RTA Suspending Waterfront Line Until At Least Spring

Waterfront Line, baby.
Waterfront Line, baby.
Beginning Monday, according to the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (RTA), the Waterfront Line — the riverward extension of the light rail Blue and Green Line rapid transit lines, connecting Tower City to the East Bank of the Flats and North Coast Harbor — will suspend service due to ongoing track work at Tower City.

The notoriously low-ridership line, dubbed the "Ghost Train" by former cleveland.com columnist Mark Naymik, opened in 1996 to great fanfare and almost immediately lost riders after an initial wave of excitement. It expanded service in 2013 to coincide with the Flats East Bank development, based on assurances from developers that the rail line would be popular, at last, among young people seeking nightlife options on the river.

It was not. 

In 2016, the Waterfront Line was attracting only 400 riders per day, 80 percent of whom bunched onto a few trains during the morning and evening rush hours. Still, developers begged RTA not to cut service, in the face of budget cuts, to maintain the vitality of the Flats. 

These days, the Waterfront Line departs only twice per hour from about 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays, with reduced hours on weekends and holidays, stopping at the South Harbor and Settlers Landing stations.

An RTA press release indicated that the suspension of service would last until "Spring 2021" but also said that it would begin Monday and last "until further notice." Due to low ridership, no #67R shuttle bus will be operated during the service suspension.

RTA experienced record-low ridership across its system in the spring, due to the Coronavirus pandemic, but rebounded slightly over the summer. Despite significant declines in sales tax collections — RTA's chief funding source — and fares, RTA received some federal aid to plug its many budget holes. Last month, the Dept. of Transportation awarded RTA $15 million for a much-needed Red Line fleet upgrade.

Concurrent with the pandemic, RTA is studying a system redesign and continues to seek rider feedback as it develops new route configurations countywide. This week, it launched a new website called Next Gen RTA which provides interactive maps of potential service options and allows users to compare routes based on greater frequency or greater connectivity — the great debate for both minor system tweaks and major overhauls.

Public comments will be solicited on the site through the end of November, and it will host a series of virtual public engagement sessions, beginning October 26, 2020 at 11:30 a.m.

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Sam Allard

Sam Allard is the Senior Writer at Scene, in which capacity he covers politics and power and writes about movies when time permits. He's a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and the NEOMFA at Cleveland State. Prior to joining Scene, he was encamped in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on an...
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