Norfolk Southern Takes Legal Action, Demands Accountability for February Derailment

Norfolk Southern files a complaint against car owners and shippers involved in the Ohio derailment, seeking compensation for the costs incurred. Learn more about the investigation and the legal actions taken.


Norfolk Southern, a major railroad company, is aiming to distribute responsibility and financial burden for the fiery Ohio derailment that occurred in February. In a recent complaint filed against car owners and shippers linked to the hazardous chemicals involved in the incident, Norfolk Southern claims that inadequate maintenance by the owner of the rail car contributed to the crash. The company insists that all parties connected to the incident should share in the costs incurred.

Background and Preliminary Findings:

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued a preliminary report attributing the crash to an overheated bearing on the plastic pellet car. However, a comprehensive final report detailing all contributing factors is not expected until next year. The derailment resulted in the evacuation of thousands of residents near the Ohio-Pennsylvania border, with a massive plume of black smoke engulfing the town of East Palestine.

Responsibility for Maintenance and Compliance:

Under federal regulations, Norfolk Southern argues that everyone involved in shipping hazardous chemicals shares responsibility for ensuring safe transportation. Although Norfolk Southern does not own most of the cars it transports, the company contends that the car owners and shippers are responsible for maintenance, despite regular inspections and repairs performed by railroad workers during transit.

Issues with the Plastic Pellet Car:

Norfolk Southern highlights a specific concern with the plastic pellet car that allegedly remained idle for extended periods. According to the manufacturer’s recommendations, railcars should be moved at least once every six months to prevent degradation of the bearing grease, which can occur over time or during extreme weather conditions. The car in question was reportedly based in a hurricane-prone area near New Orleans.

Challenges in Determining Responsibility:

GATX, the leasing company for the railcars, may not have had direct control over the car during the time of the incident since it leases its railcars to other companies for shipping purposes. The NTSB also raised the issue of Norfolk Southern’s lack of tracking car movements within its railyards, making it unclear whether the car was moved when not in use.

Responses and Legal Proceedings:

GATX stated that safety has always been its top priority and expressed intent to vigorously defend against Norfolk Southern’s claims. Norfolk Southern clarified that this legal action does not indicate a shift in its commitment to the cleanup effort but rather aims to ensure that all parties involved contribute resources to the cause.

Detonation of Tank Cars and Health Concerns:

Norfolk Southern defended its decision to open and burn five tank cars, including those containing vinyl chloride, due to concerns about potential explosions. However, local residents have expressed worries about the health implications of this action and the spilled chemicals.


The extent of responsibility and financial liability for the February derailment will be determined by the courts. Norfolk Southern’s lawsuit targets not only the companies involved in the vinyl chloride and plastic pellet cars but also those responsible for three other breached tank cars. As the legal proceedings unfold, the repercussions of the derailment continue to raise questions about safety measures and the proper maintenance of railcars.

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