Norfolk Southern, the operator of the freight train carrying toxic chemicals that derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, nearly a year ago, has agreed to participate in a federal program that allows employees to confidentially report safety issues, the company announced Monday. company and federal officials. .

In the wake of the derailment, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg asked Norfolk Southern and other major freight railroads in the country to join the program, one of a series of steps he urged them to take to improve safety.

The railroads pledged in March to participate, but in the months that followed, they pushed for changes to the program to address concerns about its operation. None of the largest freight rail companies, known as Class I railroads, had officially agreed to join until Monday’s announcement.

Norfolk Southern’s participation in the program, known as Confidential Close Call Reporting System, or C3RS, will have a limited range. The railroad will conduct a year-long pilot program that will apply to about 1,000 employees in Atlanta; Elkhart, Indiana; and Roanoke, Virginia, which are members of two unions, a small fraction of the company’s workforce of about 20,000 people.

“Norfolk Southern has taken a good first step, and it is time for other Class I railroads to back up their words with action and follow through on their promises to join this near miss reporting system and keep America’s rail network safe.” Buttigieg said. he said in a statement.

Alan H. Shaw, CEO of Norfolk Southern, said in a statement that the company was “committed to setting the gold standard for rail safety and we are proud to be the first Class I railroad to deliver on our promise to co-develop and launch a C3RS program.”

The federal program, which is modeled after a similar for pilots and other aviation personnel, allows railroad employees to report safety issues without worrying about potential disciplinary action. But freight rail companies expressed concern that workers could take advantage of the program as a way to protect themselves from punishment after making dangerous mistakes.

The Association of American Railroads, an industry group, said Monday that the other major freight rail companies were still committed to joining the program.

“This commitment remains unchanged,” said Jessica Kahanek, a spokesperson for the group. She added: “AAR and its member railroads, collectively and individually, have engaged in good faith conversations with management and railroad workers about strengthening the program.”