In West Virginia, an empty coal train jumped its tracks and caught fire in the community of Sandstone on Wednesday, injuring three workers and spilling diesel fuel into one of North America’s oldest rivers. A day later, a Norfolk Southern freight train derailed in Alabama 80 miles northeast of Birmingham. Local officials said no hazardous materials were involved in Thursday’s crash. It was the third derailment of a Norfolk Southern train in the U.S. since February and came as the company’s CEO Alan Shaw testified to the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee. Shaw apologized for the derailment on February 3 which blanketed the town of East Palestine, Ohio, with a toxic brew of spilled chemicals and gases. But Shaw refused to commit to ending a profit maximization scheme known as “precision-scheduled railroading.” Unions say the practice involves staff cuts, running fewer trains with larger loads, and shortcuts on maintenance. Under questioning from Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, the Norfolk Southern CEO also refused to commit to granting workers seven paid sick days per year.
Sen. Bernie Sanders: “Will you make that commitment right now, to guarantee paid sick days to all of your workers? That’s not a radical demand. It really is not. Will you make that commitment, sir?”
Alan Shaw: “Senator, I share your focus on our employees. I will commit to continuing to discuss with them important quality-of-life issues.”