Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad provides congresswoman a chance to learn about rail infrastructure
Congresswoman Emilia Strong Sykes took a ride on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad Monday to build on her understanding of Ohio’s rail infrastructure.
Her visit is part of a larger effort on rail safety, Strong Sykes said, following the Norfolk Southern train derailment in East Palestine in February and the introduction of the bipartisan Reducing Accidents in Locomotives (RAIL) Act in March.
“It’s been a really great opportunity for me to jump right in and understand an issue as its unfolding right in front of our eyes, and how we can be helpful, and how sometimes things move at the speed of congress when we need them to move a bit faster than that,” she said.
The RAIL Act was introduced to the house by Strong Sykes, who is a democrat, and Republican Bill Johnson. The bill has 11 co-sponsors in the House so far, Strong Sykes said.
Strong Sykes, along with representatives with the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad and Cuyahoga Valley National Park boarded a diesel rail car and rode from Akron to Peninsula. The railroad’s CEO and President Joe Mazur and Cuyahoga Valley National Park Superintendent Lisa Petit highlighted their partnership, the history of the railroad and challenges they continue to face.
“The Cuyahoga Valley National Park's a huge driver, an economic driver, here in our community,” Mazur said. “I think Congresswoman [Strong Sykes] wanted to get to know both Superintendent Lisa Petit and myself to know what our challenges are and what we can do to make it even better for our community.”
The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad (CVSR) hosts nearly 200,000 riders per year and brings in about $6 million in revenue, most of that from ticket sales, Mazur said. 2019 was the railroad’s best year, but Mazur said they’ve experienced challenges since the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Since the pandemic, we've had a tough time running our complete 26 miles of track,” Mazur said. “So, … we just want to explain, here's who we are, here's what we do.”
The railroad has been dealing with erosion from the Cuyahoga River creating concerns about the safety of the tracks, which led to a suspension of passenger rail service. The CVSR resumed equipment-only rail service between Akron and Peninsula in March.
Although she didn’t expect rail to be a focus for her when she took office in January, Strong Sykes said research and engagement with the CVSR and Ohio’s other railroads revealed intersections between other key issues, like the economy and climate change.
“You can see immediately, just where we were with the erosion, the effects of climate change and what we do when we're not being the best stewards of our natural resources,” Strong Sykes said. “So, we're learning a lot just so we can be responsive and accessible and doing what we need to do -- what I need to do -- to adequately represent this community.”
Sunday marks Strong Sykes’ first 100 days in office, and she said she plans to continue to focus on rail safety and infrastructure, advocate for the passage of the RAIL Act in the house and beyond.