You are currently viewing $500K paid to expedite Rail Sale, five days after East Palestine hearing
  • Post author:
  • Reading time:7 mins read

On November 7, Cincinnati voters will decide the fate of the last municipal-owned railway in the United States. Cincinnati Southern Railway has been owned by the city for nearly 150 years and is and sought to be purchased by Norfolk Southern for $1.6 billion. Citizens are leading a bipartisan campaign opposing the sale, citing numerous red flags including safety concerns following the East Palestine derailment, and a lack of public engagement due to the sale being rushed. They also believe that the purchase price has been undervalued, and is worth at least double the $1.6 billion offer. Recently, campaign finance reports revealed that Norfolk Southern is the sole donor to the “Sell” campaign, contributing $4.2 million – the largest election spend in the history of the city.

“Accelerated Transaction Fee” paid five days after East Palestine safety hearing

According to a filing with the Surface Transportation Board, on June 28, 2023, Norfolk Southern paid the Cincinnati Southern Railway Board of Trustees a $500,000 “Accelerated Transaction Fee” in addition to the $4.5 million Accelerated Transaction Fee paid earlier this year to expedite putting the issue on the November ballot. (Document 306778, p. 15, Section 2.04.a.i. “Accelerated Transaction Fee.”). The $500,000 payment came five days after the National Transportation Safety Board hearing on the East Palestine derailment that took place on June 22-23.

The Board of Trustees voted unanimously to put the issue on the November ballot at a meeting held July 13.


In March, National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) launched a special investigation into Norfolk Southern’s safety practices and culture following two train derailments in one month, both in Ohio. According to Federal Railroad Administration data, the number of Norfolk Southern train accidents in Ohio continues to increase. The company has reported an average of 32 train accidents a year in Ohio during the past five years, compared with an average of 24 during the previous five-year span.

Recent safety incidents in Ohio include:

  • February 3, 2023: Norfolk Southern freight train carrying hazardous materials derailed in East Palestine. The derailment caused a fire and sent a cloud of smoke over the town that forced thousands of residents to evacuate while railroad crews drained and burned off chemicals. Federal agents called it one of the worst environmental disasters in years, with nearly $1 billion in clean-up costs.
  • March 4, 2023: a 2.55-mile-long Norfolk Southern freight train derailed near Springfield, Ohio.
  • March 7, 2023: a Norfolk Southern employee was killed on the job in Cleveland, Ohio. 
  • October ​8, 2022: Norfolk Southern derailment in Sandusky, Ohio where 21 cars of the 101-car train derailed, spilling 10,000 gallons of paraffin wax that damaged sewers and roads.
  • November 2022: derailment of a 15 car-train near Steubenville where trash spilled into the Ohio River.
  • November 2022: derailment of a 22 car-train in Ravenna Township in Portage County where 300 tons of rock salt spilled.

Following the East Palestine derailment, U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg sent a letter to Norfolk Southern CEO calling for an end to the “vigorous resistance” to increased safety measures. “Profit and expediency must never outweigh the safety of the American people,” wrote Buttigieg.

“Rather than support these efforts to improve rail safety, Norfolk Southern and other rail companies spent millions of dollars in the courts and lobbying members of Congress to oppose common-sense safety regulations, stopping some entirely and reducing the scope of others,” he continued.

In an interview with C-Span, NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy agrees that the derailment in East Palestine was, like other transportation disasters, “100% preventable.”


Service Improvement Plans “Woefully Deficient”

Portions of the Norfolk Southern freight train that derailed in East Palestine, Ohio.
Photo: Gene J. Puskar/AP


In May 2022, the Surface Transportation Board (STB) issued an order directing Norfolk Southern to develop a plan to correct service deficiencies. (STB is an independent federal agency that oversees the freight rail industry.) The Board also ordered an actionable plan to improve communication and demonstrate their monthly progress to provide reliable rail service. Unfortunately, what Norfolk Southern submitted “lacked the level of detail that was mandated by the Board’s order.”

“Norfolk Southern flatly refused to provide the six-month targets for achieving their performance goals explicitly required by the Board’s order,” stated a press release from Surface Transportation Board on June 13.

“The freight rail industry is currently struggling to provide adequate rail service, yet the service recovery plans we received are woefully deficient and do not comport with the spirit or the letter of the Board’s order.  The plans simply failed to instill confidence that the carriers have a serious approach to fixing a problem caused by their own lack of preparedness to respond to external shocks and fluctuations in demand, including especially short-sighted management of labor forces and other resources.  While the railroads must always comply with Board orders, it is particularly disturbing that the railroads failed to comply with the order requiring them to file adequate service recovery plans,” said STB Chairman Martin Oberman.

If Norfolk Southern is unwilling to provide a six-month service plan mandated by a federal agency, can Cincinnatians trust them to be good stewards of their railroad, permanently?

Norfolk Southern is reported to have the second-highest accident rate nationally among the seven major freight railroads each year since 2019, according to Federal Railroad Administration data. Federal safety records show that Norfolk Southern has seen a rise in accidents during the past five years, even though its trains are logging fewer miles now than they did 10 years ago. Between 2013 and 2017, Norfolk Southern reported an average of 218 accidents a year on the main lines and at company facilities. In the past five years, it has averaged nearly 260 accidents a year, according to an investigation by USA Today.