INDEPENDENCE: The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad is the big winner.
The Cuyahoga Valley National Park is getting $3,207,266 in federal grants for five projects tied to the tourist railroad.
On a rainy morning, officials huddled Tuesday inside a railroad car parked at the Rockside Station, the northern terminus of the railroad that stretches from Independence through Akron to Canton.
The Cuyahoga Valley and its railroad got more grants for more money than any other park in the United States, said Federal Transit Administration administrator Peter Rogoff.
On hand to celebrate were U.S. Reps. Betty Sutton, D-Copley Twp., and Dennis Kucinich, D-Lakewood, plus a host of park officials and friends.
A total of $40.8 million was distributed to 58 projects in 24 states under the Paul S. Sarbanes Transit in Parks Program. It is administered by three federal agencies: the Department of Transportation, the Department of the Interior and the U.S. Forest Service.
The program is designed to provide funding for alternative transportation systems for America’s national parks, forests and wildlife refuges and to modernize aging transportation infrastructure.
The biggest grant in the Cuyahoga Valley is $1,356,976 to build a new pedestrian-bicyclist bridge from the train’s Rockside Station across the Cuyahoga River to the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail at the Lock 39 Trailhead.
At present, bicyclists riding the train must negotiate traffic-filled streets to get from the train to the trail, and the new bridge will boost safety and convenience, officials said.
The new bridge would be just south of Rockside Road between Independence and Valley View.
The other projects are:
• $575,000 to replace Power Car No. 688. A railroad baggage car will be acquired and converted into a power generation car that will provide electricity on passenger cars for lighting, heating, air conditioning and refrigerators-freezers. The railroad’s current power car is 58 years old and unreliable, officials said.
• $994,000 to rebuild Locomotive No. 365 that is 46 years old. The refurbishing into a hybrid engine will extend the life of the engine by another 25 to 30 years. A green or environmentally friendly technology will be added to reduce exhaust emissions by 90 percent and fuel consumption by 60 percent.
• $144,670 to rehabilitate the Fort Mitchell (Rail Car No. 727), one of the railroad’s two handicapped-accessible passenger cars. It was acquired in 1995 and rebuilt in 1998 but needs significant improvements. It served about 9,000 passengers in 2010. The work will require relocating restrooms, replacing wheelchair lifts, adding wheelchair-friendly seats and replacing air conditioning.
• $136,620 to turn a baggage car into a bicycle transport. The project calls for modifying Baggage Car No. 1129 to better transport bikes on the railroad’s popular $3 Bike Aboard program.
Sliding baggage doors will be replaced with a space-saving roll-up door that will allow 40 more bicycles to be transported.
The railroad handled about 155,000 passengers including 20,000 Bike Aboard passengers in 2011, and that number was down due to track repairs and bad weather last summer, said railroad president and chief executive officer Steven W. Wait.
The railroad had 189,000 passengers in 2010 and is expecting 200,000 riders in 2012, he said.
Bob Downing can be reached at 330-996-3745 or firstname.lastname@example.org.