Railroads: Norfolk Southern (former Pennsylvania)
Traffic: Cleveland Line (50-60 trains per day); Fort Wayne Line (west of Alliance, 10-12 trains per day): Bayard Line (2-4 trains per day)
Radio Frequencies: 161.070 (road and dispatcher), 160.980 (road and dispatcher), 161.250 (road and dispatcher)
Highlights: Alliance is a crossroads of the Norfolk Southern. In the Pennsylvania Railroad era, the Cleveland Line and Fort Wayne Line crossed here. The Fort Wayne Line was by far the busiest, hosting the road’s Chicago-New York/Washington passenger fleet, including the Broadway Limited, Pennsylvania Limited, Manhattan Limited, Admiral, General, Liberty Limited, and Trail Blazer.
There was considerable traffic on the Cleveland Line, which hosted several passenger trains between Cleveland and Pittsburgh. However, not all Cleveland Line passenger trains came through Alliance. Some diverged onto the Baltimore & Ohio at Ravenna and went via Youngstown. Much of the traffic on the Cleveland Line was coal and iron ore
That all changed during the Conrail era. Wishing to downgrade the Fort Wayne Line in western Ohio and across Indiana, Conrail diverted most of the freight using the route to the former New York Central line via Cleveland. All of that traffic still passed through Alliance, but now it came into town from the north on the Cleveland Line rather than from the west on the Fort Wayne Line. Conrail built a double track connection in 1983 between the Cleveland Line and Fort Wayne line in Alliance.
Further traffic pattern changes occurred after Conrail was divided between NS and CSX. Conrail had continued to make heavy use of the Fort Wayne Line east of Crestline, routing its freight traffic to and from Pittsburgh from Columbus, Cincinnati, Indianapolis and St. Louis over the route. But since NS has taken over, the number of trains on the Fort Wayne Line west of Alliance has diminished.
Technically speaking, most NS trains operate between Cleveland and Alliance on the Cleveland Line, go around the connection in Alliance and then operate between Alliance and Pittsburgh on the Fort Wayne Line. From an operations standpoint, the Cleveland Line dispatcher controls the territory east of Ravenna.
The former Cleveland Line south of Alliance is now known as the Bayard Line. When the normal route to Pittsburgh is blocked, trains will detour on the Bayard Line, which primarily exists to serve industries along the Ohio River. Trains can use the Bayard line to Pittsburgh by making a turn at Yellow Creek, Ohio, and going east to Rochester, Pennsylvania, where they rejoin the Fort Wayne Line. South of Yellow Creek, the line goes to Mingo Junction.
The best-known railfan spot in Alliance is at the Amtrak Station, located just east of downtown on Main Street. It is visible just after passing beneath the Martin Luther King Viaduct. This station is served twice a day by the Chicago-Washington Capitol Limited, which runs in both directions during the night hours.
Although there is not much photogenic looking at the Alliance interlocking from the station, you can get an idea of your surroundings. At the station, right in front of you, the Fort Wayne Line splits into two lines — a double track connection and a single track.
The single track crosses a diamond and proceeds westward around a curve, where it can be seen becoming two tracks again. This is still known as the Fort Wayne Line, just as it is out of Pittsburgh. Norfolk Southern ownership of this line ends at Bucyrus, Ohio, where Norfolk Southern traffic turns south (toward Columbus) or north (toward Bellevue) onto the Sandusky District.
The tracks continue straight across the Sandusky District at the Colsan (NS spelling) or Colson (Conrail spelling) interlocking in Bucyrus, but west of there the Fort Wayne Line is operated by the Chicago, Fort Wayne & Eastern Railroad. NS does some minor interchanging with the CFW&E at Bucyrus. Of course at one time this was PRR all the way to Chicago.
The double track connection that takes off of the Fort Wayne Line at Alliance ends up merging into the north-south line that crosses the diamond. North of where the double track connection hits this line is known as the Cleveland Line. The majority of all train traffic that comes out of Pittsburgh on the Fort Wayne Line swings around the connection and heads up the Cleveland Line.
The Cleveland Line, the Alliance connection and the Fort Wayne Line east of Alliance are cab signal territory, meaning there is a lack of trackside signals, and a lack of diverse motive power. All lead units will be of the NS persuasion with a few former Conrail units on the point of some trains.
You may hear something to the effect of, “NS 25Z, medium approach in the cab, milepost 84.” That is the crew calling a cab signal indication change. The trackside signals at Alliance are called like any other normal signal and are known as CP Alliance (MP 83.2 on the Fort Wayne Line, MP 67 on the Cleveland Line) on all four quadrants of the interlocking.
The line continuing south through the diamonds, just to the west of you, is the Bayard Line. This is the least busy line through town, with only a couple coal trains, and the occasional mixed freight. The coal trains are 416 and 417 and they usually have BNSF power in the trailing position. Mixed freights 10E and 11E also operate across the Bayard Line, if necessary. The Bayard Line runs south to the town of Bayard (just outside of Minerva), where NS interchanges with Ohi-Rail Corporation. From here, the line heads through the rolling hills and into the Ohio River Valley.
A local, NS C45 out of Canton, operates a couple times weekly to Bayard. This local heads east on the Fort Wayne Line from the yard in Canton to a single track connection at Alliance from the Fort Wayne Line to the Bayard Line.
A largely abandoned railroad yard is located adjacent to the Amtrak Station across the Fort Wayne Line and the connection tracks. This yard once was a medium-sized hub that a couple locals worked out of. Now it is a storage area, and bad order car set outs.
If Whitestone, a stone customer of NS, is receiving a train, a road freight may drop off a couple units in this yard, but that is about the only active operation that you’ll see. Whitestone is located on the west end of town on the Fort Wayne Line. It owns a white U-boat that can be seen from Freshley Road. But it is off limits. Still, if Whitestone is switching stone cars, the U-boat may come out to public view and can be photographed.
A very small railroad yard is located south of the interlocking on the Bayard Line. This yard is only used occasionally by the C45 local and if a train is waiting for permission into the interlocking. There is no yard office, nor is there power sitting around. The distant signal to the interlocking is located within this yard and it is a NYC-style tri-light signal.
The rest of the signals in the interlocking are PRR position lights, except the ones guarding the interlocking to the east on the Fort Wayne Line. They were replaced in 2004 with newer NORAC signals.
A talking defect detector is located to the east of Alliance in Sebring. It is at MP 79.8, at the Sebring depot. This detector can be heard with a decent radio scanner. If you hear it talk about a train on track 2, then chances are, you only have about a few minutes to react, before a westbound comes charging through.
Luckily for photographers, most trains get a less than ideal cab signal indication coming into the interlocking so you may hear them call that if you miss hearing the detector. If you miss the cab signal indication then the next thing the train will talk about is the signal indication at CP Alliance. At that point, you better just get out and turn the camera on — because the train is here!
As for hearing train horns, the nearest crossing to the west on the Fort Wayne Line is Mahoning Avenue, which can be seen in the distance around the curve. Beyond that there are two more crossings.
To the north on the Cleveland Line it is crossing after crossing, so you’ll know someone is coming. You may even a train call the signals at CP 73 in Atwater, but that is quite far, so you may not hear. Again, trains may get a “lower priority” cab signal indication coming into town on the Cleveland Line, at about MP 69. That you should hear with a decent scanner. You are at MP 67 on the Cleveland Line and MP 83 on the Fort Wayne Line at the Amtrak Station.
As for photography possibilities, as mentioned the views in the vicinity of the Amtrak Station can be rather boring. The banked curves of the connection, the signal box reading “Alliance” and the distant signal bridge at CP Alliance are about all that’s worthwhile. Several shots here will get you what you need.
A better spot is up on the Martin Luther King Viaduct. If you have good legs, you can walk up the embankment of the bridge from the Amtrak Station. If not, then parking can be found at bridge level. There are several holes in the chain link fence on the bridge that you can stick your camera lens through. Shots of trains coming by the abandoned yard, across the diamond, by the station and by a grain elevator, can all be accomplished from this bridge. The grain elevator is located at the Patterson Street crossing, which is the first crossing north on the Cleveland Line from the station.
A shot of a westbound on the connection can be caught passing the elevator at this crossing. It can easily be managed with a 50-mm lens. Looking west from Patterson Street, you can shoot an eastbound splitting the CP Alliance signals, which are still PRR position lights. They are facing away, but make nice photo props nonetheless.
Mahoning Avenue, just east of the station and interlocking, is a great place to shoot trains splitting the newly replaced CP Alliance signals, if eastbound, or coming around a sweeping curve, if westbound. If you use a wide-angle lens, you can even incorporate downtown Alliance into the background of a shot of an eastbound with low cars.
On the Fort Wayne Line west of town, a small barn located at Freshley Avenue is a decent photo prop for westbounds. For eastbounds, the Sawburg Road overpass is pretty decent and with a telephoto lens you can get the Whitestone U-boat in the background.
Some railfans enjoy going to the intersection of Ohio Route 225 (Union Avenue) and Vine Street, both of which cross the NS Cleveland Line. A nice grassy area allows for a great place to sit. Views of trains approaching are pretty good as well. Telephoto shots of trains coming under the U.S. Route 62 bypass are pretty neat and can be managed with a 250 mm lens from here.
To get into the industrial area of Alliance, turning down Rush Street from Keystone, which runs off of Ohio Route 225, will take you to the PTC Alliance plant. It is home to a small, light blue SW8 switcher locomotive. This unit operates a couple times weekly by remote control. It’s one chime horn can be heard when making reverse moves from the Amtrak Station. This unit takes cars to an NS interchange track, where a local presumably picks them up to take them elsewhere.
On the Bayard Line, going to Broadway Street, Summit Street or Mahoning Avenue to shoot trains is good enough. There are plenty of angles and industries that allow for nice photography in both directions. I don’t think you can take a photo in any direction from these crossings without accidentally getting some sort of photo prop in the image. The only problem to contend with is the lack of trains. But as soon as you hear 416 or 417 on your scanner, make a dash for one of these crossings. You won’t regret it.
If these spots in Alliance don’t impress you, another interesting spot is Sebring. Located about 5 miles east of Alliance, the town is home to a depot that houses a model railroad club. The busy mainline is just a few feet away. Plenty of crossings make for insane horn action, if that is your thing. The depot building can be incorporated into photos using a telephoto or wide-angle lens. This is worth looking into.
Food and Beverages: There are plenty of places to find food and drink in Alliance. Go back up Main Street to Ohio Route 183 and turn south (left). This will take you past some restaurants, fast food eateries and convenience stores. Additional places are located on U.S. Route 62 in either direction in the south end of town.