Some RTA Rail Lines May Shut Down by 2020

An Ohio-based rail advocacy group is warning that lack of replacement parts may sideline Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority trains on the east side of Cleveland in five years or less.

All Aboard Ohio said that the cars assigned to the Blue and Green Line routes are obsolete and the manufacturers are no longer making spare parts. RTA has been cannibalizing retired cars to keep its fleet going.

All Aboard Ohio said the economic life expectancy of rail cars is about 25 years.

Although RTA overhauled some cars about 10 years ago, the average age of the RTA rail fleet is 33 years old with the Shaker rapid cars more than  35 years old.Funding to buy replacement rail cars has yet to be found.

“At the rate the aging rail fleet is failing, by 2020 there won’t be enough railcars left to operate a full schedule on the Blue and Green lines between Shaker Heights and downtown Cleveland,” All Aboard Ohio said.” One or more of these rail lines will be unable to operate a full schedule and would have to be shut down and operated by replacement buses.”

RTA has spent several million dollars of federal funds to repair and renovate tracks, stations and other infrastructure.

All Aboard Ohio said RTA needs an estimated $280 million to replace its rail fleet with cars capable of operating over all of the agency’s rail routes. Rail cars cost about $5 million per car.

Greater Cleveland RTA also needs another $254 million for capital repairs of both bus and rail equipment.

Even if funding was identified today, it would take several years for cars to be ordered, designed, built, delivered and tested before entering revenue service.

RTA purchased 60 heavy rail cars built by Tokyu in 1984-1985, but only 40 are being renovated and expected to remain in service. The rest are being scrapped.

These cars are used on the Red Line between Cleveland Hopkins Airport and Windermere in East Cleveland. All Aboard Ohio said the Red Line fleet is expected to remain in service through 2025.

Cars used on the Blue and Green Lines were built between 1980 and 1981 by Breda.

The 48 light-rail Breda cars have regular steel bodies that have not been as durable as the stainless steel bodies used on Red Line cars.

The Breda cars were overhauled in 2005. Another drawback to the Breda cars is that their air conditioning systems use Freon, which will be illegal to use starting in 2016.

About half of the original Breda cars are still available for service today. RTA needs 14 light-rail cars to run the rush-hour schedule on the Blue and Green Lines with more cars needed for such special events as Cleveland Browns games and St. Patrick’s Day.

Although some federal funding is available to buy new rail cars, All Aboard Ohio said that RTA lacks the matching local funds needed.

Although RTA receives some sales tax money, it is no longer enough to support the capital costs of maintaining the agency’s infrastructure and providing current levels of service.

RTA has exhausted its allotment of federal funding through 2019. Those dollars were used for other capital projects.

Falling population in Cuyahoga County has resulted in declining ridership for RTA. The agency carried 120 million in 1980 and serves about 50 million today.

However, that is still more riders than are carried by the transit systems in Columbus, Dayton and Cincinnati combined.

All Aboard Ohio said one solution might be to expand RTA’s service and funding territory to bordering counties in Greater Cleveland, perhaps through mergers.

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