Shareholders of Norfolk Southern, the beleaguered freight railroad, on Thursday voted down an attempt by an activist investment firm to remove the company’s chief executive and take control of its board.

But the activist, Ancora, a Cleveland firm, managed to secure a foothold at the company, after shareholders voted to place three of its directors onto Norfolk Southern’s 13-member board. Ancora had hoped to take control of the company’s leadership with an aim to cut costs and increase Norfolk Southern’s profits and stock price.

The result is a partial victory for Norfolk Southern’s executives, who had to defend themselves against criticisms of the company’s safety record and its lackluster financial performance. A company train carrying hazardous chemicals derailed last year in East Palestine, Ohio, forcing residents to evacuate.

The results of the shareholder vote, which were preliminary, were announced Thursday morning at a virtual company annual meeting.

During the meeting, Alan Shaw, Norfolk Southern’s chief executive, said he looked forward to working with the new directors.

“Norfolk Southern persevered through several challenges over the last year,” he said. “We have met every challenge and never lost sight of where we are taking our powerful franchise.”

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