Holly Ritchie loves pairing buyers with potential homes. She’s good at it too.
She’s served as a selling agent for more than 2,500 properties, the rewards of a career spanning 23 years.
Yet the last four months in northeastern Ohio have been challenging. For the first time in years, she’s entering the summer real estate sales blitz with little enthusiasm.
“Last year, homes were selling in hours,” Ritchie, a realtor with Keller Williams Chervenic Realty, said in an interview with Spanning the Need.
“This year, it’s days.”
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More time. And even more concern. “I feel more stressed for the buyers because they have to make such monumental decision so fast,” Ritchie said.
Ritchie’s financial worries illustrate the financial and emotional hardships endured by locals in the aftermath of the East Palestine train derailment.
Nearly four months after a Norfolk Southern freight train crashed while carrying hazardous materials in 11 tank cars, business owners, families and others are trying to escape the path of thousands of trains owned by private companies.
In Ohio, it’s a losing cause.
Only Texas, Illinois and California employ more extensive rail systems. Meanwhile, the Buckeye State – which is much smaller geographically with a more concentrated rail netork – employs 5,188 miles of rail lines, the vast majority owned by CSX Transportation and Norfolk Southern.
“The problem is rail lines are everywhere,” said Noah M. Sachs, a law professor and director of the Robert R. Merhige Jr. Center for Environmental Studies at the University of Richmond School of Law.
Residents are worried about short and long-term health after thousands of gallons of chemicals leaked into nearby land and waters in northeastern Ohio.
Her many listings surrounded by train rails; Ritchie placed four properties under contract in April as the homebuyers wait to close. Another four are under contract in May.
“They refuse to let this derailment ruin their city,” Ritchie said.
“People are still selling, people are still buying!”
But private trains traveling through Ohio impact urban dwellings and rural areas, although the latter is more at risk. 43 miles away from East Palestine, Stark County has the largest number of railroad tracks in the state (220). Nearly ninety miles away from Cuyahoga County ranks second (202); Seneca County, located in the northwestern part of the state, has the lowest number at 121.
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What’s worse, Sachs said, is communities typically have no idea
what hazardous chemicals are traveling across their city or county limits.
Ironically, the safety of Ohio’s rail network has improved in recent years, according to accident data from the Federal Railroad Association. Over a 20-year span, damage to railroad equipment, tracks or structures have declined:
1998-2007: 106 reported accidents
2008-17: 78 reported accidents
Also, according to the federal agency, Ohio experienced 106 train derailments between January of 2021 and May 10 of this year, with no reported injuries.
No injuries were reported during February’s train derailment.
Still, local residents are scared.
Said Sachs: “Millions of homes are close to rail lines; the best thing people can do is not to avoid those homes, but to lobby elected officials for stronger rail safety.”