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Cincinnati Southern Railway sale hits road block at the Ohio Statehouse

Johannes Plenio

The proposed sale of the city-owned Cincinnati Southern Railway to Norfolk Southern hit a significant road block this week. The CSR Board made the purchase agreement contingent on a state law change that is now uncertain.

State lawmakers were considering changes to the Ferguson Act, the CSR's founding legislation, to allow proceeds from the sale to be used for maintaining current infrastructure instead of debt service.

That language was included in the House version of the Budget Transportation bill, but has been removed from the Senate version of the bill.

"I’m committed to working alongside the General Assembly to pass the required legislation that allows the referendum for voters to decide," said Mayor Aftab Pureval in a statement.

RELATED: Should Cincinnati sell the Southern Railway? Voters will decide

Senate Majority Communications Director John Fortney confirmed the language has been removed, at least for now.

"There's a concern there that if someday, the revenue is gone, how will you wind up paying for your existing debt service?" Fortney said.

State Sen. Bill Blessing (R-Colerain Township) says he has other concerns about the potential sale.

"Just from a philosophical standpoint, I feel like it is better to have the asset in public hands," Blessing said.

He says this isn't necessarily the end of the road for the proposed sale. The House will have another shot at the Transportation Budget and could insist on including the Ferguson Act changes.

"Others have pitched trying to do this as a standalone bill and get a closer scrutiny as opposed to being in the transportation budget, where it's floating around with a number of other policy ideas," he said.

Pureval says the sale is a "bold, once-in-a-generation opportunity" and that there's never been a more important time to get out of the rail business.

"Selling now gives us local control over our assets in an investment trust for generations to come," Pureval said in a statement." No longer would our future be tied to the unpredictable and risky rail industry."

The Budget Transportation bill is expected to get a vote in the next few weeks.

Local Government Reporter with a particular focus on Cincinnati; experienced journalist in public radio and television throughout the Midwest. Enthusiastic about: civic engagement, public libraries, and urban planning.