Reducing the train barrier
on the Cleveland lakefront

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:

  • Provide an operational analysis of how freight trains could use a rail bypass, including the benefits of the bypass route, potential cost savings, and number of trains that might be diverted from the lakefront.
  • Describe the potential impact on future lakefront development opportunities if trains could be diverted.
  • Provide an estimate of the costs of making the bypass operational, including costs for the railroad, the city, and others.
  • Evaluate and describe the relative impacts on neighborhoods, so that planners could understand the trade-offs of re-routing train traffic.

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

  • Greater lakefront access by diverting up to 40 heavy freight trains each day, along with reduced noise, dust, vibrations and hazardous materials.
  • Railroad drawbridge at the mouth of Cuyahoga River wouldn't be left in the "down" position as often, thereby making the river more accessible to watercraft.
  • Less freight train interference to expanded commuter and intercity services serving a proposed North Coast Transportation Center.
  • Freight trains would be rerouted via mostly industrialized areas. Cleveland's West Park neighborhood would see reduced freight train traffic near residential areas. (Linndale and Cleveland's Puritas-Longmead neighborhood would see increased freight train traffic near their residential areas, but, overall, the bypass would reduce impacts on residential areas.)
  • Little or no property would have to be acquired, as Norfolk Southern Corp. already owns most of the right of way needed for the Lakefront Bypass.
  • Two at-grade road-rail crossings would see reduced freight train traffic (East 26th Street near downtown, and Bessemer Avenue in Cleveland's North Broadway neighborhood).
  • Reduced operating costs for Norfolk Southern, as the Lakefront Bypass is 3.5 miles shorter (12.5 vs. 16 miles) and flatter than the current route via the lakefront .
  • Less potential interference to freight train traffic in crossing the Cuyahoga River, as the Lakefront Bypass' river bridge, south of downtown, is much higher than the bridge near the river's mouth.


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.


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



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Since the mid-1800s, railroad tracks have blocked access to the Cleveland lakefront.

Map of proposed bypass
Details of bypass route and feasibility

Complete text of Rail Bypass study
Word doc (839 KB)
PDF file (4.7 MB, a very large file)

The low railroad lift bridge at the mouth of the Cuyahoga is called the "Curtain of Doom" by boaters because it blocks the passage of all but the smallest boats.

Most of the freight trains that currently travel along the lakefront could be routed across this bridge farther up the Cuyahoga River.

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.


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