Norfolk Southern Threatened NTSB Chair, Interfered With East Palestine Derailment Investigation, NTSB Claims

Photo: NTSB/Handout via Xinhua (Getty Images)
Photo: NTSB/Handout via Xinhua (Getty Images)

During Tuesday’s National Transportation Safety Board hearing on the East Palestine derailment, NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy made startling accusations against Norfolk Southern. She accused the freight railroad of withholding information and even threatening her on one occasion during the investigation into the February 2023 derailment.

Hearing confirmed findings that the derailment was caused by a wheel bearing that caught fire and stayed aflame for over 20 miles. The burning bearing wasn’t spotted by faulty trackside detectors. The derailment blew open five cars, spilling vinyl chloride. NTSB investigators found that Norfolk Southern withheld evidence from chemicals producer Oxy Vinyls that the tank cars were cooling. As a result, the decision was made to vent and burn the carcinogen to avoid the tanks exploding. Allegedly, Norfolk Southern also withheld this information from the NTSB. The Associated Press reported:

At the end of the meeting, NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy accused Norfolk Southern of interfering with the investigation and abusing its status as a party to the probe to help gather information.

“Norfolk Southern’s abuse of the party process was unprecedented and reprehensible,” she said.

Numerous times, Homendy said, the railroad delayed or failed to give investigators information. Twice, Homendy called the railroad at the request of investigators and threatened to issue subpoenas for information, she said.

A railroad contractor told investigators that it did not take or keep records of temperature changes on the tank cars containing vinyl chloride, she said. But the NTSB suspected otherwise.

“We found through text messages through one of their employees, who provided that information in later interviews that they did keep those records,” Homendy said. “It took about two months before the team received those texts and the emails.”


It’s not clear if Norfolk Southern will face any additional consequences for interfering with the investigation. The railroad has already settled with the federal government as well as a $600 million class action settlement. The NTSB made over 24 recommendations to prevent future derailments of this nature. However, it will be up to Congress if these recommendations are enacted and enforced.

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