Details of rail bypass route
and feasibility

The proposed lakefront rail bypass route option is far superior to other bypass alternatives, and many of its features compare favorably with the existing lakefront route. It can accommodate more traffic for less money than any of the alternatives without degrading service access to existing Norfolk Southern customers. And it is shorter and flatter than the existing lakefront route.

Indeed, this route appears to have only two major drawbacks: that it cannot offer the 60 mph top speeds (for freight) of the lakefront route (50 mph would be the top freight speeds for this bypass); and it lacks all the tracks and connections necessary to be a high-capacity bypass route.

Proposed route

The proposed routing is described here, from west to east. Eastbound Norfolk Southern traffic would leave the lakefront route (called the Chicago Line on Cleveland's West Side) at Norfolk Southern's CP190 (a dispatcher control point that is 190 miles from Buffalo, NY). CP190, located near Hopkins Airport and beneath the interchange of Interstates 480 and 71, is the western access to NS's Rockport Yard and to NS's Cloggsville Bypass tracks. The route would use NS's double-tracked, eight-mile-long Cloggsville Bypass right of way (with only 10 trains per day on it) eastward and northeastward to an old railroad location called Cloggsville, near West 25th street, south of Cleveland's Ohio City neighborhood. There, it would use 2.5 miles of Norfolk Southern's double-tracked Nickel Plate Line (with only 16 trains per day on it) that crosses the Cuyahoga River valley on a high bridge (with an NS-staffed drawbridge above the river) passing south of downtown Cleveland.

At the west end of NS's East 55th Street Yard, the route would diverge onto a new, 2,000-foot-long track connection to reach NS's Randall Secondary. After traveling on two miles of the Randall Secondary, an eastbound freight using it would rejoin NS's lakefront route (called the Cleveland Line on Cleveland's East Side) at CP117 (a dispatcher control point that is 117 miles from Rochester, PA). Westbound NS traffic would also follow this same alternative route, but from the opposite direction.

Rationale and potential benefits

There are a number of reasons why this alternative route makes sense as the Lakefront Bypass, both from a railroad operational perspective and from a community interest perspective. The community's interests include the removal of noise, dust, vibrations and hazardous materials borne by dozens of freight trains that currently operate via Cleveland's lakefront tracks. Not only do a near-continuous string of high-density city neighborhoods abut the lakefront right of way on both sides of Cleveland (especially on the West Side), but downtown recreational, tourist, housing and office locations (current and proposed) also are adjacent to the tracks.

Only three short sections of residential areas and one recreational site abut the tracks of proposed bypass route. Aside from those exceptions, this route passes primarily through industrial and commercial districts, which is why this route was chosen by area elected officials in the late 1990s as the preferred bypass for relocating freight traffic out of Cleveland's west-side Edgewater and Cudell neighborhoods, Lakewood and other West Shore suburbs. On the current lakefront route, there are two road-rail grade crossings (East 26th Street and Bessemer Avenue -- both major truck routes), and only one road crossing (East 65th Street) exists on the bypass.

The bypass would lessen a barrier to waterborne traffic at the mouth of the Cuyahoga River, which is often blocked by the passage of frequent and lengthy NS freight trains which cross the river on a drawbridge just five feet above the average river level. The removal of all but 7-13 daily freight trains (which must continue to operate via the lakefront tracks) would also avail a path for planned commuter and intercity passenger rail services that would improve access to Cleveland's lakefront.

Numerous benefits would also accrue to NS from implementing this route, which give this bypass an advantage not only over the other three alternatives discussed in this section, but also over the current lakefront routing of NS freight traffic. Foremost is that this route is actually 3.5 miles shorter than the lakefront routing (12.5 miles for the bypass versus 16 miles for the lakefront route).

Secondly, the bypass route would cross a navigable portion of the Cuyahoga River on a bridge that is about 50 feet above the river's average water level, versus only five feet of clearance at NS's lakefront drawbridge. While larger ships will require that the NS drawbridge on the NKP Line south of downtown be raised, recreational ships like the Goodtime III and Nautica Queen plus all tugboats and sailboats can pass beneath this bridge without it being raised. It should be noted that the shallowness of the river's depth at this location (28 feet) prevents the largest ships from navigating the upper portion of the navigable river, thereby keeping the larger ships nearer to the lakefront. There is another reason why river traffic is much less frequent beneath the NKP Line than that which passes beneath the NS drawbridge on the lakefront. Extensive recreational boating traffic is commonplace from Lake Erie marinas to reach the entertainment attractions and riverside docks at the north ends of the Flats District. Recreational traffic rarely ventures as far up river as the NKP Line drawbridge.

Operational considerations

Another major factor in favor of this route is that NS owns all the route segments needed to create this alternative (unlike all previous alternatives). There is a minor exception, however, as a short section of commercial property on East 37th Street will have to be acquired for the construction of a 2,000-foot railroad connection between NS's NKP Line and NS's Randall Secondary.

Not only is the route already owned by NS, it is in the same operating division as the existing lakefront routethe Dearborn Division. Thus, the same NS dispatchers (or, at least, dispatchers within the same dispatch control center in Dearborn, MI) who guide freight traffic on the lakefront route would likely do the same for this bypass. However, significant changes would have to be made to NS's computer-aided dispatching system to accommodate right-of-way changes as proposed in this report. Those changes are accounted for in the capital investments detailed in the report.

Also, interviews of local NS operating employees and managers revealed their interest in this alternate route because it would divert general freight train traffic through Rockport Yard (near Hopkins Airport). Currently, most NS rail traffic, operating via the lakefront, must access Rockport Yard only from the yard's west end. If general freights were rerouted via the bypass through the Rockport Yard area, it would allow those trains to access the rail yard from both ends, thereby giving NS greater operational flexibility. However, NS operating employees said they did not support the diversion of intermodal traffic (now operating via the lakefront) through Rockport Yard, unless extensive capacity enhancements (ie: new track) are made at someone else's expense.

There are other operational issues to be considered regarding this route alternative. An important difference between this bypass and the current lakefront route is the top speed of freight trains. Top speeds of 50 mph on the alternative route cannot match the 60 mph top speeds of the lakefront route. But the bypass route does not have any segments that restrict train speeds to less than 25 mph (a new third main track proposed to be built past Rockport Yard would raise that low-end to 50 mph for intermodal trains). Whereas, on the lakefront route, just east of East 26th Street, a series of five sharp curves, ranging from 3.5 to 6 degrees on a relatively steep grade of 0.66 percent according to NS track charts, requires freight trains to slow to 20 mph. NS operating personnel say that least one eastbound freight train each month stalls on the maximum 0.8-percent-grade climb, east of downtown on the lakefront route. This is due more from the fact that eastbound NS freights must slow to 20 mph before reaching the segment having the 0.8 percent grade, thus they cannot gain momentum to easily overcome that grade.

Some NS officials have expressed concern that gradients on the proposed bypass route are too steep for relocating their heavier freight trains. This is puzzling, considering that this alternative route descends/climbs to a crossing of the Cuyahoga River that is about 45 feet higher than that of the lakefront route's river crossing. Such concerns were due from a late-1990s proposal, requested by NS, from Stone Consulting & Design of Warren, PA regarding the proposed linking of NS's NKP Line and NS's Randall Secondary, southeast of downtown. In its study, Stone Consulting suggested to NS that a vacant Erie Railroad track connection (once used by lightweight Erie RR passenger trains) be reactivated for NS freight use, near to RTA's rapid transit Campus Station, in the vicinity of East 37th Street. Under their proposal, a track connection would be built on the former Erie Railroad gradient, on the north side of the NKP Line at this location.

However, this vacated track connection has an extreme gradient of 2 percent, or double the maximum grade accepted by the rail freight industry for a new mainline railroad. Wilbur Smith & Associates representatives, who joined this report's author in an inspection of the East 37th Street area site as part of the data collection process for this analysis, noted that Stone Consulting's proposed track connection was impractical for two reasons. One reason is that the 2-percent grade is far too steep to handle mainline freight trains, especially for rail traffic going uphill -- which will occur on this track. There is no such thing as trains exclusively using one track in one direction, and a second track only for trains in the opposite direction. In modern railroad operations, any track can and will be used by freight trains operating in any direction.

The other reason for the impracticality of Stone Consulting's proposed track connection is that it would be only several feet from RTA's existing rapid transit line. Track worker safety issues have caused freight railroads to implement a policy that new track construction must have a minimum 25-foot separation between a freight railroad track and a passenger rail/transit track. Exceptions can be made if a waiver is granted by the affected freight railroad after expensive, heavy-duty concrete barriers and other safety features are provided. An inspection of the East 37th Street area, with the help of consultants from Wilbur Smith & Associates, revealed that there is no room for the 25-foot separation or even the construction of barriers between Stone Consulting's proposed freight track connection and the RTA right of way without incurring significant additional costs to widen the elevated rights of way and their associated bridge structures. Furthermore, the recent widening of I-77 (which passes through this area on an overhead structure) included wider bridge supports which would reduce the lateral and overhead clearances for freight trains using Stone Consulting's proposed track connection. This clearance problem is particularly acute for double-stack intermodal trains and general freights carrying special high/wide loads.

This report suggests an alternative track connection in the East 37th Street area, located on the south side of NS's NKP Line. Here, a new track connection, featuring a six-degree curvature, would be built at the west end of a maximum, existing 0.66 percent gradient on the Randall Secondary (see Section Three of this report for more details). That would be the steepest gradient on the East Side of the Lakefront Bypass (compared to a maximum of 0.8 percent for the East Side of the existing lakefront route, as noted previously). A six-degree curve on the track connection, with sufficient super-elevation (curve banking), could avail top freight train speeds of about 25 mph, according to LTK Engineering. This is not only based on the proposed track curvature at this location, but the existing gradient, as well. Taken together, these factors produce a resistance gradient of about 0.9 percent.

According to NS track charts, the steepest gradient on Alternative Route 4 would be 0.92 percent, located on about 0.4 miles right of way built in 1998 by NS for the Cloggsville Bypass, just west of West 25th Street south of Ohio City. This section is already used by about 10 daily NS trains. This grade is negligibly different from a 0.91 percent grade on about 0.5 miles of the lakefront route, just east of Edgewater Park to Whiskey Island. The grade west of Edgewater Park to near West 140th Street (5 miles) ranges from 0.66 percent to 0.79 percent. That is similar to the West Side gradient on route, from Fulton Road to Linndale (or 3.8 miles) which ranges from 0.63 percent to 0.80 percent. Outside of these two segments for both the bypass route and the lakefront route, West Side gradients are negligible (0.4 percent or less), NS track charts show. Furthermore, curvature along the intermediate, West Side segments along Alternative Route 4 are minor. The only exceptions are at the Cloggsville Connection (near West 25th Street) and at CP491 (near West 150th and I-480) where sharp curves exist but are used by existing NS through freights.

Conclusion

Capital costs for implementing the recommended Lakefront Bypass are nearly $68 million for diverting about 20 NS general freights per day away from the lakefront route. If all NS through freight trains (about 40 general and intermodal trains per day) are rerouted off the lakefront via the recommended Lakefront Bypass, one-time capital costs would likely rise to about $142 million. This is the least expensive of all the options considered, in terms of the volume of traffic that can practically be detoured without reducing access to NS's existing freight rail customers in Northeast Ohio.

NS's operating costs would likely be the same or less if all of its through trains were rerouted off the lakefront to the Lakefront Bypass. Gradients on the Lakefront Bypass are, at worst, comparable to those on NS's busier lakefront route. And, in many cases, grades on the Lakefront Bypass are less steep or shorter than those on the lakefront route. This analysis underscores that the Lakefront Bypass actually has fewer overall gradient issues than the current lakefront route. Combined with the fact that the Lakefront Bypass is 3.5 miles shorter than the lakefront route, NS will likely enjoy quantifiable operational cost savings (in terms of fuel usage, plus maintenance on its rolling stock) by diverting all through freight traffic away from its downtown Cleveland lakefront route. This would have to be determined by an operations simulation as part of a more detailed analysis. However, NS would likely see increased maintenance expenses owing to the additional tracks and signal systems for the proposed Lakefront Bypass, which NS would continue to own. Norfolk Southern's added maintenance costs would be mitigated if its ownership of the lakefront route were sold, such as to the Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Port Authority, Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority or some other entity.

Combined with the desire of Cleveland city officials and their constituents to relocate frequent, heavy freight train traffic from residential areas to more industrial areas of the city, reduce lakefront rail freight traffic, or to implement commuter rail services to improve access to the downtown lakefront, there are significant community benefits to be derived from diverting most freight train traffic away from Cleveland's lakefront to the recommended Lakefront Bypass.

There are also significant benefits that can be created for Norfolk Southern, in terms of operational cost savings and greater operational flexibility, by creating the Lakefront Bypass. Taken together, all of the operational and community factors demonstrate the superiority of the Lakefront Bypass, as recommended by this report, over the other three alternatives considered by this reportand, in some cases, over NS's existing lakefront route. Those factors underscore that a fully developed Lakefront Bypass can offer significant benefits to Norfolk Southern and to the Greater Cleveland community seeks greater use of and access to its lakefront.

 

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EcoCity Cleveland
3500 Lorain Avenue, Suite 301, Cleveland OH 44113
Cuyahoga Bioregion
(216) 961-5020
www.ecocitycleveland.org
Copyright 2002-2003

 

 

Back to main Rail Bypass study

 

Combined with the desire of Cleveland city officials and their constituents to relocate frequent, heavy freight train traffic from residential areas to more industrial areas of the city, reduce lakefront rail freight traffic, or to implement commuter rail services to improve access to the downtown lakefront, there are significant community benefits to be derived from diverting most freight train traffic away from Cleveland's lakefront to the recommended Lakefront Bypass.

There are also significant benefits that can be created for Norfolk Southern, in terms of operational cost savings and greater operational flexibility, by creating the Lakefront Bypass.

 

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