Reducing the train barrier
Our study explains how a new rail bypass can divert most of the heavy freight traffic from Cleveland's lakefront. The bypass is feasible, would offer operational costs savings to the railroad, and would bring many benefits for the city and the region.
Ever since the 1850s, the City of Cleveland has been cut off from its lakefront by busy railroad tracksa lakeshore route that has been the mainline between New York and Chicago. In recent years, however, the city has sought to reconnect with lake and remove some of the barriers that prevent citizens from enjoying the region's greatest natural resource.
So people are asking: Can the freight trains be routed away from the lakefront?
To answer this question, the BLUE Project (a partnership of EcoCity Cleveland and the Cleveland Waterfront Coalition) commissioned a study to evaluate rail bypass options. The goals of the study were to:
Our study was researched and written by Ken Prendergast, a longtime rail advocate and director of Corridor Campaigns for the Ohio Association of Railroad Passengers. Ken drew upon his own extensive knowledge of the railroad infrastructure of Greater Cleveland, and his work was reviewed by a group of experts in the railroad industry. Funding came from grants from the George Gund Foundation and the Raymond John Wean Foundation.
The study finds that it is possible to divert about 40 of the 50 daily freight trains that transit the Cleveland lakefront. The lakefront route could not be totally abandoned, however, since approximately 7-13 local trains a day would be needed to continue serving existing lakefront customers, such as the Port of Cleveland, Cargill Salt, and the C&P ore dock. In addition, Amtrak trains would continue to run along the lakefront route.
The best bypass route (see map) runs 12.5 miles from Norfolk Southern's Rockport Yard near Cleveland Hopkins Airport and follows the NS's Cloggsville line along the southern edge of the Ohio City neighborhood. Then it would join NS's Nickel Plate line, cross the Cuyahoga River valley on a high bridge, and continue south of downtown to the E. 55th Street Yard. From there it would proceed to the southeast through the North Broadway neighborhood, connecting with existing mainline tracks to Solon and beyond.
Most of the facilities are in place to create this bypass, but some short track connections and crossovers would need to be constructed. Several bridges would have to be widened or reconditioned. And other infrastructure, such as power lines, would need to be relocated. Total capital costs would range from $68 million to $142 million for the option that would accommodate the most trains.
Potential benefits of the Lakefront Bypass
In conclusion, it is indeed possible to divert most of the heavy freight rail traffic off the lakefront. The capital costs of up to $142 million might be worth it, considering the multiple benefits. This concept certainly deserves further consideration by the city's lakefront planning process.
Map of proposed bypass
Complete text of Rail Bypass study
Identification of a recommended Cleveland Lakefront Freight Rail Bypass was the result of a careful consideration of various routing alternatives for rail traffic. Existing active rail rights of way that were analyzed include only those which are geographically proximate to Greater Cleveland so as to limit any loss of access to existing rail freight customers. Another factor was that this report considered only those rail lines that currently intersect with Norfolk Southern's existing Chicago-Pittsburgh mainline at two locations one somewhere west of Cleveland's lakefront and the other east of it.