VOTERS in Cincinnati have granted US Class 1 Norfolk Southern (NS) permission to proceed with its proposed purchase of the 532km City of Cincinnati-owned Cincinnati Southern Railway (CSR).

In 2022, NS executed a purchase agreement for the Class II, which it and its predecessor railways have been operating under a lease agreement with the City of Cincinnati since 1881.

The $US 1.62bn offer for the line that connects Cincinnati and Chattanooga, Tennessee, was approved by the CSR Board and City, but the deal required changes in state law that can only be approved by voters through a public referendum, as well as the Surface Transportation Board (STB). 

STB authorised the acquisition, subject to employee protective conditions, on September 19, saying it “would not likely cause a substantial lessening of competition or create a monopoly or restraint of trade.” Voters have now also signed off on the deal.

The transaction includes the 3844ha of CSR land that is maintained by NS. As part of the agreement, NS says it will also donate to the State of Ohio 32km of the east end of its Peavine Line, an out-of-service segment that runs from Rardon to Vera Junction.

NS’s wholly owned subsidiary, The Cincinnati, New Orleans & Texas Pacific Railway Company, currently operates the CSR under a lease agreement that was set to expire on December 31 2026, with a 25-year renewal option. Funds from the $US 25m per-year lease have been dedicated to City of Cincinnati infrastructure projects.


CSR is the only municipally-owned mainline railway in the United States. Established through a $US 10m bond issue approved by Cincinnati voters in June 1869, operations were leased out in 1881 and it has been described as a dependable cash cow for the city.

The route has also become one of NS’ highest density segments, with as many as 30 trains traversing it every day. The Class 1 says it is a “critical artery linking the Midwest and the Southeast and a core line in the company’s network.”

NS first offered to buy the CSR for an undisclosed, but lower than $US 1.62bn sum, in July 2021 during lease renewal negotiations that fell apart, prompting NS and the CSR Board to enter arbitration.

NS came back with the $US 1.62bn offer In April 2022 and the parties reached a nonbinding agreement on the proposed sale terms in June 2022. The railway, Cincinnati mayor, Mr Aftab Pureval, and the CSR Board of Trustees subsequently announced execution of a board-approved, City-administration-vetted purchase agreement on December 19 2022.

The sale is expected to more than double the city’s income from the railway, helping to ease annual budget deficits for deferred and unfunded infrastructure maintenance projects of $US 35m.

NS says it will now focus on working with the city to finalise the sale, which it expects to close in the first quarter of 2024.