City officials in Cincinnati are attempting to sell a city-owned rail line to Norfolk Southern, the same company that caused the toxic disaster in East Palestine last month.
City leaders announced a plan to sell the line, the Cincinnati Southern Railway that runs to Chattanooga Tennessee, at the end of last year to Norfolk Southern for $1.6 billion.
Aftab Pureval, the mayor of Cincinnati, said that he wants the agreement to go through despite the incident and chemical spills.
“My concern is for the best deal for the city, the safety of our residents and future generations of residents who are going to benefit from this sale,” Pureval said.
The city constructed the train lines in the late 1800s to promote economic growth. Since then, train companies have been leasing it from Cincinnati.
Presently, Norfolk Southern is responsible for paying Cincinnati around $25 million a year for the lease.
That deal expires in 2026, leading city and railroad officials to negotiate the outright sale of the asset.
According to Pureval, the revenue from the sale will be used for infrastructure needs.
But, some have questioned whether the city should halt the sale in the wake of the incident, including Liz Keating, the only Republican on the City Council.
“Given the issues going on in East Palestine, is the sale, the purchase of this railroad, still a top priority? Does (Norfolk Southern) have all the resources available to continue on with this sale?” Keating said.
On February 3rd 50 train carriages, 10 of which were carrying hazardous materials, derailed as a result of a technical problem with a rail car axle, according to federal authorities. There was vinyl chloride in five of the vehicles. Hundreds of residents evacuated as a result of the controlled release of poisonous gasses that Norfolk Southern carried out on February 6th to stop an explosion.
Officials told East Palestine residents on February 8th that they could safely go home, despite the reports of hundreds of dead fish in the Ohio river near East Palestine and residents complaining of headaches and illness since the derailment.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ordered Norfolk Southern last month to shoulder all financial obligations for cleaning up contamination from the vinyl chloride, a carcinogenic chemical the derailed train was carrying.
Cincinnati Water Works also said it will ask Norfolk Southern to reimburse the city for the extensive water testing performed on the Ohio River following the East Palestine derailment.
A month after the derailment in East Palestine, around 20 of a 212-car train derailed on March 4th in Springfield, Ohio. Reportedly there were no dangerous commodities on the train.
Marking the third incident involving the railroad in Ohio in just over a month, a Norfolk Southern conductor died as a result of a train collision with a dump truck at the Cleveland-Cliff’s Cleveland Works property on Tuesday.
The National Transportation Safety Board also announced on Tuesday that it will begin an investigation into Norfolk Southern following a number of “significant accidents” in Ohio.
Although the council doesn’t have the final say in the matter, it essentially serves as the Railway Commission‘s rubber stamp in its efforts to get the issue on the November ballot for city voters to accept.
Democratic council member Mark Jeffreys has also been vocal with questions about the sale, saying he wants more information about the deal before endorsing it.
“We need to make sure that it’s safe, whether it’s sold or it’s leased,” Jefferys said.
To modify a state statute to permit this sale, the city is currently negotiating with the state legislature. Nevertheless, voters still need to approve the sale.
The selling agreement expires, and the city can put the route up for bids if voters do not approve the lease or the law is not changed.
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Hannah Poling is a lead reporter at The Ohio Star and The Star News Network. Follow Hannah on Twitter @HannahPoling1. Email tips to [email protected]
Photo “Norfolk Southern on Railways” by James St. John. CC BY 2.0.