Driving Trip - August 2, 2015

Note: click on the thumbnails for a larger image

This is the latest installment in the series of driving trips of myself and my former coworker John. As usual, if you are hoping for lots of trains you'll want to look elsewhere as this was not the point of our trip. If this isn't an issue for you, keep reading. A SPV Rail Atlas of Ohio would also be handy for following along.

John and I decided to retrace our steps of a trip we made almost 10 years ago of following a route out of Columbus west to London, Springfield, Dayton, Middletown and finally to Hamilton. A lot has occurred in the past 10 years so we figured the route would be worth a second look. By my calculations we would have plenty of daylight by the time we got to Hamilton so we would then need to figure out how to get ourselves back to Columbus.

We started by doing a drive-by of the very-full-of-cars-but-not-full-of-activity Buckeye Yard on the west side of Columbus near Hilliard. This yard has been relegated to a storage yard on the NS system where cars rust in place awaiting their next revenue assignment, or in many cases their last run to the scrap yard! John's line of work involves tracing 86' auto parts boxcars, of which Buckeye is littered with. However most of these cars have reached their FRA 50 year under frame life limit which does not allow them to be used in interchange service. John notes that the 86' cars are becoming harder to find for this very reason. No railroad is ordering them and no leasing companies have ordered any to be built for leasing. We reflected on what this meant which was the loss of entire class of railcar and a shift to the more plentiful 60' railcar. Though easier to get, they have less of a cost advantage over truck.

We then made a loop around the industrial trackage just east of Buckeye Yard off of Fisher Road. The complex has at least two active shippers (maybe more) and is served as needed by NS Local LY14. The complex probably at one time had more rail customers judging by the number of warehouses with rail spurs leading to them.

We drove by my current employer, Big Lots, Inc., and our massive 2,173' long distribution center. Built by Westinghouse, this used to have several rail spurs which ran from end to end through the building! Check out http://www.historicaerials.com and do a search for 300 Phillipi Road, Columbus OH, then go back to 1957 or 1971. We then turned back west and started our journey following the NS (ex-CR, PRR) Dayton District. This is the first line to enter Columbus and was built in 1850. We stopped at CP 144 and CP145 on the south end of Buckeye Yard. From what I can tell, this cluster of signals is the last set of PRR signals on this line. John and I took a few photos of the area.

CP 146
Westbound signal at CP 146 just west of the lead to Buckeye Yard
CP 146
Here's a close up of the signals. The vintage PRR signals have watched a lot go by

CP 146
Looking west at CP 146 - tracks from left to right are Alton Siding, #2 main, #1 main, lead track to Buckeye Yard and a lead to an industrial park; note how the best signal aspect on #1 is Medium Clear - this is an oddity at this location as the main continues west (i.e. does not diverge); a Clear indication should be possible but isn't; amber lights are in all lenses except for the horizontal aspect (i.e. Stop)
CP 146
Here's the view looking east at CP 146. The signals in the distance are for CP 144. Tracks from left to right are the industrial park lead, lead track to Buckeye, #1 main, #2 main, Alton Siding. With the exception of two gentle curves it pretty much is a straight shot to downtown Columbus. I wonder how this looked in 1850 when it was built?

We then followed the NS Dayton District west. In West Jefferson the single track line, though wide enough for two tracks, is on a fill through town. A small freight house sits at street level on North Walnut Street by the track. A depot used to exist at this location when the track was at grade with the local streets. Dan West's Ohio train stations of past and present web page has a nice description of the area and how things used to be (click the link and go to the bottom of the page).

Continuing west we criss-crossed the line a few times noting that the track looked good enough for 60 mph but NS restricts things to 50 mph. Just east of London are several businesses, some of which have rail service and some do not. The large Staples warehouse has a spur but the rail door has been blocked. I'm sure they have enough business to get boxcars of copy paper! Advanced Drainage Systems looks to be a big rail customer.

Finally we reach London (CP162) where the mainline cuts from the PRR alignment and moves to the CCC&STL alignment as it curves west through town. What's left of the PRR trackage (which was the original route into Columbus) extends about a half mile from the junction and ends at a business which looks like might still be getting cars, but the jury is still out on this. The rail on the PRR main is jointed 140 lb. 1965 vintage rail. Here are some photos of where the PRR and CCC&STL lines crossed.

London, OH - CP 162
Here's the view at London, OH looking southwest. The PRR route continues to the southwest on the left while the CCC&STL line curves to the west on the right.
London, OH - CP 162
View looking east at London, OH (CP 162). The track to the left is the CCC&STL line which used to continue across the PRR main in the foreground. The old RofW disappears behind the signal on the right.
London, OH - CP 162
Here's a better view of what's left of the PRR main looking southwest toward South Charleston.  The signal bridge suggests this was at least double track territory through here. The depot is still well maintained with a new roof. Interesting to note how much of the pole line is in place. The end of the track is about 1/5 mile from this spot. 

Instead of continuing west we drove southwest on U.S. 42 and followed the PRR line south to South Charleston. Back when I was freshman in college some friends and I did a driving trip "to see scenic Ohio" (though it was close to sunset by the time we left so we didn't see much!). The track had just recently been abandoned by Conrail but the line was still intact for the most part. Some signals were still standing as was the pole line. Today a bike path sits on the RofW to South Charleston. After the line was abandoned just a short 1/2 mile piece of the PRR was left in place in South Charleston to serve a grain elevator, however some new business have extended this probably another 1/4 mile or so to now serve another grain elevator and a fertilizer dealer. Several hopper cars were parked in the small holding yard for the elevators. 

In South Charleston the PRR line meets the Genesee & Wyoming (ex-I&O, DT&I) line stretching from Washington Court House up to Springfield. Transfer tracks in the northwest and northeast quadrants allow for trains to transfer between mainlines. Near the northwest transfer is the DT&I depot (still in good shape) and a couple marooned cabooses (cabeese?) which are sitting on the alignment of what used to be the southwest transfer. This is a good place to park and walk around, and public restrooms are also available here.  

South Charleston, OH
View of the G&W (ex-DT&I) main looking west at South Charleston, OH
South Charleston, OH
View of G&W (ex-DT&I) main looking east at South Charleston, OH. The PRR main crossed where the line of trees is in the distance.
South Charleston, OH
Two cabooses sit on what used to be the southwest connector between the DT&I and PRR lines.

We then headed up State Route 41 toward Springfield to meet back up with NS. On the east side of town is an industrial complex visible from I-70 which I had long wondered if anyone was still getting rail service. The satellite photos show a spur going to two different customers, however our drive-by reconnaissance gave us the impression that one building was empty while the other was not receiving any rail service.

In Springfield we basically did a quick drive through town since we had documented this trackage on many previous trips (I'm sure everyone reading remembers this!). When we got to the west side of town we suddenly heard NS 200 eastbound call the signal for CP183 (Springfield). D'OH! We drove over to the tracks and saw the last half of the train go by at a leisurely pace. So much for calling every signal!

John and I then wanted to see what is listed as Cold Springs CP188 on the SPV map. This is where the former Erie line from Marion to Dayton met the CCC&STL line and ran parallel to each other to Dayton forming a sort of double track (though much of the Erie main has been pulled up). Access to where the interlocking tower once stood requires a bit of a drive on railroad property, but the road crossing just west of CP188 gives nice views of the rail line, and is off the beaten path so to speak. We didn't take photos, but the State of Ohio did for their crossing database. Click this link to see the database photos which were taken on a cold, snowy day. Note the wide separation between the two tracks.

Just down the road a bit is Enon (CP190) where the Erie line merges into the CCC&STL line (the second main is a siding here). An interurban building still stands but has seen better days. 

Enon, OH
The interurban building at Enon, OH (CP 190) is hard to recognize covered with ivy.

We continue west following the line into Fairborn and by the Wright Patterson Air Force Base and Museum (an awesome museum for those who also like aviation and space travel - and it's free!). Right as we were approaching the AFB complex we heard NS 170 call the signal just west of the area. Again we were caught off guard by inconsistent signal calling so we ended up seeing the back 2/3 of the train from a parking lot. Lots of tank cars on this train!

We then started to get into Dayton and poked around at a few of the road crossings on the east side. This included checking out an interesting spur that comes off the main and makes a big loop in an industrial area around Springfield St. and McFadden Ave. We drove through the complex which was about half vacant, and while the track is still in place it likely hasn't seen a train in a while (the Google street view is here).  Just east of the yards the Erie main briefly reappears but is basically a glorified industrial lead as it provides access to a couple businesses in the area, and terminates as a customer's spur. A third track which John believes is the Cincinnati & Lake Erie interurban RofW also is present but questionable whether it is in use. A little west of here is the small NS (former Erie) yard which on our last trip was full of 60' auto parts boxcars, presumably staged for the General Motors Moraine plant south of town. The plant has been closed for several years and the yard was mostly empty. A few cars were also in the elevated CCC&STL yard which is located on a fill.

Further west we entered downtown Dayton and caught sight of the CSX (ex-B&O) Toledo Subdivision which had a very slow Q500 moving south (we would see this train several hours later). After making a quick drive by of where the CSX and NS lines cross the Great Miami River, we then crossed the Toledo Sub (getting stopped by the tail end of a northbound aggregate train), and then met back up with NS at Moraine. Unlike the last time we were here when Moraine Yard was full of autoracks, auto parts boxcars and rolled steel cars, the yard today was largely empty though still did have some rolled steel cars, presumably for the steel plant in Middletown. The former GM plant in Moraine was recently purchased by a company who will be making car windshields. However the massive plant apparently is more than what they need as part of the GM plant was in the process of being dismantled. On the north side, the building was open and you could still see some of the assembly line fixtures in place from its days as an auto plant. While the new customer probably won't need the massive amounts of cars the auto plant did, they should get a steady diet of silica sand and other ingredients to make the windshields.

A little south of here is the Appleton Papers plant whose spur still showed signs of usage. As we approached the plant we were yet again surprised to see a NS eastbound autorack train approaching (doesn't NS call signals any more on the Dayton District???). After watching the relatively short train go by, we continued south through the towns of West Carrollton and Miamisburg (whose CCC&STL depot has been converted to a business called the "Dental Depot"). South of here the track turns west and crosses the Great Miami River where it meets up with the CSX Toledo Sub. once again. The NS line is double track and CSX is single track. A power plant on the east side of the river by where the line crosses the river looks like it used to get cars but no longer does. 

The lines then separate as they approach the town of Carlisle where both used to be crossed by another CR (ex-CCC&STL) line that stretched from Franklin to Germantown. The section of track between the CSX and NS lines is gone, but a spur does extend from NS at Carlisle Jct. (CP223) into Franklin. This branch has a short section of street running trackage and a depot located at an odd location on a curve in town. A shingle plant takes cars on the west side of the river, and another industry takes cars on the east side at the end of the industrial track. On CSX a spur still exists off the main toward Germantown where its sole purpose is to serve a company by the name of Dupps at the end of the line. We did not verify that they were still taking cars.

After grabbing lunch we continued south and arrived in Middletown, home of arguably the best Ohio State basketball player ever (and NBA great), Jerry Lucas. The depot in town is nicely maintained and used as an antiques store. South of here the trackage becomes complex as both CSX and NS have lines which access the massive AK Steel plant in town. The CSX line extends a couple miles from the Toledo Sub. main and enters the plant property on a flyover over the NS main. In addition there are a couple scrap metal yards which have spurs, interestingly with spurs into them from both railroads as well. 

While preparing for this trip I noticed some public roads which travel very close to the plant so we turned down Oxford State Road which runs on the south side of the plant. From the road we could see several cuts of cars within the plant property, as well as the RofW of spur tracks which used to cross the road at some point. One of these tracks used to be a former PRR line which ran directly into the south end of the plant. This small sliver of trackage shows active on the SPV map but does not exist. The trackage around the plant is fairly complex and it is possible to do a huge loop around the entire complex (though it would involve one reverse move). A small yard noted as "Reed Yard" exists outside the plant grounds and appears to be used as a staging location for cars associated with the plant or one of the many nearby industries supporting the plant.

John noted that he wanted to see the stub of PRR trackage that extended southeast from the plant so we proceeded to follow it. As an aside, this entry by the PRR into the steel plant means it was potentially serviced by three different railroads (B&O, CCC&STL and PRR). This is another piece of the Genessee & Wyoming empire (formerly Indiana & Ohio) that extends southeast to a junction called Hageman where it intersects with another PRR line extending between Lebanon and Mason. Just outside of Monroe is a gigantic Home Depot distribution center which does not have a spur going into it (I'm sure they could use some car loads of lumber!). Eventually we reach where the line has a transfer track to take trains south toward Mason. We took a few photos at this location.

near Hageman, OH
View looking southeast toward Hageman. The G&W (ex-PRR) main is on the left. The track on the right is a connector to the Lebanon to Mason line.
near Hageman, OH
View looking northwest toward Middleton on the G&W (ex-PRR) main. 
near Hageman, OH
We spotted this rail with a 1902 date stamp on the transfer track. The main trackage was "newer" 100 lb. rail from the 1920s.

At Hageman a diamond exists and a transfer track in the southeast quadrant of the diamond. A large building built along the alignment of the transfer track also exists but it does not appear to have been a station in a former life. On the surface the fact the diamond still exists is perplexing, but after studying the trackage it appears it's sole purpose appears to be to allow trains to turn their power or a car by utilizing the two transfer tracks and the small stretch of trackage between them as a large wye. G&W has a few customers in Mason which keep the rails shiny. In addition, the tourist railroad the Lebanon, Mason & Monroe Railroad also runs on this trackage, though according to their web page they usually do not run to Monroe or Mason.

We then followed the line south to see who was at the end of the line. Our trip from several years ago revealed that it was Portion Pac which was a co-pack facility for Heinz. Sure enough at the end was the plant I remembered, though the sign now says "Heinz". Several 50' boxcars were spotted at the plant, including a couple with BKTY reporting marks which I don't remember ever seeing. John didn't know who it was but this page says it's a Katy reporting mark (now UP). Since these were spotted at Heinz I think BKTY stands for "Bold Ketchup Tastes Yummy". The satellite maps also showed that we missed two other potential customers at the end of the line.

To save some time, we headed straight west to Hamilton. In doing so we passed by the WLW-AM transmitter tower and former Voice of America shortwave transmitter sites on Tylersville Road. I relayed to John the historical significance of both sites, as well that WLW's diamond shaped tower had a special name but I couldn't remember what it was (Blaw-Knox was the name I couldn't remember). It's quite amazing to think about the amount of electricity these two sites used to burn up when both were operating at full power!

After a leisurely drive westward we reached Hamilton where the CSX Toledo Sub and NS New Castle District lines share trackage for about a mile on the north side. South of this the CSX Indianapolis Subdivision diverges off to the west and heads to Indianapolis (more on this later). This is also where CSX and NS have forged an operational agreement to have directional running where most trains entering the Cincinnati area use NS trackage and trains leaving use CSX trackage. While entering town from the east we noticed a freight house behind a fence on Maple Avenue but didn't get a good enough look at it.

The location where the two lines meet is at Butler Street and has ample parking at the junction. Some have commented that this is not the safest area to be in, but we felt that there was safety in numbers by parking at the McDonalds which had a steady stream of cars going through the drive thru. B&O signals still guard the interlocking though their days are likely numbered (no replacements were in the process of being put in, however). Here is the first of many trains to be seen in the short time we were there.

Hamilton, OH
B&O signals still doing their job at Butler Street in Hamilton showing a "Clear" indication on #1 track.
Hamilton, OH
CSXT 5389 north was the first of several trains we would see during our brief visit to Hamilton, OH.

We thought that was it for a bit so we got in the car and headed across the river to check out the old Champion Paper spur. John's memory of the area was much better than mine and commented that the trackage used to go through the plant and cross the road to go between buildings. Sadly last year the plant was closed and demolition has begun. The spur, at least near the plant has been pulled up (thought the road crossing protection is still in place!). Before we could investigate further we heard another northbound coming so we headed back across the river to see not one but two trains go by.

Hamilton, OH
A NS northbound is the next train to make an appearance, illustrating the directional running agreement between CSX and NS.
Hamilton, OH
Q500, the same train we saw in Dayton several hours earlier, heads south on home rails instead of taking the NS route into Cincinnati.

After baking in the afternoon sun for about 10 minutes we piled back in the car (the A/C was much appreciated!) and headed across the river a second time to get another look at the spur. Just as we got across another train called a signal just south of town so we headed back across the river again to see one more northbound.

Hamilton, OH
Here we see the signal showing a "Medium Clear" aspect on #1 meaning the train will be going through the crossover just ahead.
Hamilton, OH
An empty CSX tank train northbound rounds out the action for the time being in Hamilton.

Again it sounded as if the train traffic was done so we crossed the river again (good thing there are no bridge tolls in Hamilton!) to get a better look at the spur. I told John I wanted to see if the switch off the main was still in place which it was. The spur is in place up to at least the Main Street road crossing though it is obvious nothing has been over it in a while. Just as we went over the crossing John says, "I think there's a dwarf signal back there." What?! So we circled back around and sure enough a two aspect B&O dwarf signal was doing its duty and displaying a "stop" indication just south of the Main Street road crossing.

Hamilton, OH
Inexplicably, this B&O dwarf signal still is in service on the Champion Paper spur in Hamilton, OH. This signal governs movements toward the paper plant. 
Hamilton, OH
Here's a close up of the signal. This signal can display "Restricting" and "Stop" aspects.

This was quite a find, but left us with the question of why was this signal here to begin with. The signal governed movements toward the end of the spur rather than toward the main which made little sense to us. If anyone has the inside story on this let me know.

Satisfied with our find we crossed the river one last time and headed north on U.S. 127 to follow the NS New Castle District. This ex-PRR line is largely single track but is good for 60 mph and hosts two Roadrailer trains, a couple double stack and mixed freight trains. The signals along this line are reminiscent of NKP but are a little different. These signals, like everything else not new, are in the process of being replaced with new signals. At Seven Mile I noticed that it looked like someone was lined south so we tried to stay close to the line, though I made a mistake and got on a section of U.S. 127 that was elevated and without turn-offs to get down to track level for a few miles. Given the amount of time we were separated from the track I figured we probably missed whatever was coming, but luck was with us as when we crossed the track in Camden we could see the southbound coming. Quickly it arrived as it was doing every bit of the speed limit through town.

Camden, OH
The telephoto lens gives us a view of the signals in the distance governing the siding at Camden, and the rapidly approaching train. 
Camden, OH
The NS eastbound stack train passes by our location at the posted speed limit of 60 mph.

We continued to follow the track up to Eaton where it makes a sharp turn to the west. The depot here has been made into a beer/wine drive through and a freight building exists on the opposite side of the track. With nothing coming, we started to plan our route back east to get home. Before going east, we continued on U.S. 127 north to West Manchester. The SPV shows that a north-south CR (CCC&STL) line intersected the southern branch of the PRR Panhandle (abandoned by CR). John noted that there used to be a transfer track in the southwest quadrant of the diamond, though think of it as more of a broad connector probably good for 20 mph. He said this was a fairly busy route moving traffic to/from Indianapolis. Hard to believe this was the case since today it is very difficult to discern the transfer or the RofWs of either main tracks.

We then followed the north-south line to Lewisburg, again a difficult task as it is barely visible in many spots. The route used to cross I-70 but there's nothing at freeway level to indicate that it ever did. Heading east on I-70 we got off at the Brookville exit and followed the east-west line we saw in West Manchester into town. This is now part of the Wolf Creek Recreational Trail which had a good number of riders on the route each time we crossed it. A nicely preserved wood depot still stands in Brookville along with a caboose and freight building. We continued to follow this line through Trotwood where a depot and couple cabooses sit along the former RofW in town. A mile or so east of here the line comes back to life at a company called Syncreon. We didn't see any cars spotted but could see where the spur went into the property. Continuing east we crossed the line a few times noting that the rails were fairly shiny but we didn't see any cars. The satellite photos reveal a couple customers east of the Syncreon customer. I think this line has picked up a couple new customers in the past 10 years or so.

As we entered back into the Dayton corporation limits, our daylight was just about done so we hopped back on the freeway and headed home. Another successful drive and another 338.8 miles logged. Once again we could have driven to Chicago (a similar distance) and seen a lot more trains, but that's another trip for another day.

Questions, comments welcome!

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