CitySwitch to Build Towers on Railroad Easements without need for Local Zoning Approval

A new startup called CitySwitch, LLC that is funded largely by Norfolk Southern is prepared to offer what they believe are unique opportunities to wireless carriers for buildout of towers. CitySwitch works with railroad companies to place towers on railroad easements.

An article in RCR News has Cityswitch stating that “We can build in a lot of places that others can’t”. They might want to ask Unisite (acquired by ATC) about the US Post Office deal they did where they believed that they also were exempt from local zoning regulations for placement of towers only to find out that most post offices did not have legitimate reasons for building 200′ cell towers for their own communication uses. This is similar to statements by CitySwitch that because their land “is controlled by the federal government, (Cityswitch) can build pretty much as it sees fit, provided that the towers be used to some extent for railroad purposes.” CitySwitch might inquire with Sprint who is currently in litigation for using electric company easements to place sites without getting the underlying landowner’s permission. At issue in that situation is whether the underlying easement permitted development of a cell tower which was not used primarily for electric company purposes.

Both of these examples failed because the tower company or carrier felt they could build where they wanted to without input from local landowners.

Ironically, AAT Communications previously had the rights to lease Norfolk Southern towers to the wireless carriers and found such minimal lease up that it was not worth their time. Having personally submitted an collocation application to AAT for one site owned by Norfolk Southern, I found that while AAT was responsive, that they could not get any response from Norfolk Southern in a timely fashion on anything. It appears from CitySwitch’s article that there are only five full time employees at CitySwitch and that Norfolk Southern’s construction contractor will handle its building needs. If CitySwitch wants to be a serious player in this industry, they will need to get Norfolk Southern to respond a lot quicker than they did when I last worked with them.

Clearly, CitySwitch does have access to some unique properties and true to the article, these lands are typically flat and have telco and do have access to power and telco. If they can resolve previous issues with getting information to the carrier quickly and successfully navigate the issue of building towers under the pretense of “railroad purposes” without upsetting local municipalities, perhaps they can build the 100 towers they are looking for.

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