RTA Officials Defend Service Suspensions

Two trains sliding backward on their tracks. Five buses stuck in the snow. Thirteen minor accidents.

That series of events led officials of the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority to take the unprecedented step of suspending all service for 12 hours during the weekend of Jan. 16-17 after a winter storm dumped 15 inches of snow on Northeast Ohio.

But that decision has come under fire from public transit advocates, prompting RTA managers to defend the service suspension during a recent meeting of the RTA board of trustees.

RTA General Manager India Birdsong told trustees that the storm created a unique situation in which snow accumulation of more an inch per hour overwhelmed the system.

Chief Operating Officers Floun’say Caver, said that included two train operators reporting losing traction.

Caver said RTA sent a snow train out to clear tracks but later discovered the problem with lost traction was caused by ice building up on brake shoes rather than track conditions.

Still critics said the service suspension raises concerns because the Cleveland region routinely gets heavy snowfalls every winter.

They pointed to an RTA blog post in 2019 that public transit was a reliable way to get around during harsh winter weather.

Caver defended the service suspension, which was RTA’s first in 19 years.

“I am confident with the decision to have to prioritize the safety, the life and the health of this community,” he said.

Still, Alex Rubin, a member of Clevelanders for Public Transit said the mid-January storm was not historic by any standard.

 “Should we expect there to be no bus or rapid service the next time it snows?”

 “It should not happen every year,” Birdsong said in response. “This is something we can work to be in avoidance of, and we absolutely will do that.”

All Aboard Ohio called the RTA service suspension another example of RTA’s failure to update its fleet.

“It’s bad enough that GCRTA has let the Rapid fall into disrepair from decades of neglect and a failure to fund and procure replacement of equipment, some of which is way beyond its designed life span,” AAO Executive Director Stu Nicholson wrote on Twitter.

“But a total shutdown of the Rapid along with all bus service makes us wonder if this is willful neglect on the part of GCRTA management.”

Nicholson wants an investigation of the shutdown and for the appointment of new RTA trustees to address it.

Clevelanders for Public Transit made similar statements on its Twitter feed.

RTA officials noted they have taken steps to improve the fleet, including using COVID-19 pandemic emergency aid to buy 40 new buses that are expected to enter service in the fall.

Sixteen new vehicles for the Healthline busline were placed into service in January.

Replacing the rail fleet, though, has been a heavier lift. RTA in 2019 put out a request for proposals from transit vehicle manufacturers only to reject last summer the one proposal it received as inadequate.

A second request for proposals has a deadline of March 9 and RTA officials say a vote by trustees on a bid could occur later this year.

RTA projects that replacing its rail fleet will cost $717 million over a 30-year period.

In the interim, RTA trustees have agreed to spend $2.2 million to replace traction motors on rail cars in the wake of 18 traction motor failures last year. The traction motors were last replaced in 2012.

New rail cars, when they do arrive, will have antilock brakes that Caver said will help their performance during winter weather.

He said the new cars also would have better slide protection and more snow cutters to keep the tracks and overhead power lines clear.

As for the mid-January storm, Caver said, “the trains, for the most part, held up fairly well, but this weather environment created these issues that we had.”

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


%d bloggers like this: