Railroads: CSX (former N\ew York Central, former Baltimore & Ohio); Wheeling & Lake Erie (via CSX trackage rights on the Indianapolis Line.)
Traffic: About 50 to 60 trains a day
Radio Frequencies: Indianapolis Line, 160.860 (road), 160.800, dispatcher); Lorain branch, 160.230 (road), 160.320 (dispatcher)
Highlights: Grafton is a small town 25 miles southwest of Cleveland that is home to the crossing of two CSX routes. By far the busiest route is the Indianapolis Line, which hosts much of CSX’s traffic between Chicago and the Mid Atlantic region. The Lorain branch sees but two trains a day, a local that originates at Lester and operates to Lorain and back.
The tower that guarded the crossing of these two routes still stands, although it has been moved. It is now adjacent to the Indianapolis line and makes for a nice photo prop. The city owns the tower and plans to create a park at the tower site. Some restoration work has been done.
Parking is available on a city street next to the tower or at a Laundromat across the tracks. By standing in front of a used car dealer on Ohio Route 57 by the grade crossing, you can get nice shots of westbound trains passing the tower on the Indianapolis line. For shots of eastbounds, a good vantage point is a dirt lot next to the laundromat. However, this lot is CSX property so it would be best to get your photos and then retreat to your car or another location on public property.
There is an old freight house west of the tracks, but it is difficult to work this building into photographs except, perhaps, of trains on the Lorain branch. The freight house is not immediately adjacent to any tracks.
The diamond of the Indianapolis Line and Lorain branch, known to the railroad as CP25, is located just south of the Route 57 grade crossing. In fact, the diamond is so close to the street that the sidewalk makes a short detour to avoid it.
The Lorain local generally operates Sunday through Friday. By monitoring the Lorain branch road channel, you might here the crew talking on the radio as it makes up its train at Lester.
Route 57 runs parallel to the Lorain branch for a few miles near Grafton, so you could go out to intercept the train or chase it on its return to Lester.
Lorain branch trains must contact the dispatcher for the Indianapolis Line to get the signal to cross the diamond. Sometimes they get a clear signal right away, but if there is much nearby traffic they may be sitting for a while. If the local is short, it might wait at the home signal. But if it is long, it will likely wait outside of town until advised by the dispatcher to come down.
Grafton is located at milepost 25.4 on the Indianapolis Line. Trains crews call signal indications over the radio, but nearby detectors also can warn of approaching trains. To the northeast is a detector at Columbia (MP 19.7) and to the southwest is a detector at Lagrange (MP 32.3). The southernmost track is Track 1 and the northernmost is Track 2. However, the Indianapolis Line has bi-directional signaling on both tracks. The Lorain branch is dark territory.
Mornings tend to be the best time to photograph trains in Grafton because the lighting is more favorable for illuminating the tower. The Lorain local tends to arrive from Lester in late morning. Traffic on the Indianapolis Line can run heavy for a while and then go into a lull for an hour or more.
The Wheeling & Lake Erie has trackage rights on the Indianapolis Line between Wellington and Berea. This train does not operate daily, but when it does run it usually has symbols Z707 westbound and Z708 eastbound. The train carries coke and scrap steel bound for a steel mill in Cleveland. Because the Wheeling train must make a roundabout maneuver at Wellington to get on and off its home rails, it usually has a locomotive at each end.
Food and beverages: Grafton is a small town so the offerings are somewhat limited. But there are a number of restaurants including national chain sandwich places and various convenience stores.