Norfolk Southern train derails along Curve Road, causes headache for officials


Grace Metz

A derailed Norfolk Southern train car sits in a clearing along Curve Road. Investigations into the incident are currently underway.

Grace Metz, Editor-In-Chief

In late January of 2023, a Norfolk Southern train derailed along Curve Road in Delaware, Ohio.
No injuries were sustained, but the derailed cars barreled through trees, brush and grass, uprooting vegetation in the area.
“Train derailments are historically on the decline,” Norfolk Southern representative Connor Spielmaker said, in an email correspondence. “In 2022, Norfolk Southern had fewer derailments than in any other year in the last decade.”
However, a lack of communication between Norfolk Southern and city officials, like city manager Tom Homan, has been a barrier to the cleanup process.
“We didn’t get notified [after this], the 911 center did,” Homan said. “There was communication between Norfolk Southern and county officials, in part because where it occurred is technically not in the corporate limits of the city. Nonetheless, our fire department or police department and my office should have been contacted.”
Norfolk Southern has been under fire recently for the East Palestine derailment, located 140 miles east of Delaware, which spilled toxic chemicals into the surrounding area.
According to Spielmaker, Norfolk is committed to repairing their relationship with the East Palestine community, and with other communities affected by train derailments and accidents.
“We continue to evaluate our operations every day to make Norfolk Southern an even safer railroad,” he said. “Rail transport remains the safest way to transport goods across the country.”
Even still, there are questions about Norfolk Southern’s uneasy track record, especially when addressing concerns from community members.
“I think the railroads are kind of like a sovereign state,” Homan said. “They don’t have to [communicate, so] they don’t go beyond that. It’s kind of the culture of the railroad and it’s frustrating.”
In response to the frustration caused by Norfolk Southern, Delaware City Council passed a resolution urging congressman Jim Jordan to introduce legislation addressing concerns with railroad safety both nationally and at the Ohio state level.
The resolution cited medical issues caused by past derailments and the environmental damage that train accidents can cause.
“It all depends on what’s being transported on the train,” Delaware Emergency Communications Director Patrick Brandt said. “Once [fire and EMS] get to the scene, they need to find out the placard numbers [on the train cars]…so we can start pulling up the information…and that’ll tell them what chemicals [they] are dealing with. Then if it’s something that requires an evacuation, we can assist by sending out a notification to the areas saying an evacuation needs to happen.”
However, no waste or other toxic substances were found in the train accident on Curve Road.
“We found that the one car was a tanker car. It was empty, [and] eventually, we got a document that showed that it was actually certified as clean,” Delaware Emergency Management Information Coordinator Scott Stewart said. “They cleaned the car and there was nothing at all. That was our main concern was that there was no release of chemicals that would affect the residents and affect the environment.”
In the case of a train derailment in which dangerous substances are released, Stewart advised that residents and their families create an evacuation plan.
“If you ever had an Amber Alert or tornado warning come across your cell phone, we can send that kind of [automatic] message,” Stewart said. “If something were to happen, get your little ‘go bag’ and get out of the area until you know it’s safe. Try to be proactive.”
Ultimately, train derailments are a rarity. Despite Norfolk Southern’s lack of communication with city officials, no significant harm was caused to the Delaware community.
Now, with the site of the Curve Road derailment free of debris, eyes are on federal agencies to address the growing concern of railroad safety, in Ohio and beyond.