A timeline of the year since Norfolk Southern’s East Palestine derailment

Here’s a timeline of the derailment of a Norfolk Southern train in East Palestine, Ohio, and the fallout in the year since.

Feb 3, 2023: At about 8:55 p.m., 38 cars of an eastbound Norfolk Southern train derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, including 11 tank cars carrying hazardous materials that ignited and set fire to another 12 cars that had not derailed, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. There were no casualties. First responders established a 1-mile evacuation zone affecting as many as 2,000 residents.

Feb. 5: Officials said they feared an explosion of a vinyl chloride tank car, and made plans to vent and burn the toxic vinyl chloride, a known carcinogen, in five tank cars. They expanded the evacuation zone to a 1-mile by 2-mile area.

Feb. 6: The controlled burn caused a tower of fire to rise above East Palestine. The burn continued for several hours.

Feb. 16: Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw wrote a letter to the community of East Palestine saying he knew residents “have questions about whether Norfolk Southern will be here to help make things right. 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.”

Feb. 21: The Environmental Protection Agency ordered Norfolk Southern to clean up contaminated soil and water, pay for EPA’s work costs and submit a work plan to clean up environmental damage.

March 8: Norfolk Southern announced plans to establish a regional safety training center. The company now plans a $25 million investment in the center.

March 31: The EPA and U.S. Justice Department sued Norfolk Southern over the derailment, seeking penalties under the Clean Water Act for the pollution.

April 6: The EPA said after soil sampling and monitoring, residents can safely use East Palestine City Park. It’s a park that Norfolk Southern now plans to invest $25 million into for upgrades, including a new amphitheater, aquatic center, playgrounds, upgraded baseball fields, new basketball and tennis courts.

May 25: Norfolk Southern opened a new family assistance center in East Palestine. The railroad also appointed Atkins Nuclear Secured to conduct an independent review of the company’s safety culture.

June 22-23: At a NTSB hearing, officials said they decided on the controlled burn of vinyl chloride tank cars because of concerns about a potential catastrophic explosion. OxyVinyls, the company that shipped the vinyl chloride, said it believed the chemical was stable.

                        Jennifer Homendy, Chair of the National Transportation Safety Board, leads a hearing as part of the ongoing investigation into the Feb. 3, 2023 derailment of a Norfolk Southern Railway train, in East Palestine, Ohio on Thursday, June 22, 2023. Earlier in the day, the board released thousands of pages of documents about the derailment, providing the fullest account yet of what led to the accident. (Maddie McGarvey/The New York Times)

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June 30: Norfolk Southern sued rail car owners and shippers connected to the spilled chemicals. Norfolk Southern alleged that the owner of the rail car that caused the derailment failed to properly maintain the car in the years before the crash. Rail car owner GATX said the Norfolk claims were “baseless.”

July 5: Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine asked President Joe Biden for a disaster declaration for the derailment.

Aug. 4: Norfolk Southern announced a $500,000 grant for the village of East Palestine to hire an economic development consultant.

Aug. 9: U.S. Department of Labor cited Norfolk Southern for four worker and health violations at the train derailment site.

The Federal Railroad Administration said Norfolk Southern made efforts to take proactive safety measures, but continued using minimum standards in some areas.

Sept. 18: Norfolk Southern announced an interim home value assurance program to compensate homeowners in East Palestine for lost value of their residential property.

Sept. 20: President Biden issued an executive order to hold Norfolk Southern accountable for the fallout from the derailment that spilled hazardous materials and to protect those living in the area.

The order directed FEMA to designate a federal disaster recovery coordinator to oversee long-term efforts in affected communities and assess unmet needs, including those who would qualify for federal assistance.

Separately, Norfolk Southern announced a partnership with RapidSOS to give first responders information to safely respond to rail emergencies.

Sept. 21: Norfolk Southern broke ground on a new regional safety training center in East Palestine to provide free training for first responders from Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and the region.

Oct. 18: The EPA said 98% of the derailment site excavation had been completed, but directed Norfolk Southern to continue its cleanup of creeks, where contamination is still visible.

Oct. 26: Norfolk Southern removed the final truckload of contaminated soil from the site, to be followed by backfilling of excavated areas.

The railroad announced a new digital train inspection portal in Leetonia, Ohio, near East Palestine, using technology developed in partnership with Georgia Tech Research Institute to detect potential defects and improve rail safety.

                        Inspection portals of the train operator Norfolk Southern along a rail line in Leetonia, Ohio, near East Palestine, on Jan. 17, 2024. Rail companies said they have taken steps since the derailment to reduce accidents, including using new technology and improving safety training. (Ross Mantle/The New York Times)

Credit: NYT

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Credit: NYT

Nov. 14: Ohio businessman Edwin Wang sued Norfolk Southern in federal court, seeking up to $500 million for derailment damages to his businesses. His CeramSource, a wholesaler of steel mill equipment next to the derailment site, was forced to close for months and two other businesses shut down entirely.

Dec. 5: Norfolk Southern announced effective Feb. 9, 2024, it would stop paying for hotel rooms and living expenses for residents of East Palestine who had relocated.

Jan. 26, 2024: Norfolk Southern reported $1.1 billion in accumulated derailment charges so far. In a release on its 2023 financial results, it said operating expenses were driven up by massive costs for the East Palestine cleanup, legal expenses and liability, payments to residents who relocated and donations to the communities in the surrounding areas in Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Norfolk Southern Chief Financial Officer Mark George said ongoing monitoring and cleanup would continue through 2024. He said future additional costs for legal settlements and fees were anticipated.

The company announced plans to cuts its management staff by 7%, more than 300 jobs.

Jan. 29, 2024: Norfolk Southern and rail unions announce a partnership with the Federal Railroad Administration for a pilot program aimed at improving railroad safety. Under the confidential close call reporting system, railroad employees would be able to report safety concerns without facing discipline. The data would be reviewed to identify corrective actions.

Source: NTSB, EPA, AP, research