A business owner with companies near where a Norfolk Southern train derailed and caught fire in February is suing the railroad for $500 million, saying most of his eastern Ohio businesses have remained closed and he has been unable to financially agreement with the railway.
Edwin Wang filed his federal lawsuit on Tuesday. It comes amid government lawsuits against Norfolk Southern and a class-action lawsuit on behalf of residents who complained about the derailment’s impact on East Palestine, Ohio.
Wang’s companies manufacture specialized ceramic fiber insulation products for steel mills. The commercial part of his business, CeramSource, was able to reopen last month in a new location just over the nearby Pennsylvania border. But pollution concerns and expensive equipment Wang can’t afford to replace have kept his other companies closed. Before the derailment spilled chemicals onto his property, Wang’s companies employed nearly 50 people and had plans to expand.
Norfolk Southern declined to comment on the lawsuit, but spokesman Thomas Crosson said the railroad is “actively supporting the business in their recovery efforts.” That includes reaching confidentiality agreements with 11 businesses and offering $1.8 million to 55 others.
The railway chief executive also apologized for the derailment and promised to make things right. As part of that, the railroad has committed nearly $102 million to the community and is working to clean up the mess left behind by the derailment. EPA is monitoring these efforts.
The railroad company told investors last month that costs related to the derailment have reached nearly $1 billion and are expected to rise as lawsuits are resolved. In addition to the lawsuits, the company is working out details of three long-term funds it has promised to set up to help East Palestine rebuild.
Wang’s lawsuit blames the derailment on Norfolk Southern, which has cut its workforce in recent years and its decision to rely more on longer and heavier trains. Rail unions also argue that these changes – and similar ones made across the rest of the industry – make the railways riskier. The company defended its overall safety record and said operational changes only made it more efficient. But it also promised to improve safety and set an example in the industry.
Norfolk Southern’s actions before and after the derailment compounded the damage, Wang argued in court documents that called the derailment “an unmitigated catastrophe of unimaginable parts with dire consequences.”
The National Transportation Safety Board said an overheated bearing on one of the locomotives likely caused the derailment, but won’t release its final report until sometime next year.
Atlanta-based Norfolk Southern is one of the nation’s largest railroads and operates approximately 20,000 miles of track in the eastern United States.
FILE Photo – A black plume rises over East Palestine, Ohio, from the controlled detonation of part of the derailed Norfolk Southern trains, Feb. 6, 2023. The West Virginia Water Company says it is taking precautions after the derailment of a train carrying chemicals that later sent a toxic cloud into Ohio. The company said in a statement on Sunday, February 16, 2023 that it improved its treatment processes, although there was no change in raw water at the Ohio River intake. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, file)
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