Sustainability in action:
Partnering for Safety
Safely operating our railroad is Norfolk Southern’s No. 1 priority. In addition to efforts to keep our employees safe on the job, we partner with communities in various ways to promote public safety. Employees Richard Vaughan and Greg Valentine demonstrate that commitment.
In March 2012, a brush fire between the New Jersey Turnpike and the “Chemical Coast” rail main line burned up a two-mile stretch of wetlands, held up highway and railroad traffic for four hours, and disrupted air traffic at the Newark-Liberty International Airport. The line is operated by Conrail, which is partially owned by Norfolk Southern. Police special agents Richard Vaughan and Greg Valentine, Norfolk Southern employees, took the experience as a learning opportunity for creating better safety and emergency response partnerships between the railroad and the communities it serves.
Firefighters had difficulty extinguishing the blaze because they couldn’t reach it from local streets or easily find access points across tracks. “We did an after-action plan when it was over,” Vaughan said, “and decided there had to be a better way. We think that fire could have been handled in half the time.”
Vaughan and Valentine initiated a Railroad Safety and Awareness training program for emergency and Port Authority personnel in Newark and Elizabeth, N.J. They held the training every Thursday for a month, showing emergency responders and state environmental officials access points along the railroad, availability of fire hydrants, and communication procedures.
“Now we can facilitate communication between trains, police, and fire departments,” Vaughan said. “Everything can be handled on one central radio channel.”
Because the Chemical Coast tracks run through oil refineries, it’s critical that railroad employees and community emergency personnel cooperate and be prepared to act quickly in the event of a fire or other emergency involving hazardous materials, Vaughan said. Since the training, Norfolk Southern coordinated the handling of a small fire in Newark. “The fire was out in 20 minutes,” Vaughan said. “The city called us. We met the fire department and escorted them in.”
Valentine said the training efforts have paid off in other ways, too. “It put us out there and let Elizabeth and Newark know that we care about their safety and want to be partners.”