Railroads: CSX (former New York Central), Norfolk Southern (former Nickel Plate Road, former New York Central)
Traffic: CSX, about 50 to 60 trains a day; NS, about 20 trains a day.
Radio Frequencies: CSX, 160.860 (road), 161.520 (dispatcher); NS 161.250 (ex-NKP route), 161.070 (Youngstown Line)
Highlights: Ashtabula is a busy railroad town whose rail operations can roughly be divided into two categories. There are the through trains that hardly slow down as they pass through Ashtabula on the busy CSX Cleveland-Buffalo route, which is the former NYC Water Level Route, or on the less busy ex-NKP route of Norfolk Southern. Then there is the traffic generated by the Lake Erie docks, which are served by both railroads.
With rail lines scattered all over town, it is difficult to stay in one place and take in all there is to see in this town of 20,000, which is the largest city in Ashtabula County.
One of the best vantagepoints is from the West Avenue bridge over the CSX tracks. Situated just west of the crossing of the Cleveland-Buffalo route and NS’s Youngstown Line, the bridge overlooks the CSX Ashtabula yard to the west. To the east can be seen the CSX-NS diamond and the connecting tracks at the crossing. You can’t park on the bridge, but parking is available on a city street on the east side of West Avenue, at the south end of the bridge.
A little east of the diamond is the ex-NYC Ashtabula passenger station. The building is still used by CSX, so it’s not a good idea to get too close to it. However, there is on-street parking on West 32nd Street, on which the depot sits. The best way to reach this area is to go north on Lake Street and turn left onto 32nd Street.
The CSX-NS diamond (CP 128) is just west of the depot and over the years railfans have parked in the open spaces near the southeast wye connecting track. However, this is railroad property so do this with caution as you will be trespassing. There are connecting tracks in three of the four quadrants, all but the northeast.
At the west edge of the CSX yard, there is a grade crossing with North Bend Road. There is a signal bridge just east of this crossing, which makes a nice photo prop. However, the eastbound signal heads have been removed from the bridge on Track 1 and will soon be removed from Track 2, if they have not been already. Replacement signals on lineside masts have already been installed further east.
Parking is limited at this crossing and North Bend is a busy road. There is room on the north side of the crossing to pull in, but this is railroad property. This is an area where it might be best to get your photos and then move on rather than hanging out for long periods of time.
A few miles west of Ashtabula is a nice photo location at a crossing near the intersection of Depot Road and London Road. There are signals facing both directions on masts on both sides of the tracks that make nice photo props. Detectors are located to the west at Saybrook (MP 132.5) and to the east at Ashtabula (MP 126.4).
Another get your shot and go location within Ashtabula on CSX is the crossing at Columbus Avenue. There are four tracks here and a slight curve.
NS and CSX jointly use the line that leads to the docks. One location to shoot this line is the bridge that carries West 19th Street over the tracks. There is no parking on or near the bridge, but Smith Park adjacent to the intersection of West 19th and Lake Street offers ample parking. Rail traffic here is hit and miss. Only trains going to or from the docks pass through here and there are not a whole lot of them.
As for rail operations at the dock, there are limited views of this from public property. To reach this area Lake Street north toward the lake and turn onto Bridge Street. Last year there was road and bridge construction in this area, which further limited access.
The former Nickel Plate and former NYC Youngstown line cross at a diamond in the vicinity of 52nd Street and Adams. This is largely a residential neighborhood south of downtown Ashtabula.
The ex-NKP crosses the Ashtabula River just east of downtown on a high trestle. There are two ways to photographs trains on this trestle. One way is to stand on the 46th Street bridge, which offers an expansive view of the trestle to the south. Although this is a nice view, it is obscured in many places by vegetation. The other view is on a closed street bridge over the ex-NKP. From 46th Street, go south on Valley View to 48th Street. Park on the street and walk to the bridge, which remains open to pedestrians. The trestle is to the west.
Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited passes through Ashtabula but does not stop. The eastbound train reaches Ashtabula about 50 minutes after departing Cleveland and might be photographed during the summer months, particularly if it is running late. The westbound Lake Shore comes through in darkness.
Food and beverages: There are plenty of restaurants and convenience stores in Ashtabula. Many of them are along U.S. 20 and are clustered on the east side of town near a shopping center.
Notable: The former Pennsylvania Railroad line from Ashtabula to Warren is abandoned, but has been converted into a walking and biking trail that begins in Ashtabula.
During the summer the Ashtabula, Carson & Jefferson operates a tourist train on weekends that originates at Jefferson and runs for five miles to Carson. Jefferson is 10 miles south of Ashtabul