Railroads: CSX (former Baltimore & Ohio), Wheeling & Lake Erie (former Akron, Canton & Youngstown), Akron Barberton Cluster, Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad
Traffic: CSX, about 20 to 24 trains a day; W&LE and ABC about 10 trains a day
Radio Frequencies: CSX, 160.230 (road), 160.320 (dispatcher); W&LE 161.025 (road and dispatcher); ABC, 160.650, 161.550 (yard and switching); CVSR, 160.965 (road).
Highlights: The hometown of the Akron Railroad Club is like so many cities in which contemporary railroad operations are a shadow of their former selves. Akron was a more vibrant railroad town through the early 1970. Much of the former Erie and Pennsylvania trackage is abandoned and what is left of those railroads is inactive. Most yards are gone or vastly reduced in size. All the interlocking towers are gone.
But with a moderately busy Class 1 mainline, a couple of routes belonging to a regional railroad and an active tourist railroad operation, there is still much to see and photograph in Akron. This is an urban environment and you will need to move around to catch the action.
At the Voris Street crossing of the CSX Chicago-Pittsburgh mainline you are likely to find railfans. At one time, this crossing saw trains of the Pennsy, B&O and Erie. The PRR and B&O had a joint line between Akron and Warwick (Clinton) while the Erie ran parallel with B&O/PRR.
Parking today is on the grass just off Swietzer Avenue, which is parallel to the tracks. The area is a mixture of old warehouses and factories, some of which are still used. None have rail service. Perhaps the best photograph to be had in the vicinity of Voris Street is a view looking northeastward toward downtown Akron. You will need to walk to the other side of the bridge carrying Thornton Street over the tracks to have an unobstructed view.
The view includes a transportation center built in what used to be the Erie’s McCoy Yard. North of the yard used to be a rubber factory.
The B&O-style color position light signals you will see on the CSX tracks toward downtown are known as Exchange Street, which crosses over the tracks on a bridge that is a nice photograph location, particularly because to the east you can work into your shot the remains of the Akron Union Depot. The depot still stands and is owned by the University of Akron. A walkway connects the former depot with another university-owned building across the tracks.
The original purpose of this walkway was to serve as a station concourse and to connect Union Depot with a bus station on the other side. Parking is available in small lots on each side of the bridge. Given that the purpose of these lots is to serve bank customers and not railfans, it would be best to use these lots only on weekends when the banks are closed. The bank on the north side of the tracks is located where the former Erie passenger station used to be.
There are also bridges over CSX on Thornton Street, Mill Street and Market Street. Mill Street is in the vicinity of Quaker Square, a well-known Akron landmark. You may know Quaker Square as the former home of a Hilton Hotel in which the rooms were built into former silos. The silos are still there and so is the hotel, but it is no longer affiliated with the Hilton Hotel chain. Instead, the University of Akron owns Quaker Square and has converted the hotel into a residence hall.
There are parking lots and garages adjacent to Quaker Square and the area is worth exploring on foot to observe what is left of the railroad infrastructure and to photograph trains.
The Market Street bridge offers good photograph opportunities and some interesting history. At one time, JO Tower, which controlled the crossing of the B&O/PRR and Erie tracks beneath Mill Street, was built into the storefronts on College Street just south of the Market bridge. The entrance to the tower was from Market. JO Tower is gone as are the buildings once adjacent to it.
Look northeastward from the Market Street bridge and you will see the remains of the second Akron Union Depot. There isn’t much here because the station was razed a long time ago. The rising stone wall that you see is what is left of the ramp that led from the station to Market Street. The tracks enter downtown here on a curve and the trees and bridge carrying Park Street over the tracks make a nice backdrop.
There is a homeless shelter nearby and a city park located between Park and Perkins streets is a hangout for the homeless and other street people. They may approach you and ask for money or in a worst case scenario accost you. This is not to say the area is inherently dangerous during the daytime, just that you need to be observant and aware of who is in the area nearby when you are there. It may not be an area in which you want to spend a lot of time hanging out while waiting for trains to come.
North of downtown Akron the former AC&Y, now owned by the Wheeling & Lake Erie, crosses the Ohio & Erie Canal on a high trestle. One of the better developments for railfans in recent years is how the area beneath this trestle has been converted into a public park in recent years.
It is part of the Ohio & Erie Canalway, a system of parks that extends from downtown Cleveland to Dover in Tuscarawas County. Much of the trail is built on the former canal towpath.
There is a parking lot just off North Street. Look for signs for Cascade Locks Park. The name refers to the remnants of a set of locks that canal boats once had to navigate through. The paved trail offers two opportunities to photograph trains. There is a bridge carrying Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad trains over the canal and the trail. The locks make a nice photo prop here.
The trail also passes beneath the former AC&Y trestle, which now carries W&LE freight trains. Traffic on the Wheeling trestle is not heavy, but if you can catch a train here it makes for a dramatic photograph. Trains can be photographed on each side of the trestle, depending on lighting conditions.
Near Cascades Locks Park at Howard and Ridges streets is the CVSR station, formally known as Akron Northside. There is an expansive parking lot here and the station is a nice place to photograph CVSR trains and chat with the crews, many of whom are volunteers, during their layovers.
This was once the site of the B&O passenger station for Valley Line trains. This route, which extended between Cleveland and Mineral City (south of Canton), is now owned by the National Park Service north of the CVSR station and by the Akron Metro Regional Transit Authority south of the station. The W&LE has operating rights on the Akron Metro segment to provide freight service, but uses it infrequently. The former B&O Valley Line is primarily a passenger operation.
The CVSR runs trains between Rockside Road station in Independence in suburban Cleveland and Akron Northside station. Trains shuttle between these points three times a day during the summer and less frequently at other times of the year. Locomotives are placed on both ends of the train.
During the summer, Akron-Canton shuttle trains also terminate here. The schedule is set up to allow passengers to connect between trains. Thus a passenger could board at Rockside and travel to Canton and return in one day. But it would be an all-day trip. CVSR has arranged for buses to pick up passengers in Akron and Canton to take them to points of interest.
If you plan to spend time at Cascade Locks Park or the CVSR station, check out Rock Cut siding on the W&LE. The Wheeling often parks here westbound stone trains that are waiting for a crew to come on duty to take the train west. It is also where the connecting track comes down a hill from the CSX Chicago Line.
The connection is used by Akron Barberton Cluster trains. The ABC is the successor to the Akron & Barberton Belt, a switching railroads that was owned by all of the railroads serving Akron. The A&BB had it own tracks in, but most of those have been abandoned.
The ABC is based in Barberton at the former A&BB terminal, but uses CSX to get between Barberton and Akron. If you hear the CSX IO Dispatcher talking to a train with a Z symbol, it probably is an ABC train. Typically, the ABC leaves the Barberton terminal in the morning and traverses CSX rails to Arlington Street. The ABC train must then back up to get onto the former AC&Y at Rock Cut. ABC trains can be photographed anywhere on CSX in downtown Akron.
No trip to Akron would be complete without visiting the traditional railfanning spot at Home and Tallmadge avenues. Generations of photographers have stood on the west side of the B&O tracks and photographed trains coming around an S curve and passing the A. Schulman, Inc. complex on the other side. The Schulman company is still in business and receives hoppers loaded with plastic pellets.
In steam days, the B&O crossed Home and Tallmadge at grade. But several years ago both streets were elevated to cross over the tracks on a bridge. This benefited photographers by giving them some elevation. Parking at this site is in a grassy area just off Home Avenue and south of Tallmadge Avenue.
The intersection of Arlington and North Forge streets is the epicenter of Akron railroading because every railroad serving Akron passes through this neighorhood. There are numerous photography possibilities here.
If you look eastward along the CSX mainline you will see Hill Yard and a coaling tower. It has been decades since a steam locomotive took on coal from this facility, but it’s still standing and is one of Akron’s best-known railroad landmark.
To the east of the Arlington Street crossing are a pair of B&O-style color position signals. CSX has centralized traffic control and there are bi-directional signals on both tracks. Just beyond those signals is where the connecting track to the W&LE begins.
Walk a short distance north on Arlington Street and you will come to a bridge over the former B&O Valley Line. Look to the west and you will see the remains of Valley Yard. At one time there was an engine servicing facility here and a four-track yard that could hold up to 120 cars.
Look to the east and you will see how the Valley Line passes beneath the B&O’s Chicago Line. Next to that bridge is a two-story building that once served as the yard office for CSX. There are no yard jobs based here anymore. Although the building is accessible from a driveway off Arlington, this is railroad property and we highly discourage you from going down there. The best photos are to be had from the Arlington Street bridge over the Valley Line.
Aside from capturing CSX trains, there are good images to be had of CVSR trains passing beneath the CSX tracks and by the yard office. This shot works best in the afternoon.
If you walk south on Arlington, you will see where the Erie used to cross. There isn’t much here now so keep walking south and you will come to the bridge over the W&LE. While this is a shootable location for photographers although there is quite a bit of vegetation encroaching upon the right of way.
Look at a map of Akron and you’ll see that just beyond Arlington Street the railroad lines all come together and cross each other on a series of bridges. The only practical way to see this is from the air. If you drive down Forge Street, you will cross beneath the AC&Y bridge and then a massive bridge that carried the tracks of the PRR, B&O and Erie. Actually, this is two bridges side by side. On the west side, the former Erie bridge still has fading markings including the name of the railroad and its logo.
For a closer view of the B&O coaling tower, continue north on Arlington and turn right onto North Street. Take the first right, which is Eastwood Avenue. In short order you will pass the abutments for the bridge that once carried the Pennsylvania tracks over Eastwood. Look up to your left and you will see a pair of PRR position signals with their heads turned away from the tracks, which have been removed. Continue a little further and you will cross beneath the CSX Chicago Line. On the other side is a grade crossing for a track that connects the Valley Line with the Chicago Line.
This is part of a wye on the Valley Line. Pull to the side next to these tracks and you will have a good view of the coaling tower. This is CSX property and although it is not used much you will still be trespassing. Get your photographs and leave. It is rare to see a train here. Continue further south on Eastwood and you will come to the former grade crossing with the Erie.
There are many other places to see and photograph trains in the Akron area. Brittain Yard, the most active railroad yard left in Akron, can be seen from Interstate 76, but public access to locations from which to photograph yard operations are limited. A gate protects the entrance to the yard.
Southeast of Akron in Mogadore the former AC&Y connected with the Cleveland-Zanesville line of the original W&LE. Wheeling trains still make use of this wye.
West of Akron on the former AC&Y is a restored station in Copley. It is just off Copley Road and easily accessible. There is a caboose parked there and a historical society owns the building.
Finally, you won’t see any trains here, but while you are in downtown Akron you should see out the Akron Terminal of the Northern Ohio Traction and Light company, located near the intersection of Perkins and Main streets. The train shed, which had eight tracks, is now used for parking, but is otherwise intact. The terminal building, a four-story white granite building, still stands and is owned by Summit County. It is best to visit this site on weekends when the offices are closed and you can literally drive into the train shed.
Food and beverages: They are plentiful all over Akron.