Is a Cleveland RTA Rail Shutdown Unavoidable?

click to enlarge Cedar-University, on the Red Line -
Cedar-University, on the Red Line
An advocacy group for intercity train travel in Ohio published a story Monday suggesting that, due to a severe lack of state and federal funding, the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority won’t be able to operate Blue and Green Line trains from Shaker Heights to downtown Cleveland at full capacity in as little as five years.

"Cleveland Rail Shutdown Unavaoidable," the All Aboard Ohio headline reads (italics mine). 

“One or more of these rail lines would have to be shut down and run by replacement buses,” it claimed. And taking a bus along either route would be far less desirable, with commute times estimated at two or three times the length of a rapid transit train.

But without, at the very least, a huge injection of funds — All Aboard Ohio has policy suggestions as well — the trains currently in use will simply break down. The average lifespan for a rail car in the RTA’s fleet is 25 years. And even though RTA upgraded some of its train cars to prolong their lives by 10 years, the average age of the RTA train cars is now 33 years. Many of the oldest cars have been relegated to the train yard at Brookpark station where “usable parts are cannibalized to keep the rest of the fleet operational.”

It’s a bleak outlook, but RTA calls the All Aboard Ohio piece “absolutely false.”

“It's no secret that public transit is underfunded, both nationally and throughout Ohio,” said RTA CEO Joe Calabrese in a written statement to Scene. “RTA's Blue/Green Lines are a 100-year old community asset, with the Red Line 60 years old. We have absolutely no plans to abandon these irreplaceable assets.”

An RTA spokesperson invited us to look at the infrastructure upgrades currently in place, roughly $10 million per year on new stations like Cedar-University and Little Italy-University Circle on the Red like and the soon-to-be-opened Lee-Van Aken Station on the BLue Line.

“The popular Brookpark Station is under construction now and will open next summer,” RTA said. “Replacements for the East 34th Street and the East 116th Street rail stations are currently being designed, with planned construction starting in 2016.”

As for All Aboard Ohio’s predictions regarding the aging fleet, RTA says it has spent $30 million over the past 10 years prolonging its fleet's life. The target date for replacement is, and has been, 2025.

“RTA is currently studying whether a single rail car fleet can replace what is now two different and non-interchangeable rail car fleets,” the spokesperson told us. “If so, the current 108 rail cars can be replaced by approximately 70 rail cars, offering a significant financial savings while providing operational and service flexibility.”