Nov 6, 2015
Riders board at Brookpark Station

CLEVELAND -- Today, Joe Calabrese, CEO and General Manager of the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (RTA), released this statement concerning the future of rail funding in Cleveland.

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In certain circles, there has been a lot of chatter about the future of RTA’s rail system. 

Many of the same individuals who are continually asking RTA to expand the rail are now sounding the alarm about RTA’s ability to maintain the existing rail network into the future!

Many of those same individuals who are upset that RTA sold its early 1900s streetcars, are now questioning the maintainability of our 1985 railcars!

There is no doubt, running a railroad is expensive.

The truth is that more than 45 percent of RTA’s capital budget is allotted to rail, yet rail serves only 19 percent of RTA’s customers. If for this reason only, logic may suggest that RTA rail services should be abandoned. But RTA has no such plan

RTA is fully committed to not just maintaining – but to improving – its rail network, and we are putting significant resources behind that commitment!

Over the past 5 years, RTA has invested $140 million in rail infrastructure, and we have a capital plan that calls for investing $110 million more over the next 5 years. This alone offers ample evidence of our commitment to maintain, and not abandon, our rail network.

But that’s just a small snapshot of other efforts recently completed or on the way.

RTA is not only verbally committed to maintaining its rail network, but is actively working on it!

Replacing rail cars is also part of the plan, but what would happen if RTA were not able to replace all the rail cars in 2025? Several options are being considered, and decisions will be made as events unfold. Most importantly, at this time, the option to close the rail system is not on the table.

RTA annually sets aside some funds for rail car replacements, but RTA cannot make this investment on its own. This situation is not unique to RTA’s rail infrastructure, but to all transit infrastructure around the state and country, including even routine bus replacements. A report on transit needs sponsored by ODOT and released just this year, concluded that more than one-third of public transit buses in Ohio (900 of the 2,700 buses) are being operated beyond their 12-year useful life.

That same study admits that Ohio underinvests in public transit when compared to the majority of other states, and that the Federal Government is not investing what is needed for the maintenance of our roads, bridges or public transit assets.

For almost all of RTA’s capital and rolling stock purchases, participation is available from the Federal Transit Administration and occasionally from the State of Ohio, as it was for the Waterfront Line, the HealthLine, and the Cleveland State Line.

In addition, the important benefit of a viable public transit system in Greater Cleveland is strongly supported by our residents, businesses and elected officials. This support from both the public and private sectors has grown in recent years, as projects such as the Downtown Trolleys, the HealthLine and the Cleveland State Line have resulted in tremendous success, not just for the riders, but for the local economy, as well. The goal is now to leverage that support.

So moving forward, several rational options exist to replacing all of RTA’s rail fleet by 2025. 

One option may be to replace just some of the rail fleet in 2025. If it comes to that, our suggestion may be to replace the Light Rail fleet in 2025 and to operate the Heavy Rail fleet a little longer.

Whatever the plan, let’s keep in mind that many rail cars in the nation are, in fact, much older than those at RTA. For example, several fleets of railcars in New York, New Jersey and Boston, which are operated in daily service, were built in the 1960s.  Many streetcars around the nation, especially in San Francisco, were built at the turn of the century!

RTA appreciates the concern that has been expressed about the future of the rail system. That concern speaks loudly to the high value that is placed upon it by the community. Now is not the time to panic over it, because RTA isn’t panicking (yet), but to work constructively and rationally to gain support for this important initiative.