Ohio Railfan Hotspots
Few people would place Ohio among their top 10 states in which to photograph trains. The Buckeye State doesn’t have any soaring mountain ranges, the sky doesn’t seem as big here as it does out west and it can be a major challenge to find a location where the terrain can be described as expansive. Even one of the state’s primary assets, ample numbers of trees, seems to be more of a hindrance than a help in enhancing photo locations.
What Ohio does have going for it, though, are lots of railroad routes and lots and lots of trains. This is particularly the case in northeast Ohio where the Akron Railroad Club is based. You don’t have to drive far to find a class 1 mainline railroad. Chances are you won’t have to wait too long for a train to show up.
That northeast Ohio has so many railroad routes is a byproduct of two factors. The region is located in the middle of the Chicago-New York trunkline railroad corridor. Cleveland, Akron, Canton and Youngstown all were astride one or more trunkline railroad routes linking Chicago and the Atlantic seaboard. Northeast Ohio was also a great manufacturing region, particularly of steel. Railroads were needed to bring raw materials to the factories and to haul away the finished products.
All of this remains true today, although on a much smaller scale. Some of the Chicago-New York trunklines are gone, e.g. the Erie, while others have been seriously downgraded, e.g. the Pennsylvania. Still, the two busiest Chicago-East Coast routes of Class 1 giants CSX and Norfolk Southern pass through Ohio, coming within a few hundred yards of each of other in Berea in suburban Cleveland.
Where there are trains, then railroad enthusiasts are sure to follow with their cameras, notebooks and binoculars. Spend some time at Berea and you are sure to meet guys who have traveled hundreds of miles to be there.
Berea, Bellevue, Fostoria and Marion comprise Ohio’s “Big Four” of railfan hotspots. They are well known in and out of the state because of their stature as busy junctions where you can spend a day and expect to see double-digit numbers of trains.
But we thought you might like to know about other great places to railfan in Ohio, particularly Northeast Ohio. So we’ve selected our favorite places to go and profiled them elsewhere on this site. You’ll find information about what railroads are there, what radio frequencies you need to know to listen to trains on the radio, what traffic you can expect to see and where to find food and beverages. We’ll also show you a photo gallery of trains at that location.
Some of the hotspots are in urban settings while others are in small towns. Some locales are blessed with busy mainline routes while others see traffic more infrequently. All have their own personality and charm.
Of course the railroad infrastructure in Ohio isn’t what it used to be. One consequence of having so many railroads was a lot of junctions and that meant interlocking towers. Virtually all of those are closed now and most of them have been razed. Yards are much smaller and less busy than they used to be. In fact many yards don’t exist anymore.
Still there is much to see and do in the region the ARRC calls home. There is a major regional railroad, the Wheeling & Lake Erie, to chase and two smaller regionals, the Ohio Central and R.J. Corman, serve the area. There are just three pairs of Amtrak trains in Ohio and all of them operate here predominantly at night. But perhaps one of our best kept secrets is the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad which operates year-round in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park between Cleveland and Akron. Another CVSR route operates during the summer between Akron and Canton. And when you are between trains there are museums large and small to visit.
So grab your camera and maps and prepare yourself for some fun-filled railfanning in Ohio. We’re happy to help serve as your guide.