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  • Writer's pictureFred

Al Stewart vs. Norfolk Southern

You see that saying above? That's as old as the railroad itself. My Grandfather had that saying on his Living Room table for 50 years. Norfolk Southern can trace its corporate roots to 1838 with the Norfolk and Western Railway. Deep in my bones, I have railroad blood in me.

What's my point?

Today at CNN: Norfolk Southern Balks at Compensating Homeowners in East Palestine.

There seems to be a lot of safety issues at Norfolk Southern lately, maybe they need a change in leadership or culture, I thought.

Then I read about Al Stewart's complaints about property values in East Palestine and I was really confused as how to feel. Norfolk Southern should compensate the victims of the incident, absolutely. But besides a change in Norfolk Southern management, what should be the monetary compensation?

According to the CNN article:

"Stewart fears he lost a tremendous amount of the value of his home, which he bought in 2016 for $85,000. The property was worth about $135,000 a month ago, according to an estimate from Zillow. Lack of transactions since then make a current estimate difficult.
'I’ll never get that. I’ll be lucky to get what I paid for it, if that,' he said of the estimate. In addition, Stewart believes it would cost a lot to do the repairs and tests to ensure the home is safe. 'At whose expense? That’s the biggest issue right now,' said Stewart. 'At whose expense are we going to do things to make sure it’s okay?'
Stewart isn’t the only one that was angry with Shaw and Norfolk Southern for the railroad’s refusal to offer to compensate the community for the property value that has been destroyed by the derailment."

If you live in somewhere like New York, San Francisco, or Nashville, can you even imagine what an $85,000 house looks like. Stewart whined that he was going to sell his house and retire? Retire to where? You have $135,000 and no home. That doesn't get you very far in retirement in about 80% of America.

Let's do some simple internet math. There are about 2,000 homes in East Palestine. If the median price of a home there is worth around $105,000, Norfolk Southern, that's currently worth around $48 billion, could conceivably spend $210 million to buy every house in town, and then bulldoze them into the ground. They could probably make most of that money back by selling the land away from the derailment back to a developer.

But then there'd be a lot homeless residents with not a lot of money to get new homes. And don't get me wrong, I feel bad for Mr. Stewart, but I really don't think home devaluation should be his angle. He should sue for damages and medical expenses. He wants a $50,000 check for the devaluation of his home? Norfolk Southern would probably cut that $100 million dollar check if it meant the lawsuits would be over.

Listen, I'm not a lawyer, and Norfolk Southern should definitely have to pay something, but the average home price in the the very trendy retirement "The Villages" in Florida is about $420,000. Mr. Stewart was never going to be able to move away from East Palestine, even if there was no train derailment.

Why is this bothering me so much? It's not like me to take the side of a corporation? If a train derailed in my community, I wouldn't want to stay there either. But I know I wouldn't be able to get a nicer place with my settlement, I would probably end up somewhere shittier, like Elyria or Lorain. I would want a check and I would would some medical protections. When I bought my house, it was for around $120,000 just past the turn of the millennium. If the housing bubble bursts, my home's value could collapse back to 2016 levels even without a derailment. I wouldn't want home devaluation to be my compensation measuring stick.

I felt like the tone of the article was Mr. Stewart was looking to get away from the industrial north, away from all those nasty trains.

Good luck with that.

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