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Safety regulations are the same regardless of who owns the Cincinnati Southern Railway

This photo taken with a drone shows portions of a Norfolk and Southern freight train that derailed Friday night in East Palestine, Ohio, still on fire at mid-day Saturday.
Gene J. Puskar
This photo taken with a drone shows portions of a Norfolk and Southern freight train that derailed Friday night in East Palestine, Ohio are still on fire at mid-day Saturday.

Cincinnati officials say safety regulations for the city-owned railway would not change if it's sold to Norfolk Southern as proposed. Safety concerns are top of mind after a Norfolk Southern train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, over a week ago.

Cincinnati City Solicitor Emily Smart Woerner says because Norfolk Southern already operates on the Cincinnati Southern Railway, selling the asset to them wouldn't change anything.

"The railroads are a matter of interstate commerce and the federal government is the entity that regulates what happens on the railroads, the safety of the railroads — they heavily regulate those industries," Woerner told a City Council committee Monday. "The city cannot regulate those industries."

RELATED: East Palestine evacuation lifted allowing residents to return home

The Cincinnati Southern Railway Board of Trustees wants to sell for $1.6 billion. Mayor Aftab Pureval announced the proposed sale a few months ago with support from dozens of current and former city officials.

Council Member Reggie Harris says even if the city decided not to sell, Norfolk Southern can legally renew the lease through 2051.

"The reality is that even if we were not talking about a sale, we would be talking about how does this relate to the lease?" Harris said. "And we also know that that we are in a relationship with Norfolk Southern, regardless of we do, until 2051, per the lease. So this is still 26 years."

The sale can't go through without approval from Cincinnati voters and the agreement will likely be on the November ballot, assuming a couple of other requirements are met first.

RELATED: East Palestine air quality is fine, but do not drink the water, Ohio officials say

A Norfolk Southern executive says the company will be actively engaged in convincing Cincinnati voters to approve the proposed purchase.

"There are a lot of ways to look at this transaction," said Darrell Wilson, assistant vice president for government relations. "This is something that's very unique, it doesn't exist anywhere else. And so I think everybody worked really diligently over a very long two-year period to figure out, how do you value this? And there are a lot of ways to look at that."

Documents released last week in response to a public records request show a wide range of estimated valuations for the CSR.

RELATED: What is the Cincinnati Southern Railway worth?

Wilson also faced questions about the derailment. He says Norfolk Southern will stay in the East Palestine community for as long as it takes to make things right.

"We are committed to that town for a full and complete recovery," Wilson said.

See the city solicitor's full presentation on the proposed sale below:

Local Government Reporter with a particular focus on Cincinnati; experienced journalist in public radio and television throughout the Midwest. Enthusiastic about: civic engagement, public libraries, and urban planning.