By: Felicia Jordan
CINCINNATI — Cincinnatians have spoken and the city is officially selling the Cincinnati Southern Railway.
The sale means Cincinnati will receive $1.6 billion to be put into a trust fund and used for improving existing infrastructure in Cincinnati. Currently, the city makes roughly $25 million annually from leasing the railway.
Supporters of the sale said it is money the city desperately needs. City leaders say the city is facing about $400 million in deferred capital maintenance projects at places like public health centers, parks and fire stations.
“Some of our playground equipment is really old and falling apart,” said Cincinnati Vice Mayor Jan-Michele Lemon Kearney. “There are some places like in Evanston where the bathrooms are crime-taped up and you can’t go in there.”
Building Cincinnati’s Future, the pro-sale campaign largely funded by Norfolk Southern, issued a statement after the sale.
Today’s results demonstrate the importance of engaging voters in the democratic process and ensuring the facts of the issue break through the noise. We want to thank every endorser and every supporter who worked with us to reach Cincinnatians and tell them the importance of voting Yes on 22. This is a victory for every Cincinnatian who will benefit from the improvements that Issue 22 will help make a reality.
City leaders toured some of the sites where maintenance has been deferred earlier this year, including fire stations and recreation centers that don’t meet current safety and building codes.
The Cincinnati Southern Railway Board of Trustees has said the $1.6 billion trust fund from the sale will likely more than double what future railroad lease payments would have garnered for the city.
Some opponents had argued it was a bad idea to sell a public asset the city has owned for more than 150 years.
“I’m a person that really believes that we should keep this asset for our children’s children,” said former Cincinnati Vice Mayor Christopher Smitherman. “There is no way if we sell this asset, we’ll ever get it back.”
Other opponents argued the offer from Norfolk Southern was too low, and that there wasn’t enough transparency about the process.
Derail the Sale, one of the issue’s main opponents, issued a statement the day after the election:
“Derail the Sale is very disappointed in the outcome of the vote on Issue 22 and with it, the sale of the CSR. We stand with all Cincinnatians of all backgrounds in mourning the loss of this generationally vital piece of infrastructure as the powers that be seek to fully privatize our public assets. Above all else we want to extend the upmost gratitude to our 100% volunteer team who made it to almost half of the community councils in our city and shared facts with as many of our neighbors as we could. This was a historic fight. One where we were outspent 100 to 1. But what we showed ourselves and our city is that we will never go down without a fight. We learned that a few handful of citizens is worth at least $4.2 million in corporate propaganda. Overall, we have learned that this is not over. Norfolk Southern and the political elite will do anything and spend any amount to mislead and confuse the public for private profit. This coalition will continue to fight for workers’ rights, racial equity, and environmental protections in whatever arenas that leads us to. And the next time a powerful corporation and their political shills come knocking for our public assets, we will be ready for the fight and with people power, we will win!”