New Life for the Akron Branch?

Looking north on the former Pennsylvania Railroad’s Akron branch on October 21, 2012, from Hudson Drive. The bridge in the background carried the Lake Erie & Pittsburgh line of the New York Central. It is now a hiking and biking trail.

I’ve never seen a train on the Akron Branch. By the time that I arrived in Northeast Ohio in August 1993, Conrail had pretty much shut down operations on this former Pennsylvania Railroad line. In November 1994 the branch was abandoned between Hudson and Cuyahoga Falls and a year later it was sold to the Summit County Port Authority.

Since then, it has been railbanked to preserve it for possible commuter train service between Akron and Cleveland. That proposal has been dormant for years and shows no sign of coming to life anytime soon.

A few years back Akron Metro and Silver Lake duked it out in court over the town’s efforts to stop a proposed dinner train service on the line. The court ruled against the town, but the dinner train never turned a wheel.

In the meantime, the right of way became overgrown with trees and other vegetation and CSX removed the switch in Cuyahoga Falls that connected the Akron Branch with the former Baltimore & Ohio mainline that runs through Akron.

In recent months, though, there have been reports that the branch might be reactivated to serve an industrial park. Akron Metro in early 2011 began studying the freight potential of the Akron Branch and the ex-B&O route between Akron and Canton. The latter is now used by the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad and in some places the Wheeling & Lake Erie Railway.

In late October, I was out with fellow Akron Railroad Club member Roger Durfee on a local outing to photograph trains.

We were driving to a location that Roger didn’t identify other than I would find it interesting. That turned out to be the grade crossing of the Akron Branch with Hudson Drive.

We got out and walked the tracks southward. There was plenty of evidence that a crew had been through earlier to clear the trees that has grown between the ties and rails.

More work needs to be done to get the track ready for service. But the rails, although rusted, appeared to be in reasonably good condition. They could support a slow speed operation to serve local industries.

The Akron Branch was Akron’s first railroad, reaching the city on July 4, 1852. The first train ran between Akron and Hudson the next day.

Akron’s first railroad was also the first to be dismembered.  It has been removed between Cuyahoga Falls and Arlington Street in Akron. In theory, the Akron Branch lives on between Arlington Street and Clinton (Warwick) because CSX uses what for decades was a joint trackage operation between those points.

Much still needs to happen before the Akron Branch comes back to life. But perhaps I will get the chance to see and photograph a train on the line after all.

Article and Photographs by Craig Sanders

Looking southward after walking a short distance along the tracks south of Hudson Drive.

The area to the left used to be the location of a siding or short branch. That it has been maintained and mowed could indicate that a track might be put back in here.

One of the smaller trees that the crews cut down that had sprouted between the rails.

The distant signal for Hudson has been dark for years. At one time this signal mast probably held a PRR-style position signal head.

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