RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A national rail giant will pay just $27,300 to Virginia after a derailment in 2020 dumped over 1,300 tons of coal into the Roanoke River.
In an enforcement order published on March 10, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (VDEQ) published its report outlining the impact of the accident and the penalties Norfolk Southern would face.
The derailment occurred on October 30, 2020, when 26 cars jumped the tracks on a train bridge over the Roanoke River West of Salem, Virginia. 16 of those cars, carrying approximately 2,600 tons of coal, ended up in the river below.
In the weeks after the derailment, Norfolk Southern removed a total of 1,349 tons of coal from the river, though the VDEQ report notes that recent rain and high waters at the time of the event meant that much of the coal was swept downstream.
The biggest impact of the derailment was the shuttering of the nearby Salem Water Treatment Plant for a month. The plant, which was 3.4 miles downstream from the derailment, had to close until the coal has been cleaned up — or swept downstream.
The $27,000 fine was agreed to by Norfolk Southern, who signed the consent order in February, but local environmental groups objected to VDEQ’s decision, claiming the law would have allowed for a much harsher fine.
“At least 12 cars spilled into the Roanoke River on October 30, 2020. This suggests Virginia’s penalty should be increased by at least an order of magnitude,” wrote the Virginia Sierra Club. “For a company the size of Norfolk Southern, yet another order of magnitude should be added to the penalty so that all railroad operators take precautions against future coal discharges.”
The fine comes just weeks after Norfolk Southern derailed a train in Ohio, causing the evacuation of an entire town, burning several tons of toxic chemicals and facing intense scrutiny over its safety practices.