By Scott Lindsey
The U.S. Surface Transportation Board gave its approval this week to a plan to sell a 338-mile railroad owned by the City of Cincinnati to Norfolk Southern, which it already operates. However, the voters will have the final say this November and that is not a sure thing.
The tentative agreement for the City of Cincinnati to sell its Cincinnati Southern Railway to NS is being opposed by “Derail the Sale,” a grassroots citizen group. NS currently pays the City roughly $25 million annually to lease the Cincinnati-Chattanooga, Tenn., route, which it operates as its Cincinnati, New Orleans & Texas Pacific subsidiary. NS and the City recently came to terms under which NS would acquire the line for $1.6 billion. However, before the City can move forward with the sale, Cincinnati voters must first approve the transaction on the local November 7 election ballot.
The opposition group believes that the City’s interest is best served by keeping the railroad and renegotiating the lease terms to provide a steady stream of future revenue. The city prefers to get the lump sum from the sale and use the cash for current and future infrastructure improvements that have not been supportable with current tax revenue. In addition to preferring the renewed lease options, Derail the Sale claims that NS’ handling of the East Palestine derailment is a sufficient reason to not trust NS with taking ownership of the Cincinnati Southern properties.