Ambition: Cincinnati's Historic Railway

Many Cincinnatians aren’t aware that the City of Cincinnati owns its own railroad line, the Cincinnati Southern Railway (CSR). In 1893, J. H. Hollander wrote, “One of the most striking instances of the latent vigor of American municipal government is the construction of the Cincinnati Southern Railway.”

Construction on the CSR began in 1869 with the ambition to preserve the city’s shaky mercantile industry. The rail had promises to open new markets in the south, but also opened a new world of manufacturing materials and natural resources to Cincinnati’s existing diversified industrial base.

The 336 miles of rail was initially estimated to cost $10 million, although the final cost was $18 million, supported by local bond funds, in lieu of a private initiative. Before the project was complete public debate was raging in how the railroad should operate. This controversy lead to the trustees who oversaw the operation to lease the line from 1878 to 1901, as the city retained ownership. This sparked more questions about private control of a public asset. The following decades brought the city to try multiple strategies in operation and utilization, as a result, the city has leased the line most of its life. At the time this unique outlook for a city administration was vibrant and intense. Ultimately, the city administration overcame mental and physical obstacles to finish the project successfully.

Cincinnati is the only municipality in the U.S. to bring in a steady source of income, as it leases CSR to Cincinnati, New Orleans and Texas Pacific (CNO&TP). The railroad runs from Cincinnati to Chattanooga, Tennessee. Annually, City officials and representatives from the Cincinnati’s Department of Transportation and Engineering ride the rail to inspect its condition. The City of Cincinnati currently generates revenues from $17 to $18 million a year from leasing the CSR.