Railroads: Norfolk Southern (former Pennsylvania), CSX (former Baltimore & Ohio), Akron Barberton Cluster (former Erie)
Traffic: About 50-60 trains a day on NS, 20-24 trains a day on CSX and weekly service on the ABC.
Radio Frequencies: NS, 161.070 (road and dispatcher); CSX, 160.230 (road), 160.320 (dispatcher); ABC, 161.025.
Highlights: Ravenna is the crossing of the NS Cleveland-Pittsburgh line with the CSX Chicago-Pittsburgh line. NS crosses over CSX just east of Diamond Street. Years ago there was a connecting track between these former Pennsylvania and former B&O routes. Some PRR passenger trains used this connection and trackage rights on the B&O to operate via Youngstown. A New York Central subsidiary, Lake Erie & Western, also used this connection, operating on the B&O between Youngstown and Ravenna and the Pennsy between Ravenna and Brady Lake.
For several years Ohio passenger train advocates have been pushing for the state to pay to reinstall the connection so that Amtrak trains could operate between Cleveland and Pittsburgh via Youngstown. The advocates have also called for extending Amtrak’s New York-Pittsburgh Pennsylvanian to Cleveland via Youngstown. Currently, Amtrak’s Capitol Limited passes through Ravenna on the NS line, but comes through at night in both directions.
Railfans planning a trip to Ravenna must be content observing and photographing the considerable freight traffic that moves through the Portage County seat, which is a town of 12,000.
Norfolk Southern is not very shootable from Diamond Street. Back in the Penn Central and Conrail days, it could’ve easily been done, but vegetation has since grown up to the point that NS trains can only be seen passing above CSX and Diamond Street, and a few places in between. If you don’t mind the walls of the bridge blocking the trucks, you can shoot westbound trains passing above CSX, but that is about it.
The best place to shoot NS trains is the Lake Street crossing. Lake Street runs east from Diamond Street about a half mile south of the CSX crossing. There is a gravel parking area (for the signal maintainer when he stops by) that railfans park in. Eastbound trains can be seen approaching, but there is a big sweeping curve that westbounds tackle just before hitting the crossing. There may not be much to shoot of eastbounds, but the sweeping curve, and nearby industries make for nice photos of westbounds.
The CP 86 signals on NS can be seen in the distance to the west from Lake Street. They are only lighted if a train is on the approach. This was known as CP Rave in the Conrail days, and an old tower used to stand at the universal crossover located there. Rave closed in the 1990s, and was demolished in 2007. The signals, which were originally PRR style position light signals, were replaced in 1997 when Conrail upgraded the interlocking, with newer New York Central style signals.
This is cab signal territory on NS, meaning that CP 86 is about all that you’ll hear on the scanner. There is a defect detector at MP 81 to the east at Rootstown that you will hear, and if reception is good, you might pick up crews calling signals at CP 94 in Hudson. Other than that, not much discussion occurs on the radio on NS other than the occasional conversation with the Cleveland Terminal dispatcher, who control the territory west of Ravenna, or the Cleveland Line disaptcher, who control the route east of Ravenna. If a cab signal aspect changes, you may hear a train call something like “approach in the cab” and give a milepost location. Also, keep in mind that the PRR’s tracks were numbered differently. The northern track is Main 2, and the southern track is Main 1. So if you hear a train on track 2 at the Rootstown detector, it may be headed your way.
A byproduct of cab signal territory is that no foreign power units can lead a train unless some sort of special instance allows it. The lead unit must either be of former Conrail heritage, a fairly new NS unit, or has has been retro-fitted with cab signals. It is not that foreign power never appears on NS here, just that it will always be in the trailing position. This can make for boring power consists, but the venues and photo opportunities make up for that.
The curve that westbounds take on, can easily be captured from Lake Street with a 50 mm lens. It is recommended that in the afternoon, when the sun is more to the west, that you can stand on the inside of the curve and get the industries in the background. There are two private crossings to the east that trains must blow their horn for, so you will know that a train is coming even if you don’t hear the detector go off. To the west, there are no crossings until just outside of Hudson, but you can easily see trains approaching on the tangent track.
What most railfans do is sit at Lake Street on the busier NS line until hearing a CSX train calling signals. Then you can scoot over to Diamond Street or Chestnut Street to photograph it. If a train calls “Clear, east on two, Blackhorse” or “Clear, west on one, East End Ravenna,” you only have a couple minutes to pick your spot. The maximum track speed on NS is 50 mph for manifest freights and 60 mph for intermodals. On CSX, it is 40 mph for manifests and 50 mph for intermodals.
Chestnut Street can be accessed from Lake Street. The CSX crossing on Chestnut Street is probably the more popular of the two CSX crossings in town (not counting Lakewood Road, at the far west end of town in Blackhorse). RN Tower used to stand to the west of this crossing, and could’ve been included it by using a telephoto lens. Unfortunately, in mid 2008, the tower was demolished, leaving for not a whole lot to shoot for eastbounds on CSX. There is a bridge abutment remaining, from when the old PRR connections used to cross above the ex-B&O, but that isn’t much of a photo prop.
Westbounds on CSX can be shot coming under Prospect Road and past the old bakery, which is now an antique mall. Westbounds take somewhat of a banked curve here, although it is nothing compared to the NS curve at Lake Street. Parking can be found at the Antique Mall, and the crossing is only a short walk away. If you are in a hurry and hear a CSX train calling signals on the scanner while sitting next to the NS, you can probably duck into the signal maintainer’s parking space for a couple minutes, get the shot and then and get out.
The aforementioned Lakewood Road crossing on CSX at the far west end of town isn’t much for photography. There are signals just east of the crossing, which can be worked into a 18-55 mm shot. These signals are approach lighted and illuminate when a train is in the block. They will turn on just as a westbound splits them. Timing it right should leave you with an interesting shot.
On the north end of town on the former Erie mainline, the ABC operates a local. This train operates to a chemical company between Ohio Route 44 (Chestnut Street) and Ohio Route 88 (Freedom Road). The train runs once a week and/or on an as-required basis. The power is usually one of ABCs two SW1500 units, although one of the Wheeling & Lake Erie’s GP35 high noses will occasionally venture out to Ravenna. The ABC is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the ABC.
The best location to photograph the ABC local is at Oakwood Street where eastbound trains pass a small grain elevator. You can also shoot westbounds passing the same elevator. A bike and hike trail follows the ex-Erie tracks from Ravenna to Kent, and walking down this a little ways will allow for this shot. ABC train move slowly, about 10 mph, so you should have time to get back to your car and continue onward if you’re on a chase.”
Food and beverages: There are plenty of restaurants and convenience stories within Ravenna.