Cold Weather- Keepin’ service alive!
The best way to spend a polar vortex day is snuggled up under the covers in your warm house. But not everyone has the luxury of having their business close for the day, working from home, or calling in for a personal day. The mechanics, hostlers, operators, and other district staff still report to work, no matter the weather, in order to keep RTA operations up and running.
So who are these stellar employees?
Bus District Hostlers
Each day, hostlers clean, fuel, and prep the buses for service. What does that mean? They give each vehicle upon pull-in a complete inspection. They top off fluids including transmission, oil, and windshield wiper fluids. Most hostlers work 6:00 p.m. until 7:30 a.m., and the beginning of the shift focuses on moving vehicles (from the yard or through the district) for fueling, exterior washing, and parking so the bus will be ready for service at pull-out in the morning. Overnight, they focus on interior cleans of each vehicle. As you can imagine, this is quite time consuming with over 200 buses at each district.
Hostlers work inside the bus district garages, however, the doors are constantly opening in order to move more buses inside for work. This creates a sort of wind tunnel through the garage. So, even though they are “technically” working indoors, if the outside temperature is below zero, the garage will also be quite cold.
Additionally, hostlers are responsible for moving each vehicle into the correct parking spot inside the garage to be ready to leave in the morning for rush hour or to go in for maintenance. Some buses are parked in a lane to head out to service first thing in the morning, some are parked in a different lane for maintenance, and some are parked in separate lanes if they are going out on particular lines (like the HealthLine or the Cleveland State Line). It’s almost like a game of Tetris trying to arrange the vehicles in the correct order inside the garage!
Facilities Maintenance is an all-inclusive term for the men and women who handle RTA properties. They are responsible for snow removal and salting, which is hard to keep up with when it’s really coming down! They also manage different district facilities, including the upkeep and management of utilities and maintenance of the buildings themselves. We have 3 garages, 18 Red Line stations, 30 Blue/Green/Waterfront Line stations, 30 bus loops, 6 Transit Centers/Park-n-Rides, and various other properties across the county that require regular maintenance. They make sure the lightbulbs are replaced, the windows and floors are kept clean, and take care of any other miscellaneous issues. Facilities Maintenance workers manage the inside of all facilities, coordinate waste removal, and handle the general upkeep of our properties.
Service Quality Supervisors are deployed 24/7 around Cuyahoga County to oversee bus and rail operations, ensure safety, and assist RTA customers. They are outside checking for on-time performance, assisting with unplanned service interruptions, and providing messaging to our Integrated Communications Center about operations on the road. These Zone Supervisors are also deployed in an event there is an accident or if a vehicle breaks down. Overall, there are typically 5-6 supervisors in vehicles patrolling their zones throughout the County and 4-5 supervisors on foot patrolling busy stations and locations within RTA’s service area (typically Windermere, Tower City, and other high traffic areas). Zone supervisors perform a myriad of duties, including assisting operators, troubleshooting vehicles with minor mechanical issues or requesting mobile repair trucks for disabled vehicles, and answering customer questions.
RTA trains operate from 3:00 a.m. until midnight, but during the few hours when they are not in service, and during icy/snowy weather, RTA operates “snow trains.” These special trains are equipped with “ice cutter” pantographs that remove ice from the overhead lines, clearing the connection between the pantograph on the trains and the overhead cantenary system. The cantenary are the overhead lines that provide power to the trains via the pantograph. If there is ice build-up, the trains can’t receive power and won’t be able to move. These ice trains also help keep the tracks free of ice build-up. If snow is very heavy, we use a special train equipped with a snow plow to remove it from the tracks on all rail lines (Red, Blue, Green and Waterfront).
In cases of extreme cold (and extreme heat, but obviously we aren’t currently in the middle of summer!) rail switches can freeze up. To prevent that, heaters are attached to the switches; they are similar to the coils inside a toaster, but they are thick and very heavy duty. They glow red hot and melt any ice that is coating these switches. Our Rail district is on stand-by to handle any issues that are track or line related. They are on-call 24/7.
Yard personnel move trains throughout the rail complex to get them ready for service or maintenance. They are constantly outside and navigating an active rail yard. The construction and track projects don’t stop just because it’s cold. Flaggers and track employees are working in subzero temps to keep service moving. System maintenance is ongoing. RTA has employees out each day, no matter the weather, performing signal, track, and overhead inspections. This is all to keep rail service safe and reliable.
Mobile mechanics are on standby to travel to any train that needs to be serviced on-site. We also have buses on standby, if needed, in the event the rail system encounters weather related trouble and we need to replace buses with trains.
Don’t forget the operators! Bus and rail operators are out navigating the frigid air and snowy streets every day. Remember how frustrating it is to drive your car through snow filled streets and deal with crawling traffic. A smile and a thank you go so far with these stellar operators! It’s always nice to know that you’re being appreciated for a job well done.
Our Transit Police department works 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to keep the employees and customers of RTA safe. Not everyone is able to work in an office or drive around in a car for patrols. Transit Police has many officers on foot patrol throughout the downtown area, including fare enforcement officers who navigate the HealthLine and Red Line stations.
This is by no means an all-inclusive list of the important employees we have at RTA. But, RTA has vital employees, vehicles, and facilities that are exposed to the elements each and every day. We would love to take time off, close the office, or stay at home buried under the covers, but in order to continue to provide safe, reliable, clean and courteous public transportation to the residents of Cuyahoga County, we come in to work. We are all working together to keep you safe on your travels throughout the RTA system. When you see an RTA employee throughout the winter, and really any day of the year, give a “thank you.” It’s nice to see your hard work and determination is not going unnoticed.