In The Spotlight

“In the Spotlight” showcases TranSystems’ news, staff, projects, awards, successes and other topics of special note to those in the industry as well as our clients.
Working Under a National Spotlight: The Tower City Station Rehabilitation in Cleveland, Ohio, Completes in Time for National Events
By Thomas Taylor, PE
Rail and Transit Team Leader, TranSystems
Rapid transit is supposed to be . . . well . . . rapid.
Until recently, rapid transit was down to a crawl for many Cleveland commuters – specifically for anyone arriving on Track 8 at the Tower City Station, the heart of Cleveland’s rail commuter system.
Poor track bed conditions at and near the station – and the danger of contact with the station platform – forced trains on Track 8 to come to a stop well before arriving. For the last agonizing leg of their journey, trains would slowly inch their way to the platforms.
Over the past several years, Cleveland commuters had gotten used to the routine and allowed for the slow arrival in their busy schedules.
The Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (RTA) knew Track 8 needed a serious upgrade. It had last been renovated in 1953. When they found the funding, approximately $6 million, they set about solving their commuter problem immediately. They needed:
  • An approach that would allow them to continue operating the busy Tower City Station without any reduction in service.
  • A design that would accommodate the needs of both HRV and LRV vehicles.
  • A smooth construction phase during a period of unprecedented demand, as the city hosted the 2016 Republican National Convention.
When TranSystems received the Notice to Proceed, it had approximately 120 days to complete the design phase, incorporating nearly a dozen different disciplines.
Tower City Station: One-of-a-Kind Challenges
To understand some of the challenges of this assignment, it’s important to know a few things about Tower City Station and its four rapid transit lines.
The station is located beneath Tower City Center, a large multi-use facility on Public Square in the middle of downtown. The center includes interconnected office
buildings, a shopping mall, a casino and two hotels. In a tunnel system beneath, the station has six platforms served by two mainline and two stub ended tracks.
The train terminal itself was originally built in 1928 and at one point served dozens of rail lines. Today, it serves only four lines but handles more than 400 trains per day. The Blue, Green and Waterfront Lines handle light rail traffic, much like trolley cars. The Red Line handles heavy rail traffic, much like subway cars.
In fact, the Tower City Station is the only system in the country to accommodate both high-level and street-level boarding vehicles, with different clearance envelopes, on
the same tracks.
Crowds Expected and Unexpected
To upgrade Track 8 for westbound traffic without any interruption to service, the team began by refurbishing an old auxiliary rail line, Track 7, which was hidden behind a concrete wall. It had been out of service since 1990. They also had to bring its auxiliary platform back to life.
The plan was to move westbound trains – both HRV and LRV vehicles – to Track 7, clearing the way for the reconstruction of Track 8 and the refurbishment of its
existing platform.
This approach allowed the RTA to get rolling on the needed upgrades without any disruptions during the Republican National Convention in July. The work on the auxiliary line and station platform were, in fact, completed the week before.
Work on Track 8 began in August 2016, which fit the project neatly around the convention. Little did anyone know, though, that the auxiliary line and platform would be put to additional tests during Track 8 construction.
One Monday night, for example, the Cleveland Indians hosted game one of the World Series – while the Cleveland Cavaliers hosted their NBA season home opener, with an enthusiastic crowd still raucous from their recent championship. Tower City Station moved about 10,000 people an hour that evening.
A Comprehensive, Multi-Discipline Approach
Work on Track 7 began with refurbishing the track at both ends of Tower City Station. As you might imagine for an auxiliary line out of service since the 1980s, it required numerous upgrades to handle train traffic and to bring it into current code compliance.
The same was true for the auxiliary station, which required:
  • Track rehabilitation
  • Refurbished street-level access
  • ADA access throughout
  • Electrical room upgrades
  • Security system and cameras
  • Ticket vending and fare collection
  • Emergency exits and upgrades
  • Fire control system and sprinklers
  • Aesthetics and painting
For Track 8, construction involved replacing the westbound mainline with a low vibration track (LVT) structure, which consists of precast concrete blocks with a vibration absorption boot and pad embedded in a reinforced concrete slab. The track was built “top down” which expedited construction because the blocks were precisely positioned with the rails attached before the surrounding concrete was placed.
During this phase of the work, numerous design challenges also were addressed. For example, the existing profile of the station platform for Track 8 wasn’t “flat” or level. The floor of the HRV trains was about two inches above the height of the platform. By resolving this issue, the team was able to provide ADA compliant access all along the 380-foot HRV platform.
Note, LRVs have street-level boarding, which requires stepping up. There is an isolated wheel chair boarding platform.

Teeing Up the RTA’s Future Projects
It’s fair to say that commuters have noticed a significant difference in their daily routine. The upgrades to Track 8 and its platform have greatly shortened commuter times. Track and approach speeds are back to normal. Track noise is greatly reduced. And, ADA passengers now can easily board from anywhere along the HRV platform.
The LVT structure itself has a life expectancy of 40 years. With the rail exposed – no more asphalt – it also will be much easier to maintain.
What’s more, the work on the auxiliary line and station will provide ongoing benefits. The RTA will be able to use them to maintain service as they repair additional tracks. Or, during significant events, they can use the auxiliary resources to handle excess capacity.
TranSystems, as the designer and the owner’s representative throughout construction, was able to complete a complex project on a strict timeline. Even when Tower City Center changed ownership in the middle of the project, the team brought all stakeholders together to achieve universal buy-in and continued the work uninterrupted.
Beyond the 50 parking spaces needed for five months, Tower City Center barely noticed work was occurring.

About the Author
Tom Taylor, PE, is a civil engineer with experience in the design of railroads, roadways and sites. He is the Railroad and Transit Team Leader in TranSystems’ Cleveland office. His assignments have included railroad and highway geometric design, railroad – highway at-grade crossing design, railroad track inspection, maintenance and protection of railroad and highway traffic, railroad coordination, drainage design and transit facility inspection and evaluation.
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