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A commitment to safely transport hazmat

December 2016

  • First responders from Northern Virginia walk past the safety train locomotive on their way to classroom training during a stop in Alexandria, Va.
  • Norfolk Southern’s Bruno Maestri, left, and Darrell Wilson, right, stand with U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, in Altoona, Pa., during the debut of NS’ safety train.
  • Justin Hahn, NS hazmat compliance officer, provides classroom training to first responders during a safety train visit to Norfolk, Va.
  • During hands-on training in Alexandria, Va., Scott Gould, hazmat compliance officer, shows first responders how to use a Midland Emergency Response Kit, which could be used to cap a leak from a tank car valve or fitting.
  • Paul Williams, regional manager hazmat, points out a feature on a tank car during a demonstration session for first responders in Altoona, Pa.

Norfolk Southern safety train recognized for helping to make communities safer

First responders from New York to Louisiana have described Norfolk Southern’s safety train as a valuable training tool to help them protect people and property from a potential rail incident involving hazardous material. Now, the Safe America Foundation has weighed in with its support.

“The safety train has engendered a lot of goodwill, not only with first responders but with our communities.”
- Bruno Maestri, vice president government relations and corporate sustainability officer

For its leadership in developing the safety train, Norfolk Southern has received a WorldSafe award from Safe America. The nonprofit, headquartered in Marietta, Ga., partners with corporate, government, and other nonprofits to improve public safety awareness and preparedness.

Since rolling out the safety train in April 2016, NS has provided free emergency preparedness training to more than 1,920 first responders during stops in 18 cities in 13 states across the railroad’s network. The safety train is the brainchild of leaders in NS’ government relations and safety and environmental departments.

Fundamentally, the safety train reflects NS’ commitment to operate safely in the communities it serves, said Bruno Maestri, vice president government relations and corporate sustainability officer.

“The safety train has engendered a lot of goodwill, not only with first responders but with our communities,” Maestri said. “They see that we’re engaged and that we care and are willing to invest in the community by sending the train and providing professional training to their first responders.”

“It’s good business as well as best practice for handling emergency response and for making our communities better prepared. It ties in with our vision to be the safest railroad in the business.” - John Irwin, assistant vice president safety and environmental.

“It’s good business as well as best practice for handling emergency response and for making our communities better prepared,” said John Irwin, assistant vice president safety and environmental. “It ties in with our vision to be the safest railroad in the business.”

Safe America described the Travel Safety Award presented to NS as one of its most prestigious WorldSafe awards. NS was one of 14 companies, individuals, and organizations honored by Safe America during a November banquet in Atlanta for their contributions to health and safety in the U.S. and globally. In addition to the safety train, NS was recognized for its role in creating the AskRail mobile app, an industry safety tool that provides emergency responders immediate access to accurate, timely information about what type of hazmat a rail car is carrying.

“We’re looking to help Norfolk Southern engage more first responders in 2017, knowing that when firemen are educated on how to deal with specific types of chemicals and rail cars, they can speed their response, minimizing the potential danger to a community,” said Safe America CEO Len Pagano. “We’re proud of the work Bruno Maestri, Darrell Wilson, and John Irwin have done and look to help build a stronger alliance – not just within the first responder community but with major rail shippers.”

Raising awareness of safe rail transport

Wilson, assistant vice president government relations, has worked closely with community leaders to raise awareness about the safety train and NS’ efforts to operate safely. Wilson said NS invites government and community leaders and customers to tour the safety train.

“We open a dialogue with them about what we move through their communities and how safe it is,” Wilson said, noting that more than 99.99 percent of all hazardous material shipments on rail reach destination without incident. “Freight rail is the safest way to move these materials, and they realize that we care deeply about our mission of being part of the commerce of the country and doing it in a safe way. The safety train shows our commitment in a powerful and meaningful way.”

As a U.S. common carrier, NS has an obligation to transport freight that the federal government regulates as hazardous material, including crude petroleum, ethanol, fertilizers, and industrial chemicals used to manufacture consumer goods. These products are essential to the economy and American households but can be dangerous if mishandled or involved in an accident.

That’s where NS’ safety train comes in. Powered by a dedicated locomotive adorned with insignia honoring emergency responders, the safety train is a moving training lab. It features two boxcars converted into classrooms; four tank cars that are the most common used for transporting hazardous chemicals, including a DOT-117, the newest DOT approved car for handling flammable liquids; and two flatcars specially equipped to transport intermodal containers. NS hazmat employees provide classroom and hands-on training.

“Norfolk Southern has a great safety record, but it’s essential that we be prepared in the unlikely event of a hazmat incident,” said David Schoendorfer, system manager hazmat, who coordinates the training. “We want first responders to know what we move and how we move it, and we want them to understand how important they are to us in the event that something does happen.”

Making local connections

At each safety train stop, NS hazmat managers and compliance officers who have job responsibility for the area provide the instruction. This interaction offers an opportunity for local emergency responders to get to know and build trust with NS employees who would work alongside them if a rail incident occurred on their territory, Schoendorfer said.

“We tailor the training to individual areas and the types of hazardous materials that are moved through those communities,” said Paul Williams, regional manager hazmat for a territory that includes Northern Virginia. “It’s refresher training for some, but we also have a lot of first timers.”

During August training sessions in Alexandria, Va., Williams and Justin Hahn, hazmat compliance officer, joined Schoendorfer as instructors. Hahn, a firefighter in Kannapolis, N.C., for 15 years before joining NS, said he can identify with the first responders. “People outside the railroad don’t really know much about how the railroad operates, so the first part of our presentation is an overview of how the railroad works,” he said.

In Alexandria, where NS operates an ethanol transload facility, key congressional staffers and representatives from the National Transportation Safety Board, the Federal Railroad Administration, and the Association of American Railroads toured the train.

“It was invaluable for them to walk away understanding the commitment that NS and the rail industry have to ensure people know how to respond and that our communities are the safest they can be,” Wilson said.

Numerous communities have requested visits in 2017 from the safety train, which is the centerpiece of NS’ Operation Awareness & Response program, known as OAR. The railroad launched OAR in 2015 to demonstrate its commitment to rail safety and to cultivate and strengthen relationships with first responders. The program also raises public awareness about the economic benefits associated with safe rail transport of hazardous materials used daily across America.

The safety train’s paint scheme was designed by NS’ visual communications group and painted at its Juniata Locomotive Shop in Altoona, Pa. NS reached out to first responders for input on the train’s design and type of training that would be most useful.

“We listened to their concerns and interests,” Wilson said, “and we’re giving them something that’s of value to them.”

For more information about Norfolk Southern’s OAR program, visit