After Ohio train derailment, Norfolk Southern unveils a new safety plan
Bloomberg News March 6, 2023
(Tribune News Service) — Norfolk Southern Corp. plans to add additional track-side heat detectors and explore the use of newer types of sensors as the railroad aims to improve the safety of its operations following a derailment last month that spilled toxic chemicals in Ohio.
The steps are part of a six-point plan announced Monday that also includes accelerating the use of digital train inspections and exploring acoustic sensors that may help uncover axle problems. The initiative is based on the preliminary findings in the National Transportation Safety Board’s investigation of the Feb. 3 crash, Norfolk Southern said in a statement.
The railroad’s shares were down 1.4% in premarket trading in New York. The company suffered another derailment over the weekend in Ohio, which didn’t involve hazardous materials and resulted in no reported injuries. U.S. train derailments dropped to 1,093 last year — or about three per day — down from 2,435 in 2004.
Track-side heat sensors have come under scrutiny from some critics who point out that they were unable to prevent scores of component failures in recent years. The devices were functioning properly prior to Norfolk Southern’s derailment last month, but due to the distance between the sensors, an alarm didn’t sound until a wheel bearing had spiked to 253 degrees above the ambient temperature, investigators found.
The company said it’s evaluating the distance between hot-bearing detectors, which averages about 13.9 miles on its main network, and will add more where necessary. Norfolk Southern said it expects to install about 200 more, beginning with the western approach to East Palestine, Ohio, where the train derailed. It didn’t disclose a cost estimate for this or any of the other measures it pledged.
“Meaningful safety improvements require a comprehensive industry effort that brings together railcar and tank car manufacturers, railcar owners and lessors, and the railroad companies,” Norfolk Southern Chief Executive Officer Alan Shaw said in the statement.
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