On Photography: An Assessment of Photographing Inside Fostoria’s Iron Triangle Railfan Park

Novelty and roster shots are about the best you can do of the CSX Willard Subdivision when photographing from the observation platform in Fostoria's railfan park.

Novelty and roster shots are about the best you can do of trains on the CSX Willard Subdivision when photographing from the observation platform in Fostoria’s railfan park.

From a purely train watching perspective, the Iron Triangle Railfan Park in Fostoria, Ohio, is a great place. If you are willing to move around, you can see every train that passes through Fostoria.

Trains moving via the southeastern connection between the CSX Willard and Columbus subdivisions are the most difficult to see because of clutter and obscured views.

Straight moves on all three mainlines – which includes Norfolk Southern’s Fostoria District – can be easily seen as well as moves on the northeastern, northwestern and southwestern connections.

But being able to easily see trains does not always translate into excellent or even good photography vantage points.

The trade off for locating the park inside Fostoria’s “iron triangle” is that it is situated north of the busiest of the three mainlines, the Willard Sub, and hence the lighting is often less than ideal for capturing trains on that route.

I also found myself going outside the park to photograph from public sidewalks on Columbus Avenue to get the best photo angles and lighting.

In fact, most of the images that I made during a 10-hour visit during the Akron Railroad Club’s longest day event were made just outside the park. That annual event coincided this year with the date of the summer solstice.

None of my photographs were made on the park’s viewing platform even though it offers a good view of the NS tracks.

To its credit, the park does have many positives for the photographer. Chief among them are fences that are high enough to establish a boundary, but low enough so that an adult of average height can shoot over them.

A small child might not be able to do that, but he/she could shoot through the wide gaps in the fence with a little coaching from a parent.

The park is expansive enough that photographers can roam about freely and get right next to all three rail lines. Thus far there are no trees or bushes getting in the way of the sight angles.

Be advised that unless you are standing against the fence and/or leaning over it, you are going to have fences in your photos. The fences won’t obscure the trains, but will be noticeable.

Lighting is not a static thing and lighting conditions on all three rail lines will change throughout the day and even throughout the year as the sun angle shifts.

Here is a summary of photography conditions for each of the three mainlines from the perspective of shooting within the park proper.

Willard Subdivision

This busy east-west mainline is the most challenging to photograph. Aside from the lighting conditions, there is also the challenge of making photographs amid a lot of clutter from signal boxes, utility lines, and parked railroad motor vehicles and equipment.

The park’s southern boundary runs along the Williard Sub for a good distance, but it is tough to get good angles because of the clutter, some of which is south of the railroad tracks.

You can stand by the viewing platform and use a telephone or wide angle lens to photograph passing trains, but will be limited in what you can include of the train.

It is tough when standing next to the fence to get angles that include the motive power consist and the rest of the train because of the trackside clutter.

Columbus/Pemberville Subdivisions

This former C&O route changes names and jurisdictions in Fostoria. From a photography perspective, the best photography conditions of this line occur during the afternoon when the sun has shifted further west.

In the morning, you’ll be shooting toward the sun because this line runs along the park’s eastern boundary.

Some of the best images to be made are of trains coming off the northeastern connection to go north because they are facing you as they enter a curve.

The northwestern connection curves along the park’s boundary, but you’ll need a wide angle lens to get anything on it.

The home signals for southbound (railroad eastbound) traffic make good photo props for trains making straight moves northward (railroad westbound).

Yet most of the traffic on this line uses one of the connections rather than running straight through town.

Fostoria District

This line runs along the northern border of the park and features the best photo angles. With a good telephoto lens, you can get straight-on shots of eastbound trains after they cross the diamonds with the CSX Willard Sub and are coming into a curve just east of Poplar Street.

The eastward home signals for the diamonds with the CSX Pemberville Sub are located right in front of the viewing platform, but by moving down to the fence and setting up west of the platform, the photographer can get great, if not ideal, angles for westbound trains splitting those signals.

The park also features a good view of the Fostoria District/Pemberville Sub diamonds.

If you stand at the far eastern boundary of the park, you can get a good angle of eastbound trains splitting those same signals.

Because the sun will behind you, there are good photo angles to be had all day of the Fostoria District.

Going Outside

There is a pedestrian gate leading onto Columbus Avenue. The sidewalks of this street more often than not offer the better photo angles of traffic on the Pemberville/Columbus subs.

That’s because although you can see trains coming southward as they cross the diamonds with NS as you stand inside the park, you can’t see much beyond that.

I wanted to use my zoom lens to get trains passing the C&O signals that still stand north of the NS diamonds. You can’t see those from the railfan park.

Likewise, if you want to get more of a straight-on angle on either the Fostoria District or the CSX Pemberville/Columbus Sudvidisions, then you need to get outside the park.

You don’t have to go far. There is a sidewalk leading out of the park and across the NS tracks. There is a sidewalk on the north side of Columbus Avenue next to a business east of the Pemberville Sub tracks. I found myself standing on that sidewalk a lot in the morning and early afternoon because of lighting and photo angle considerations.

As for more straight-on views of trains on the Willard Sub, you’ll need to go over to Main Street by the old Baltimore & Ohio depot to get those. Another option is the Poplar Street crossing, but on the day that I was there it was closed because CSX is rebuilding it.

There is still a large open area between the Willard Sub and the Fostoria District that is outside the park. Perhaps the city is seeking to buy that property and expand the park. Perhaps there are other reasons why it is not part of the park.

This area used to be industrial property and the ground may be polluted. A large concrete pad in this open area is a reminder of what used to be here.

I mention this because if the park’s boundaries could be extended along the NS tracks all the way to Poplar Street that would open better photo opportunities for shooting eastbound NS trains without the need for a super telephoto or zoom lens.

Photographer can be a picky bunch and even the best possible, practical and affordable park design is sure to leave them wanting something they can’t have. The Iron Triangle Railfan Park is no exception.

Photographers more inclined toward making roster-type shots will find the park more than adequate for their needs.

More artistically-inclined photographs might find themselves exhausting their possibilities rather quickly and setting out for other vantage points and locations.

Nonetheless, the city and park designers deserve a lot of credit for creating a safe and accessible area from which to watch and photograph trains in this busy railroad junction town.

Commentary and Photographs by Craig Sanders

In the morning on a summer's day this might be as good as it gets for photographing eastbounds on the Willard Sub while staying inside the park. On balance, it's a nice photo angle.

In the morning on a summer’s day this might be as good as it gets for photographing eastbounds on the Willard Sub while staying inside the park. On balance, it’s a nice photo angle if you are trying to get the motive power and the consist of the train.

With people hanging around all day, there are going to be opportunities for human interest images. In the background is an eastbound on the Willard Subdivision. If you photograph from back here, you will have live with fences.

With people hanging around all day, there are going to be opportunities for human interest images. In the background is an eastbound on the Willard Subdivision. If you photograph from back here, you will have to live with fences being in your photos.

Heading toward the camera on the northeast connection yields a nice angle, but oh that clutter around F Tower.

Heading toward the camera on the northeast connection yields a nice angle, but oh that clutter around F Tower.

A Toledo-bound train passes beneath the home signals for the diamonds with the Willard and Columbus subdivisions.

A Toledo-bound train passes beneath the home signals for the diamonds with the Willard and Columbus subdivisions located to the right of the lead locomotive of the train.

Even in late day summer sunlight on the longest day of the year there will be shadows on westbound CSX trains on the Willard Sub.

Even in late day summer sunlight on the longest day of the year there will be shadows on the north side of westbound CSX trains on the Willard Sub. In the foreground is the northwestern connection between the Willard and Pemberville subs.

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