CINCINNATI (WKRC) – The ongoing fallout from the train derailment in northeast Ohio is bringing new attention to a major economic deal in the Tri-State.
Cincinnati city leaders are trying to sell a city-owned rail line to Norfolk Southern -- the same company responsible for the toxic disaster in East Palestine.
That line, the Cincinnati Southern Railway, runs to Chattanooga, Tennessee, and in November, city leaders announced a plan to sell it to Norfolk Southern for $1.6 billion.
And despite the accident and chemical spills, Cincinnati Mayor Aftab Pureval wants the deal to move forward.
The city built the rail tracks in the late 1800s as a way to spur economic development. Since then, Cincinnati has leased it to railroad operators.
Currently, it's Norfolk Southern, which pays Cincinnati about $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.
The proceeds are targeted for infrastructure needs.
But since the accident, some have questioned whether the city should pause the sale, including Liz Keating, the lone Republican member of the City Council.
The council doesn’t have final say on the deal, however, but would essentially be a rubber stamp for the separately-appointed Railway Commission, which is seeking to put the proposal on the November ballot for city voters to approve.
Keating wasn't available for an interview Friday, but she raised several concerns during the week at a budget committee meeting.
Mayor Pureval says the deal should still move forward.
“Norfolk Southern's safety record has obviously come under great scrutiny. How do you think that affects the deal that you guys are trying to put together to sell the railroad?” Local 12 asked.
“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,” the mayor said.
Norfolk Southern did not respond to emails and voicemails left Thursday.
Earlier in the week, Councilmember Mark Jeffreys sponsored a resolution seeking answers from both Norfolk Southern and federal agencies about the crash.
He's 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,” he said.
Cincinnati Water Works also says it is going to ask Norfolk Southern to reimburse the city for the extensive water testing needed on the Ohio River in the past two weeks.
Mayor Purveval says that shouldn't hurt the deal either, adding that, so far, the area's air and water are still safe.
The city is still working with the state legislature to change a state law to allow for this sale, but then voters need to approve it.
If it doesn't pass, the city would be locked into another 25-year lease with Norfolk Southern.