Streetcar failures will persist with cold weather, transit authority says

CINCINNATI -- The city should expect continued streetcar failures as freezing weather persists, according to a letter from the transit authority.

The Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority -- which oversees streetcar operations -- said in a letter Thursday evening, "Until vehicle redesigns and field modifications that are successfully implemented, streetcar vehicle failures will continue to impact reliable service during freezing weather conditions."

One of the problems comes from the vehicles' air compressors, the letter said, which suffer from frozen valves and blown pistons, among other issues. This poses a safety concern.

Often, though, the freezing cold causes multiple issues in various combinations, making preparing for repair and maintenance difficult, SORTA said. This impacts reliability and, in turn, will impact ridership, which has already proven to be down during the winter months.

COLUMN: Let's shut down the 'shut down the streetcar' talk

"Transit rail ridership is based on service reliabilty," SORTA wrote. "When headways (frequency) or service span (times that service is supposed to start and end) are not met and the system runs 'short' of vehicles, patrons lose confidence in the system."

The streetcar needs to run four vehicles of its five vehicles to maintain reliable service, according to transit officials: three out on the tracks, one ready to go, and one in reserve, presumably undergoing maintenance.

The fix will come from CAF -- the vehicle manufacturer -- when they can implement a redesign of the air compressor mechanism and other parts damaged by the cold. For now, SORTA is recommending the city request additional spare parts in anticipation of future breakdowns.

As WCPO previously reported, City Manager Harry Black said in a previous memo that the city has withheld $4 million in payments to CAF due to vehicle defects.

"Due to these ongoing manufacturer issues, at my direction, the city has not paid CAF since November of 2016, nor has the city agreed to final acceptance of the vehicles,” Black said.

Pat LaFleur reports on transportation and mobility for WCPO. Connect with him on Twitter (@pat_laFleur) and on Facebook.

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