Railroads: CSX (former New York Central), Norfolk Southern (former Nickel Plate Road), Bessemer & Lake Erie.
Traffic: About 50 to 60 trains a day on CSX, about 12 trains a day on NS, 2 trains a day on B&LE.
Radio Frequencies: CSX, 160.860 (road), 161.520 (dispatcher); NS, 161.250 (road and dispatcher); B&LE, 160.830 (road and dispatcher), 160.215, 161.310 (yard).
Highlights: Located in the far northeast corner of Ohio, Conneaut is a town of 13,000 that offers much variety for the railfan. There is the busy CSX mainline between Cleveland and Buffalo, a moderately busy NS line between the same cities, and regional carrier B&LE, now owned by Canadian National. And when the trains aren’t running you can visit the Conneaut Historical Railroad Museum, housed in the former New York Central depot. The museum is open during the summer months, but the expansive grounds are accessible year-round and feature Nickel Plate S-2 class Berkshire No. 755 on static display.
Inside the museum, located at Sandusky and Depot streets, are scale models, timetables, lanterns, baggage and mail carts, and a model railroad layout. The NYC depot dates to 1900 and the museum was dedicated May 19, 1966.
The museum is a good starting point in Conneaut. There is ample on-street parking or you can park north of the tracks in a gravel lot just off Sandusky Street adjacent to the former NYC freight station. The old freight house is home to the Conneaut Area Historical Society. The passenger station and its grounds make nice photo props. To the west is a large water tower that makes a nice prop for eastbounds.
Conneaut is at MP 114.5 on CSX. The nearest defect detector is at Springfield, Pa. (MP 108.6). The closest detector west of Conneaut is in Ashtabula, 12 miles away. The best way to know of approaching trains is listen for the crews to call signals on the radio.
Amtrak’s eastbound Lake Shore Limited can be photographed in the early morning during the summer. It reaches Conneaut about a hour after departing Cleveland. The westbound train slips through Conneaut at night.
During the Nickel Plate days, Conneaut was home to a major yard and shops. Some may remember that during the waning days of steam there were long lines of steam locomotives sitting in Conneaut waiting to be sent to the scrapper.
The NKP passenger depot and shops are gone, and the yard is not what it used to be. But some trains still change crews here and locals originate here.
Although a few city streets cross the tracks, there are not many ideal locations within Conneaut from which to photograph NS trains. Until recently, the crossing at Parrish Road at the west end of the yard was a good photograph vantagepoint. But Parrish Road now has a bridge over the tracks. Parking at the bridge is limited, but Malelr Park a short distance to the north has ample parking. There are nice views from the bridge, which unfortunately has a chain link fence on it and no sidewalk on the east side. Parrish Road also goes over the CSX tracks on a new bridge.
The premier spot for photographing NS trains is also a good place to photograph B&LE trains. Go east on Main Street and down a hill. Main Street changes to Old Main Road. At the bottom you will cross the B&LE tracks and Conneaut Creek. Although not a public park per se, many locals park on the south shoulder of Old Main Road and walk a well-worn path along the creek to their favorite fishing spot. The woods also have trails frequented by all terrain vehicles.
From the Old Main Road bridge over Conneaut Creek you can see the NS trestle, a 1,320-foot plate girder span. The path will take you closer to the trestle and bring better vantagepoints. The frustrating thing about hanging out along the creek is that you can be there for hours without seeing a train. In the meantime you will hear and perhaps catch a glimpse of train after train on CSX. But the rewards of waiting can be well worth the nice photographs that you’ll get.
Conneaut Creek is a nice venue to photograph Bessemer trains. Conneaut is the northern terminus of the B&LE, which has a port at which Lake Erie freighters unload iron ore. That and limestone make up most of the freight hauled by the B&LE out of Conneaut. It has been this way for decades. Until 2001, the B&LE was owned by U.S. Steel, which used the railroad to haul raw materials to Pittsburgh area mills.
B&LE trains originate in Greenville, Pa., and tend to operate to Conneaut in daylight hours. Typically, a train leaves Greenville in the morning, arrives in Conneaut in late morning to early afternoon and departs after a couple of hours. During the layover the crew will be doing a lot of switching and talking on the radio as it makes up its outbound consist.
That’s the good news. The bad news is the B&LE doesn’t operate to Conneaut every day and it is difficult to know when a Bessemer train is coming. The Conneaut branch is a dark railroad and crews have little reason to talk on the radio en route. If you’re lucky, you might hear the dispatcher in Troy, Michigan, give a northbound a track warrant at Albion, Pa., to use the Conneaut branch. Or you might hear an inbound train contact the yardmaster for yarding instructions. Then again a B&LE train might just show up.
Consequently, it can be difficult to know when a train is ready to leave Conneaut because the crew does not always announce its intentions on the radio.
At times, a train will come out of the yard for head room and get as far as the Old Main Road crossing before backing back into the yard. The yard engine stationed at Conneaut sometimes moves out along Conneaut Creek while working a cut of cars.
Another way to check on the Bessemer is to take Woodworth Road, the first left as you head east on Old Main Road. This gravel road crosses the NS tracks and ducks under CSX. On the other side you’ll notice a gate and a sign notifying you that this is CN property. However, many locals park just outside the gate and go fishing in Conneaut Creek. At this location is a view of the Bessemer yard. If a train has come to Conneaut from Greenville, you likely will see its locomotives.
Yet another vista of the yard is available in town. There is a small city park near the lake that overlooks the dock area of the Bessemer yard. If a B&LE train is working the loading facilities, this is a good place to watch it, although the view is distant. Getting closer would require trespassing on CN property, which is fenced off and protected by closed gates. To reach the park, go north on Harbor Street and turn right onto Park Avenue.
Bessemer trains must descend a fairly steep grade coming into Conneaut, a route that also includes a horseshore curve. Thus trains must move slowly. In the middle of the curve is Welton Road. It makes for a nice shot, but the area here is heavily forested. Other crossings of the B&LE include Middle, Furnace and Dorman roads.
Cross into Pennsylvania on U.S. 20 and you will soon come to Pond Road. Go right to the B&LE crossing for a nice photo vantagepoint that includes an open field across which you can photograph outbound trains.
The U.S. 20 viaduct over the B&LE (East Main Road) offers sweepings vistas of the Bessemer, particularly to the north. If you have a powerful telephoto lens, you can even capture trains on the NS trestle. Although there is no parking on the bridge, you can park on a cul-de-sac on Keyes Street at the west end of the bridge.
About nine miles west of Conneaut is Kingsville. The former Nickel Plate depot has been converted into a private business. It is located on the south side of the tracks just east of the crossing of Main Street.
Food and beverages: Conneaut is a small town so the range of restaurants is limited. There is a McDonalds in downtown Conneaut and a handful of local eateries and convenience stores.
Notable: Locomotive preservationist Doyle McCormick was born in Conneaut. Nickel Plate Bershire No. 759 was restored in Conneaut in preparation for a May 1969 excursion train from New York to Kansas City en route to the recreation of the ceremony in Utah to mark completion of the first transcontinental railroad.