Watching Steel Rust on the Fort Wayne Line

The first NS train through Orrville arrived a half-hour after I did. Then I had a four-hour wait for the next one.

The first NS train through Orrville arrived a half-hour after I did. Then I had a four-hour wait for the next one.

Last winter the railfan cyberspace world was abuzz with reports that Norfolk Southern was rehabilitating the tracks of the Fort Wayne Line west of Bucyrus.

This was remarkable news for a number of reasons. First, NS doesn’t own these tracks. CSX does.

Second, CSX doesn’t use this line. The Chicago, Fort Wayne & Eastern does.

Yes, NS does have the right under the terms of the Conrail breakup to operate as many as six trains a day west of Bucyrus, but it has seldom taken advantage of those rights.

But after the meltdown on the Chicago Line last summer, railroad officials began looking for alternative routes for some trains.

One of those alternatives was the Fort Wayne Line. Even before the Conrail breakup, this former Pennsylvania Railroad mainline in western Ohio saw little traffic.

The segment between Crestline and Alliance was moderately busy under Conrail, but once NS took it over the traffic levels dropped precipitously.

NS operates a pair of Conway-Bellevue manifest freights over the line daily. The route also sees locals out of Mansfield that operate as far east as Orrville. There are some coal trains.

But otherwise, traffic on the Fort Wayne Line is rather sparse.

As I read the reports that traffic on the Fort Wayne Line was picking up, I made a mental note that I needed to get down there this summer and see just much more traffic is using the line.

In particular, NS is routing eastbound crude oil trains over the route. I had seen posted photos taken of some of those trains, which led me to believe that they operated during daylight hours.

On the first Saturday in June, I set out for Orrville. I wasn’t expecting to see a flood of new traffic, but I was hopeful that there would be enough to make it worth the trip.

I got a later start than I wanted so it was about 10:30 a.m. when I arrived, parked next to the tracks, set up my scanner and waited.

Shortly after 11 a.m. I could hear the scratchy sound on the radio of a train calling signals.

The signal became stronger and clearer. That a train was coming a half-hour after I had arrived was a good omen.

It was a westbound coal train and it had one of those massive ex-Union Pacific SD90MACs as the second of two locomotives.

Then things got quiet, real quiet. And that was the way it was for the next four hours. That’s right, four hours.

To pass the time I read that day’s Akron Beacon Journal and the latest issue of Trains. The Fort Wayne Line has a long and colorful history and I had plenty of time to think about it.

I had expected lulls between trains, but not this long. I was about to give up for the day when I heard a scratchy sound on my scanner.

Shortly after 3:30 p.m., an eastbound oil train showed up with a set of helper units on the rear.

I was curious how far I’d be able to hear that train call signals over the radio so I stuck around and listened.

That train must have been past Massillon when I thought I heard the oil train crew speaking with the crew of another train.

Could it be that a westbound was waiting at Massillon for the oil train to pass? I decided to wait awhile longer. It was an agonizingly long wait.

I was, again, about to pack it in when I thought I heard a distant radio transmission. It took awhile but it got stronger and my earlier hunch had been right. There had been a westbound near Massillon.

That train, another coal train with an ex-UP SD90MAC in the motive power consist, finally reached Orrville at almost 4:30 p.m. After its passage, I headed home.

I’d like to give Orrville and the Fort Wayne Line another try, preferably getting there in the early morning.

It has always seemed as though more trains pass through Northeast Ohio in the morning hours than during the middle of the day.

Maybe that’s not true for the Fort Wayne Line, but I’d like to give it a try.

I’d also like to go down during the week when the locals are running and when the R.J. Corman train for Wooster comes and goes.

It may be technically accurate to say that there is more traffic on the Fort Wayne Line than there used to be.

But when the previous traffic levels were already quite thin, adding another couple of trains a day isn’t going to make that much of a difference.

Article and Photographs by Craig Sanders

The tower at Orrville used to be on the other side of the tracks and farther west. I can't remember a time when it wasn't where is is today. But my first visit to Orrville came in 1995.

The tower at Orrville used to be on the other side of the tracks and farther west. I can’t remember a time when it wasn’t where is is today. But my first visit to Orrville came in 1995.

This former Pennsy cabin car has been in display for years in Orrville, but no one has gotten around to restoring the PRR keystone and markings.

This former Pennsy cabin car has been in display for years in Orrville, but no one has gotten around to restoring the PRR keystone and markings.

After a wait of four hours I could not believe my eyes. There is training coming on the Fort Wayne Line.

After a wait of four hours I could not believe my eyes. There is training coming on the Fort Wayne Line.

The first and (only) eastbound of the day (for me at least) passes the Orrville station. The view was made from the steps of the former Orrville Tower.

The first and (only) eastbound of the day (for me at least) passes the Orrville station. The view was made from the steps of the former Orrville Tower.

What a nice surprise. There were helper locomotives on the rear of the 66W, the eastbound crude oil train.

What a nice surprise. There were helper locomotives on the rear of the 66W, the eastbound crude oil train.

Orrville is located at milespost 124 on the Fort Wayne Line. I had plenty of time to memorize this fact.

Orrville is located at milespost 124 on the Fort Wayne Line. I had plenty of time to memorize this fact.

The rear of the morning westbound coal train passes the restored Orrville depot, now the home of the Orrville Railroad Heritage Society.

The rear of the morning westbound coal train passes the restored Orrville depot, now the home of the Orrville Railroad Heritage Society.

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