Norfolk Southern gifts depot to East Palestine

Photos by Stephanie Elverd East Palestine Mayor Trent Conaway (right) accepts the key for the renovated historic East Palestine Train Depot from Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw on Thursday.

EAST PALESTINE, Ohio — Nearly 121 years after the Reveille Echo announced that ground had been broken for the construction of a new train depot in East Palestine, ownership of the building was returned to the village.

On Thursday, Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw handed the keys to the East Palestine Train Depot over to Mayor Trent Conaway, marking another milestone in the life of the historic structure and another milestone in the village’s recovery in the 15 months since the derailment of a Norfolk Southern freight train.

“We promised to rehabilitate the facility and turn it over to the community for its long-term use and today we are doing just that,” Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw said. “Today, we are here to fulfill another promise. There are a lot of people here today that have spent the last 15 months focused on helping East Palestine recover and helping East Palestine thrive over the long term. Just like Norfolk Southern, this facility has been a part of this community for years and, with the improvements we’ve made to it and turning it over to the community, we are going to make sure this train depot will be part of the community for decades moving forward.”

Conversations between the railroad and community members led to plans to restore the depot. Those plans, which included a complete renovation of the building’s exterior, were announced in March of 2023. Norfolk Southern Director of Corporate Giving Kristin Wong said the project cost around $1 million and an additional $100,000 grant was gifted to the village to finish the interior of the depot to suit the community’s intended use of it. Those intentions are still undecided, but talks have centered around turning the depot into a village and a community space.

Conaway called the completed project both a reflection of Norfolk Southern’s commitment to the village and a reflection of the craftsmanship of local trades.

“First of all we would like to thank Norfolk Southern for continuing to do good deeds in our town and help clean up after the devastating train accident. And this is just one of many things they have pledged to do in our community to help us grow and put us back to what we once were,” he said. “It also shows you the great workmanship we have locally. This work was all done by local contractors and it’s very impressive to see it now. We are happy to have this and we will utilize this to our best ability for local foundations and local groups and hopefully there will be a museum here at some point.”

The project was completed by Dynamic Structures of New Waterford. Work began in August and beat the projected timeline of finishing this summer.

The project seemed a fitting partnership between the village and the railroad, as it celebrates the long relationship between East Palestine and the rail industry The depot was built in 1905 at the corner of Taggart and Market Streets by the Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne and Chicago Railway, which was a major part of the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) system, extending the PRR west from Pittsburgh via Fort Wayne, Indiana, to Chicago, Illinois. That line eventually was passed to Penn Central Transportation in 1968 and Conrail in 1976. In 1998, following the breakup of Conrail, Norfolk Southern acquired the line east of Crestline. The depot came with the line.

“This depot has been a part of this community forever with our industrial history and the pottery and tire industries. Now it’s back to its former glory,” said Matt Dodge, president of the East Palestine Area Historical Society. “It has been restored to preserve the history and integrity of our community, and show our future residents and children what our town was and still is and that we can recover from anything that happens. It sat empty all of my lifetime, now that it’s redone, it can be repurposed.”

Like the countless trains that have passed the building in its lifetime, the idea is to keep moving forward.

It’s a good day for all of us,” Shaw said. “I appreciate what everybody in this community has done to pull together and really take your energy and put the village on a positive path forward to focus on unlocking the bright potential of East Palestine going forward.”

The depot is the latest in projects completed to not only restore the village, but restart it. Interior work inside the former Brittain Motors building at 248 N. Market St. that transformed that property into the Norfolk Southern Field Office was finished in April. The office now houses both community engagement and operational functions of the railroad in East Palestine. The building also became the permanent home of the Norfolk Southern Family Assistance Center (FAC) — a centralized resource hub for residents seeking support and answers to questions that still linger in the village and other communities impacted by the rail disaster.

Like the depot, all work on the field office remained local, with over $1 million in building renovations completed by J. Herbert Construction of Salem.

Shaw said he hopes the depot will serve as a space for community members to gather and remain focused on the goal of rebuilding the village and its phoenix-from-the-ashes story.

“One of the things you quickly learn when you spend some time in East Palestine is the pride of the residents and the community. This really kind of reflects that tradition and frankly, the really bright future for East Palestine moving forward, and we are going to be part of this community too moving forward,” Shaw said. “We just opened a brand-new permanent field office right down the road. We are committed to being part of this community and helping this community recover and we are committed to making this community thrive.”


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