Norfolk Southern reports $387 million charge for the first quarter after East Palestine derailment

The charge resulted in a year-over-year decline in first-quarter profits, the rail company said. Read more...

General view of the site of the derailment of a train carrying hazardous waste, in East Palestine, Ohio, U.S., March 2, 2023. 

Alan Freed | Reuters

Norfolk Southern on Wednesday reported an initial $387 million charge associated with the company’s East Palestine, Ohio, derailment in February, which spilled toxic chemicals into the environment.

The charge resulted in a year-over-year decline in first-quarter profits, the rail company said.

Norfolk Southern said income from railway operations for the quarter was $711 million, down 34% from the same period in 2022. Excluding the East Palestine derailment, income from railway operations was $1.1 billion, up 1% compared to the same period the year prior.

Net income for the period fell to $466 million, or $2.04 a share, down from $703 million, or $2.93, a year earlier. That comes despite a year-over-year jump in revenue of roughly 7% to $3.13 billion.

Here’s how Norfolk Southern performed in the first quarter, compared with Refinitiv consensus estimates:

  • EPS: $3.32, adjusted to exclude the impact of East Palestine, vs. $3.12 expected
  • Revenue: $3.13 billion, vs. $3.11 billion expected

The earnings release reaffirmed Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw’s commitment to supporting cleanup efforts in Ohio, pledging roughly $24 million in reimbursements and investments. The National Transportation Safety Board is examining the company’s organization and safety culture through a special probe into the company.

Those environmental cleanup efforts and remediation activities contributed to the reported $387 million charge, according to company executives. The charge also included anticipated EPA-issued oversight costs to reimburse the government but does not include some anticipated legal costs related to cases such as a lawsuit brought by the state of Ohio, insurance recovery and recovery activities from other parties.

“That’s the accrual that we know of as of now, what we can identify. It could potentially change, there’s no doubt about that, as we work with the Ohio AG and we work with the EPA,” Shaw told CNBC’s Morgan Brennan in an interview on “Closing Bell: Overtime” Wednesday.

Shaw reiterated Wednesday plans to install additional sensors, accelerate the deployment of advanced early detection technology, and increase safety training for first responders.

Norfolk Southern did not provide estimates for further charges related to the East Palestine derailment.

Norfolk Southern CEO on Ohio derailment, safety measures and earnings

On Feb. 3, a Norfolk Southern freight train with 11 tank cars carrying hazardous materials derailed near Ohio’s border with Pennsylvania. The train subsequently ignited, sparking concerns surrounding environmental and health impacts for the community.

In March, both the Justice Department and the state of Ohio sued Norfolk Southern. Democratic Sens. John Fetterman and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and Sherrod Brown of Ohio introduced the new Railway Accountability Act at the end of last month, parts of which Shaw endorsed.

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