Social Media Reacts to Possible $1.6 Billion Cincinnati Southern Rail Sale

The sale may be months off, but citizens are voicing skepticism about the deal’s potential value.

click to enlarge Cincinnati Mayor Aftab Pureval spoke about the potential investment returns of the sale of Cincinnati Southern Railway to Norfolk Southern during a press briefing on Nov. 21. - Photo: Allison Babka
Photo: Allison Babka
Cincinnati Mayor Aftab Pureval spoke about the potential investment returns of the sale of Cincinnati Southern Railway to Norfolk Southern during a press briefing on Nov. 21.

After more than 140 years of exclusive ownership, the city of Cincinnati could sell the Cincinnati Southern Railway to Norfolk Southern, a railway subsidiary, for $1.6 billion to fund the city’s infrastructure maintenance needs, Mayor Aftab Pureval announced on Nov. 21.

“This is an historic opportunity to deliver great value to citizens of Cincinnati and realize a substantial return on the investment and foresight of our predecessors,” Pureval said.

The 337-mile freight railway, which runs from Cincinnati to Chattanooga, is the only city-owned multi-state railway in the country. Over the years, Cincinnati has leased the line to rail operator Cincinnati, New Orleans and Texas Pacific Railway (CNO&TP), a wholly-owned subsidiary of Norfolk Southern. The first lease agreement with CNO&TP was signed in 1881 and has been renewed on a 25-year cycle ever since. The current lease agreement is set to expire in 2026, according to the city.

Currently, the city receives $25 million annually to lease the railway to Norfolk Southern. Under the proposed sale, the city would receive $1.6 billion which would be fed into a trust fund known as the "Building Our Future" trust fund. The trust would dole out no less than $25 million to the city each year after the sale, but the mayor says the annual payout could more than double during some years.

“Based on investment returns, we’re projecting that that will increase year-over-year to $50-60 million dollars without touching the principal,” Purval said during a press briefing. Funding from the trust would be used only for the upkeep of existing infrastructure like bridges, parks and recreation facilities.

“This couldn’t be coming at a more important time for our city,” Pureval said. “In just the next five years, we are facing $385 million in unfunded capital needs.”

The Cincinnati Southern board

The trust fund from the sale would be managed by the Cincinnati Southern Railway board of trustees, whose bylaws mandate that no more than three members of the same political party can sit on the board. Trustees serve five-year terms, and there are no term limits.

Current board members include:
  • Republican Paul Muething, president, on the board since 2018
  • Democrat Paul Sylvester, treasurer, on the board since 1984
  • Democrat Charles Luken, vice president, on the board since 2018
  • Democrat Mark Mallory, on the board since 2018
  • Republican Amy Murray on the board since 2019

Determining the railway’s fate

There will need to be multiple votes to make it so the sale can go through.

The city says the state's legislature must vote to change some legal language allowing the sale, and there will need to be regulatory clearance from the U.S. Surface Transportation Board, but the ultimate decision will come from Cincinnati voters next fall.

The city says that if voters reject the sale, the Cincinnati Southern Railway board of trustees will pursue a renewed lease agreement with Norfolk Southern, similar to what has been in place for decades.

Railway issues

The news of the proposed sale comes as rail workers across the country are organizing a potential strike. Four freight rail unions made up of nearly 60,000 rail workers have reportedly voted down a five-year contract that was brokered by the Biden administration back in September. If one of the rail unions decides to strike, all of the unions – about 115,000 freight rail workers – will follow suit. The vote could bring freight trains and some Amtrak commuter systems to a halt.

It’s unclear if current union efforts have factored into the Cincinnati Southern Railway board’s vote to sell the railway or if a possible strike would halt operations of the Cincinnati Southern Railway.

Reddit and Twitter react

click to enlarge Reddit user Sjschlag reacts to news of the proposed sale of the Cincinnati Southern Railway. - Photo: Reddit.com
Photo: Reddit.com
Reddit user Sjschlag reacts to news of the proposed sale of the Cincinnati Southern Railway.

click to enlarge Reddit user Cadet_Google reacts to news of the proposed sale of the Cincinnati Southern Railway. - Photo: Reddit.com
Photo: Reddit.com
Reddit user Cadet_Google reacts to news of the proposed sale of the Cincinnati Southern Railway.





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