Independent safety consultant delivers initial report

In May, Norfolk Southern appointed Atkins Nuclear Secured (ANS) to conduct an independent review of the company’s safety-first culture. ANS recently completed an initial report of their observations, which included identifying opportunities to put new safety procedures into practice.

On September 14, Norfolk Southern President and CEO Alan Shaw sent the following letter below to all NS employees, along with a summary of the report:


To my Norfolk Southern colleagues:

Earlier this year, I committed to you that Norfolk Southern will become an industry leader in rail safety. In May, we joined twelve of our labor unions in underscoring our shared goal of partnering together to drive continuous improvement in rail safety at the company. As part of that goal, I asked Atkins Nuclear Secured (ANS) to conduct an independent review of the company's safety-first culture.

Today, I want to share with you an update on the first phase of the ANS review, and how it will contribute to our broader efforts to develop an industry-leading, safety-first operation and culture. Admiral Kirk Donald, U.S. Navy (Retired), who led ANS’s work, has met with our leadership team to discuss the findings and recommendations, and I encourage each of you to read the summary included with this letter.

Admiral Donald and his team had independence in their work, with direct access to meet and speak with hundreds of Norfolk Southern employees at all levels and across all the regions we serve. ANS observed railroad operations in progress across our network, touring our facilities and meeting with presidents, general chairmen, and local chairmen from every Norfolk Southern union to ensure their perspectives and voices were heard and reflected.

When I engaged Admiral Donald and his team, I made it very clear that upholding safety within our railroad operations guarantees our reliability, which ensures success for all stakeholders connected to our enterprise, including our dedicated employees, valued customers, shareholders, elected representatives and those living in the communities close to our rail lines.

The initial findings from ANS are candid and unbiased, which is exactly what I asked from them. They have surfaced issues of critical importance that we need to swiftly address. The initial findings provide recommendations we can begin implementing to continue building a stronger safety culture. In many areas we are already moving forward, which I’ve outlined below.

  1. Strengthened collaboration with local labor leaders: We are making a focused effort to collaborate with labor leaders at the local level to hear their ideas on safety and set aside the concept of “the way we've always done it” to implement innovative solutions.
  2. Enhanced post-incident continuous improvement processes: We must embrace learning if we are to continue to improve safety. We are doing this, in part, by strengthening our fact-finding processes and our root cause analysis and then developing and implementing sustainable corrective actions that we will work to communicate throughout the company and use as training lessons where appropriate.
  3. Investing in the locations where our employees show up to work: Working conditions impact pride, and pride impacts safety and productivity. ANS identified improved morale and safety performance amongst employees who work at our well-maintained shops and yards. With this in mind, we have launched a multi-year capital program to upgrade many of our reporting facilities used by our railroaders throughout our 22-state network, including over 70 immediate repair projects to be completed by the end of this year. These updates are a direct result of the feedback we’ve received from our colleagues in the field, who provided us with important feedback on how we can achieve our goal of meaningfully improving their daily experience.
  4. An expanded field assessment team: As part of ANS’s process, we identified an expanded field team made up of employees from our safety department and modeled after the ANS Independent Performance Assessment Team structure. This group has been working closely with ANS to gain valuable perspective and knowledge, and so we have formalized their role. This team will serve as a force multiplier each and every day, driving action around employee feedback, teaching and developing field leaders on a balanced approach to strengthening employee safety behaviors and ultimately propelling and sustaining continuous improvement in safety across our entire network.

I appreciate that ANS has noted that we are a high performing organization with leaders devoted to safety, and that we are on the right path. We’re focused on putting into practice new safety procedures, including those outlined above and many others. This includes expanding our Operating Practices team to identify and implement safety technology apps for employees in the field. As a next step, ANS will work with us to develop a multi-year safety enhancement implementation program that we will put into practice. But we can and must do better.

Hiring ANS was just one phase of our work. I am also empowering a team of internal experts and leaders to further identify areas where we can enhance our culture and operations, ensure appropriate follow-up is completed and implement recommendations from ANS and others. This “Safety Implementation Task Force” will report directly to me and have the full scope and authority necessary to drive positive momentum. They will be charged with identifying and removing roadblocks so that we can quickly move from recommendation to implementation, incorporating feedback from our craft employees and labor leaders as we work on these important initiatives.

In addition, we are creating a new executive-level role called Vice President Field Engagement. Consistent with our Team of Teams philosophy, this position will work across organizational boundaries, engaging our front-line railroaders for ideas on how to make Norfolk Southern better, identifying further opportunities to enhance working conditions for our colleagues in the field, and strengthening our safety and service culture.

Moving forward on building an industry-leading, safety-first operation requires everyone across our organization – from management to the craft employees who comprise the backbone of the company – to work together toward a common mission. We will succeed by working collaboratively, deliberately, and with urgency.

I want to close this letter by stating how deeply proud and humbled I am of the work you do for this organization every day and how you represent Norfolk Southern in the communities in which we all live, work and operate. I know that each of you feels as strongly as I do that we need to do everything we can to prevent accidents that can impact communities like East Palestine in the future.

To be an industry leader requires us to raise the bar. And that is exactly what we are doing. Together, we are building toward a better way forward for Norfolk Southern, where safety, service, productivity and growth are all essential building blocks for shared success.

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