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CEO PERSPECTIVE: Safety First, Safety Always

April, 25th, 2023 | Written by Alan Shaw, President, Norfolk Southern


At Norfolk Southern, everything starts with safety. Our approach to safety extends beyond our tracks into the communities where we live and work. We’re committed to leading on safety, for our industry and our own operations. Our mission is to safely provide reliable and resilient service for our customers.

“We’re deeply committed to the safety of our employees, our customers and the communities we operate in,” said John Fleps, Norfolk Southern’s Vice President of Safety. “Our relationships with first responders are vital. That’s why we provide in-person educational and training opportunities across our 22-state network to strengthen our partnerships and further public safety.”


Norfolk Southern transports finished and raw materials and goods to the businesses and communities that power our nation’s economy. Rail transportation is the safest way to move freight over land and also keeps trucks off our nation’s highways, reducing wear and tear and congestion

We're always working to make rail transportation even safer. That starts with significant ongoing investments in our physical infrastructure and equipment, all geared to deliver safe, reliable, and resilient service.  We’re committing more than $2 billion annually in the form of technology, equipment, infrastructure, and other initiatives. That includes developing and improving safety tools and programs for customers and communities, while enhancing safety processes for our railroaders.


Norfolk Southern is committed to providing our front-line craft railroaders with the knowledge and tools they need to make safe decisions and ensure they get home safely after every shift. Beyond their initial training at our world-class facility in McDonough, GA, and on-the-job training, we regularly invest in the accumulated expertise over the course of our employee’s careers. We want our employees to feel not only comfortable talking about safety but also feel inspired by it  - especially when working with their peers. This positive energy and shared commitment around safety leads directly to safe behaviors and actions from the crew room to the ballast line.

As part of our commitment to safety, senior Operations leaders meet with railroaders year-round across our network. The goal of these engagements is to deliver transparency and trust from top to bottom. Collaborative teams work to identify hazards and exposures where the work is occurring, strengthen safe-working behaviors, and mitigate safety conditions in support safe operations. In partnership with our labor union partners, our local safety committees bring our crew members together to discuss how we can take action to become an even safer railroad.

For many years, Norfolk Southern has maintained its own confidential Close Call Experience Program empowering employees to speak up about safety concerns and near-misses. Recently, we announced that we are joining the Federal Railroad Administration’s Confidential Close Call Reporting System (C3RS).

Our safety strategy is supported by three pillars: People, Process, and Technology.

Our leadership sets the tone and direction, which ultimately drives our culture. Culture leads to outcomes aligned around that tone and direction. We are focused on enhancing our safety culture with a strong emphasis on the development of our leaders and ballast line employees. We encourage each member of the team to own their work, be accountable for their own decisions and choices, and show pride in what we do, and how we do it.

Through root cause analysis and data analytics, we establish rigor and controls around existing processes, procedures, and standards. Where risk is exposed, comprehensive process definitions are essential to continuous improvement and sustainable execution.

We fully-leverage technology to engineer reduced exposure and risk in the work environment. Mobility-first is the default approach to application design and drives safety into the tools we use to be productive. Technology bridges the physical connection gap in our decentralized work environment.


To support our communities and their first responders, Norfolk Southern has developed the Operation Awareness & Response (OAR) program. The goal of OAR is to enhance relationships with first responders with a continued commitment to providing training opportunities including classroom, web-based, and on-line resources, table-tops drills, full-scale emergency response exercises, and high-level training opportunities at the Security and Emergency Response Training Center (SERTC) in Pueblo, Co. 

Norfolk Southern provides hands-on training by utilizing a dedicated safety train, with a locomotive, specially equipped classroom box cars, and several specially equipped tanks cars. Each year, the safety train travels across our 22-state network, providing training to more than 5,000 first responders.

Part of that training focuses on AskRail™, a mobile application for first responders. The app provides real-time intelligence regarding the materials that specific rail cars are transporting, helping first responders to make informed decisions when responding to a rail emergency.

To expand training opportunities, Norfolk Southern is building a dedicated first responder training center in Ohio. The center is being temporarily operated out of our yard in Bellevue, Ohio and already has provided training to more than 400 emergency personnel in the region. Plans are progressing for a permanent Fire Service and Emergency Response Training Center and preliminary site design is underway.