Norfolk Southern freight train cars derail in Pennsylvania

A Norfolk Southern freight train derailed Saturday morning in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley, spilling diesel and plastic pellets into the nearby river, according to local authorities.

No injuries were reported upon a preliminary assessment of the scene, according to police and fire rescue departments in the Lower Saucon Township where the derailment took place.

The Saturday incident comes just over a year after Norfolk Southern’s trains derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, on Feb. 3, 2023, releasing toxic chemicals into the surrounding water and air, and setting off a damaging fire. Days later, officials said the town had increased reports of headaches, nausea and other symptoms from residents.

The Pennsylvania derailment has not triggered the same contamination so far, according to preliminary assessments. Still, the derailment comes as Norfolk Southern faces a determined activist group, led by Ancora Holdings, which has amassed a $1 billion stake in the company to oust CEO Alan Shaw.

“There currently are no evacuations or hazardous material threat to the community,” the Lower Saucon Township Police Department said in a statement at 11 a.m. ET, hours after first responders were dispatched. “We request that everyone stay out of the area so first responders and Norfolk Southern personnel can continue to assess and work at the scene.”

Emergency responders deployed “containment booms,” barriers used to control the spread of oil, in the Lehigh River where there was a diesel fuel spill from one of the train cars, police said. One of the train cars also released a heap of polypropylene plastic pellets.

Norfolk Southern’s crews joined local emergency responders at the scene to assess the damage.

“Our crews and contractors will remain on-scene over the coming days to clean up, and we appreciate the public’s patience while they work as quickly, thoroughly, and as safely as possible,” the company said in a statement to CNBC. “We are always working to advance safety. We will investigate this incident to understand how it happened and prevent others like it.”

The company said it would vacuum out the diesel fuel in the river and clean up the plastic pellets. A nearby road will be temporarily closed in the meantime.

The National Transportation Safety Board’s initial assessment of Saturday’s derailment found that an eastbound Norfolk Southern train collided with a parked train on the same track. The consequent wreckage was then struck by a westbound Norfolk Southern train.

The NTSB is sending a team of “experts in train operations, signals & train control, mechanical systems, and human performance” to the scene later today.

Saturday’s derailment in Pennsylvania adds to Norfolk Southern’s already full plate. The company has been dealing with the aftermath of that East Palestine derailment for the past year.

The company and Shaw’s handling of the East Palestine fallout have been one of the things that Ancora has scrutinized in its proxy materials. 

“We hope the crew and everyone in Lower Saucon Township are unharmed by yet another derailment of a Norfolk Southern train,”  Cleveland-based Ancora said in a statement Saturday. It also reiterated a demand for Shaw to step down.

The Environmental Protection Agency and White House officials demanded the company facilitate and pay for the cleanup and offer “unequivocal support” for East Palestine.

A year later, the community is still reeling from the Norfolk Southern train disaster, wary of the longer-term environmental impacts that the contamination could have set off. President Joe Biden visited East Palestine in February to express support for the community and urge stronger railway safety regulation.

CNBC’s Rohan Goswami contributed to this report.



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