Norfolk & Western Railway and the Chessie System Thursday proposed joint acquisition of the 476-mile Detroit, Toledo and Ironton Railroad - aviable remnant of the once-proud Penn Central Transportation Co.

In a petition filed with the Interstate Commerce Commission, N&W and Chessie said they have agreed to pay $23.6 million for the line, which runs south out of Detroit to southern Ohio and (over the track of other lines) into Cincinnati.

Once owned by Henry Ford and associates, the DT&I handles a large volume of automotive freight. Chessie or N&W currently account for some 40 per cent of the freight volume interchanged by DT&I at connecting points for long distance shipments.

DT&I is owned by a Northern Virginia firm, the Pennsylvania Co., a subsidiary of the bankfupt Penn Central.

Roanoke-base N&W and Cleveland based Chessie said they would operate DT&I as a separate corporation, with its own management.

The petition filed with the ICC also revealed that N&W and Chessie would pay off $2.3 million of DT&I debts, the outgrowth of a former mortgage on the propeerty.

If approved by the ICC, the N&W Chessie proposal would created a small midwest line with no mortgage and no significant debt outside of equipment investments, the railroads stated.

A bankrupt subsidiary of DT&I, the Ann Arbor Railroad, would be retained by the Pennsylvania Co. and is not a part of last week's accord. DT&I owns about 70 locomotives and 4,000 freight cars.

The Martin I. Isen Award for public and community service was presented.