The U.S. Department of Transportation has awarded the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (RTA) a $15 million grant which will significantly upgrade the heavy rail fleet, the aging Red Line trains which run from Hopkins airport in the west to the Louis Stokes-Windermere Station in the east.
The federal funds are expected to cover the cost of 34 new rail cars and associated infrastructure repairs. The forty aging rail vehicles currently in the fleet will be retired. According to the RTA, 34 cars are what's required to fully operate the Red Line. Forty had been in use because extras were required during maintenance of other cars.
Members of the Northeast Ohio Congressional delegation, including Senators Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman and Representatives Marcia Fudge and Marcy Kaptur, praised the grant. They called modern transportation infrastructure "critical" to the people of Northeast Ohio. A statement from Brown's office said he would continue fighting to secure dollars for the RTA, which has been brutalized by the pandemic.
The RTA is the only transit authority in the state of Ohio that has a heavy rail fleet, and CEO India Birdsong said she was "elated" that the Dept. of Transportation has provided these funds. In a prepared statement, she hinted at the organization's recent financial peril.
"With this federal grant investment, we are one step closer to eliminating the risk of losing this resource [the rail fleet] — a resource that offers mobility options to residents as they journey to school, work, health care and a host of other essential destinations each day."
Chris Stocking, chair of the grassroots rider coalition Clevelanders for Public Transit, told Scene that the $15 million grant was a great start, but that replacing both the heavy and light rail fleets entirely will cost $300 million. About $180 million of the estimated total remains uncommitted, according to an RTA presentation last month
"CPT is concerned where the rest of the funds will come from," Stocking said. "Cleveland riders have already lost 25 percent in service cuts, and fares doubled the last 15 years. We would also look at RTA to evaluate the $14 million annually spent on transit police, money that could go towards rail replacement, restoring service and lowering fares."
Stocking said he was grateful for the advocacy of Ohio's congressional representatives and said he hoped they continued pushing for funding of all transit operations, including bus service, which a majority of Cleveland riders rely on for their daily trips.
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