and require those trains to use new braking systems. Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost also advised Norfolk Southern on Wednesday that his office is considering legal action against the rail operator. ‘The pollution, which continues to contaminate the area around East Palestine, created a nuisance, damage to natural resources and caused environmental harm,’ Yost said in a letter sent to the company.
Shaw took over the reigns at Norfolk Southern just last year, but had been serving as the president of the company since December 1, 2021. The Atlanta, Georgia resident previously worked as Norfolk Southern’s executive vice president and chief marketing officer and the vice president of intermodal operations. He now owns more than 20 properties across Georgia and Virginia, with his primary residence in Atlanta over $4.25million. Other homes he shares with his wife, Tiffany, in highly desirable locations like Virginia Beach and Roanoke cost anywhere between $404,000 to $4.7million. He also owns two boats, according to public records, and once had a run-in with the law for allegedly not having a boating education certificate. He was found not guilty.
Shaw’s primary residence is this $4.2million mansion in Atlanta, Georgia.
He also owns several properties in Virginia Beach (like this one) as well as in Roanoke.
Shaw also owns two boats, like the Bennington boat seen here.
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