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CEO PERSPECTIVE: Safety First, Safety Always

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


As part of a special series in Railway Age’s April 2023 issue, 13 chief executives of leading North American companies answer the single-most critical question: What is the biggest challenge facing the North American rail industry? Alan Shaw of Norfolk Southern is the fifth to share his perspective.

After the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, Norfolk Southern promised to make it right. For the people in that close-knit village and nearby towns, that means cleaning the site safely and thoroughly; testing the air, water and soil; helping families whose lives were disrupted; and investing in the community for the long-term.

Part of making it right also means enhancing safety as a company and as an industry. Norfolk Southern may own the track in East Palestine, but the responsibility of making the rail industry safer is something we must all own. 

I’ll be the first to praise rail as the safest, most effective way to move freight, a view I share with NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy, who recently said: “Despite recent accidents, I want to be clear that rail remains one of the safest means of transportation. For transport of some classes and quantities of hazardous materials, there is no safer alternative.” She’s right, of course, but ‘no safer alternative’ doesn’t mean we’re satisfied. 

We need to work together to build on our industry’s strong safety record. An industry-wide comprehensive approach is essential, including railcar owners, car manufacturers, leasing companies, equipment manufacturers and the railroad companies. We can make rail even safer, but it’s going to take all of us, making changes inside our organizations and cooperating to enact meaningful, fact-based change for the industry.

For our own part, we’ve taken several steps in the right direction. In addition to joining the Federal Railroad Administration’s Confidential Close Call Reporting System (C3RS), which builds upon our own long-standing Close Call Experience Program, we’ve implemented a plan enhancing the safety of our operations. That plan involves strengthening our early-warning systems and our technology to identify issues before they become problems.

Beyond working together as an industry, we also need to work with lawmakers proposing rail safety legislation. We support legislative efforts that will improve outcomes for our industry, our customers and the communities we serve.

We also believe there’s a significant opportunity to better support first responders. Norfolk Southern recently expanded its existing training programs with the creation of a new regional training center to serve first responders in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. People from all three states rushed to the derailment site on Feb. 3, and I’m profoundly grateful for their help that day. We’re expanding first responder training in other ways too, including our Operation Awareness & Response program, which travels our 22-state network, training approximately 5,000 first responders each year to safely respond to rail incidents. We are committed to improving safety, which means the men and women who support us need our support in return.

The same goes for our people. I am proud to represent more than 19,700 Norfolk Southern employees who work every day to offer a safe and effective means of transporting freight. Part of showing my gratitude for their hard work and dedication means fostering a culture of trust, collaboration and transparency. We want our people to be engaged, speak up, and be part of the solution. Rising to this challenge, a challenge we all face, means working together to think about safety first—safety always.  




At Norfolk Southern, safety is a way of life and one of our guiding principles.  Norfolk Southern’s safety program extends beyond our rail operations into the communities where we live and work.  As your transportation provider and your neighbor, we strive to be safety leaders in both the workplace and at home – that’s our culture.

“We’re committed to serving our customers safely,” said Jason Morris, Norfolk Southern assistant vice president safety and environmental.  “We value our relationships with first responders across our network, and providing in-person educational and training opportunities is just one of the ways we partner with communities to enhance public safety.”

Norfolk Southern in 2019 provided training to 2,428 first responders across its network on the company’s safety train, a rolling learning lab that helps communities prepare for and safely respond to potential rail incidents.

The safety train visited 23 communities across 14 states during its 2019 tour, providing free training to firefighters, law enforcement, emergency management personnel, and other first responders.

The train is part of Norfolk Southern’s “Operation Awareness and Response” program to connect first responders with training resources. Part of the training focuses on AskRail™, a mobile application for first responders that provides real-time data about what rail cars are transporting, helping them make informed decisions when responding to a rail emergency.

NS is a 18-time national TRANSCAER Achievement Award winner. The award recognizes exceptional achievement in voluntary efforts by companies to help communities prepare for and safely respond to incidents involving transport of hazardous materials.


Norfolk Southern trains transport the nation’s goods to businesses and communities across our 19,500-mile rail network … passing through small towns, big cities, and everywhere in-between. No matter where we travel, one thing is constant: our commitment to safety.

With nearly two centuries of service, working safely is part of who we are. Norfolk Southern continues to invest in our people, equipment and infrastructure, and the communities we serve, working around the clock to serve our customers and deliver a better and safer future.

Whether developing or improving safety tools and programs for customers and communities, or creating new safety processes for employees - NS strives to make a positive impact on safety for all.


‘I am Coming Home’

Norfolk Southern is committed to providing employees with the knowledge and tools they need to make safe decisions and ensure they get home safely every day to family and friends. Norfolk Southern’s commitment to an injury-free workplace is punctuated by the company’s “i am Coming Home” safety message, which is featured prominently in NS yards, shops, and facilities systemwide. This message is a constant reminder that safety is both personal and a shared responsibility.

‘Tell Me’

Norfolk Southern’s grassroots safety leaders have rolled out a peer-to-peer communications tool to help prevent workplace injuries. It’s called “Tell Me.” With Tell Me, employees are encouraged to do one thing: tell one another when they see risky or unsafe behavior in the workplace.

Tell Me added a new dimension to the company’s emphasis on peer-to-peer safety communications. It complements the “i am coming home” safety messaging, making safety personal while giving everyone at NS ownership of and responsibility for a safe workplace. Tell Me is all about keeping each other safe.