Snow, Ice Hindered Cleveland RTA Trains

It was not a particularly easy winter for the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority, which suffered a rash of weather-related service disruptions due to frozen switches and tracks flooded with water that turned into ice.

RTA rapid trains suffered repeated delays, which frustrated riders and RTA staff alike. The transit agency acknowledged that it didn’t notify customers of service delays and disruptions as promptly as it should have.

“We know our service has been less than satisfactory and less than at the level we want,” RTA General Manager Joe Calabrese said.

On one day frozen switches at RTA’s hub at Tower City in downtown Cleveland froze and trains were running up to 50 minutes late.

In normal circumstances, the switches are remote controlled, but the crews had to crank the switches by and trains moved at restricted speed. Calabrese said RTA will look into increasing the temperature on heaters connected to the switches.

Service logs show 130 delays on RTA’s rapid system from Dec. 1, 2014, through March 2, 2015, most of which were between five and 15 minutes. The delays were attributed to slippery rails, assisting passengers and slow orders.

Ice coating overhead wires reduced or cut off the flow of power to some trains via the pantographs. RTA uses a cutter train that scraps the ice off the wires, running it during hours after service ends.

But at times, the cutter couldn’t keep up with the ice accumulation.

Another problem was snow piling up on tracks. On one day an RTA employee mistakenly dumped a pile of snow on the tracks at the Green Road station. A train rode up on the packed snow and ice, leaving half of an articulated car off the tracks.

Another delay occurred when an RTA vehicle clearing snow fell off a rail platform and onto the tracks. Trains were delayed while the vehicle was removed and the tracks inspected.

In yet another instance, a water main break left a pool of slush on the tracks at Tower City. The slush was sucked into the trucks of the transit cars.

Calabrese said that RTA plans to revamp its messaging system so that those responsible for restoring service during disruptions are not also responsible for sending customer service alerts. Those will now be handled by a separate staff.

RTA officials also pledged to get more information to RTA’s telephone operators so they are better able to respond to questions from riders.

It will also increase from six to 10 the number of backup shuttle buses that are deployed around the city, ready to move into action if needed.

Richard Newell, RTA director of service quality, sent an email to riders to apologize for “deficiencies in performance that has been exasperated by the extreme temperatures of late.  Please be assured that we are working diligently to address the failure of our service providers to communicate to the riders about service delays and the expected time associated with each situation.”

RTA is also dealing with aging equipment that will need to be replaced in the medium-term future. Its rail cars date from 1982 or 1983, making the average age of the cars at 32 to 33 years the oldest average age of any rail fleet in the country.

The RTA fleet is expected to last another eight to 10 years before needing to be replaced at an estimated cost of $250 million to $300 million.

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