Metro Atlanta firefighters learn how to respond to a freight train catastrophe

Firefighters got real-world training they hope never to have to use in one of Norfolk Southern’s railyards in East Point Tuesday afternoon.

The training comes a little more than four months after a devastating derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, which displaced about 5,000 residents.

"We can do better," said Alan Shaw, CEO of Norfolk Southern, promising changes. "This is an effort to make [communities] safer."

Metro Atlanta is a major freight rail hub - and also where the company is headquartered.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp joined firefighters and state transportation and emergency management officials on a specially designed train that gives first responders an up-close look at how rail transport works and how they can prepare for worst-case scenarios.

"We work in the what-if industry. You never know what we’re going to face every day," said Lieutenant Scott Zoebisch of the East Point Fire Department.

He said the training was much-needed.

"We always see [the railyard], we always pass by, we may do a pre-incident plan, but this is very rare that we actually get the chance to come out here," Zoebisch said.

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First responders in metro Atlanta came together to get real world training in case of a train derailment at the Norfolk Southern’s railyards in East Point on June 6, 2023. (FOX 5)

The Ohio derailment resulted in a toxic environmental catastrophe and brought intense scrutiny to Norfolk Southern and the railroad industry overall.

In an effort to rectify the situation, the company has established a multi-million dollar reimbursement fund to address the damages caused in East Palestine.

However, the company’s lawyers are asking a judge to dismiss a class-action lawsuit involving 500,000 residents near the wreck.

FOX 5 asked Shaw why that is.

"That’s part of the legal process," he responded. "We’ve made a commitment to do what’s right over the long term. This changes nothing."

A spokesperson for Norfolk Southern said the train would make roughly 15 other stops in communities throughout the rest of the country this year to educate first responders and local officials.