Brady Lake (Towner’s Woods Park)
Railroads: Norfolk Southern (former Pennsylvania), Akron Barberton Cluster (former Erie)
Traffic: The NS Cleveland line is part of the heavy-volume Chicago-Pittsburgh route. Typically 50 to 60 trains a day use this route, many of them intermodal trains. Manifest freights are plentiful and there are some coal and unit trains. Amtrak’s Capitol Limited uses this line, but is scheduled through in the dead of night. Trains on the ABC operate weekly to Ravenna or on an as-needed basis. Alas, they are not needed that often. They are most likely to operate on weekday mornings.
Radio frequencies: NS, 161.070 (road and dispatcher); ABC, 161.025 (road).
Highlights: Towner’s Woods Park, which is maintained by Portage (County) Park District, is located on the north lip of the cut containing the Norfolk Southern double-track Cleveland line. It also is adjacent to the bridge carrying the ABC over NS.
Like any mainline, the NS route has its lull periods, but they usually don’t last long. However, knowing when trains are coming on NS can be a challenge. The tracks are in a cut and bridges and curves make it difficult to spot approaching trains. There are no grade crossing on the NS line, so trains aren’t blowing their horns, either. If you hear a train horn, it’s probably a nearby CSX train on the former Baltimore & Ohio.
NS crews call signals, but this line has cab signals. The nearest lineside signals are at Ravenna (CP 86) and Hudson (CP 94). There is a talking defect detector at Rootstown (MP 81). If you have a good radio you can pick these things up, but otherwise a train can be on top of you before you have time to react.
If the cab signal indication changes, crews are by rule supposed to call the signal indication over the radio. Thus you might hear something like, “NS 20G approach in the cab at (milepost location).”
The cab signal system also means that you won’t see any non-Norfolk Southern locomotives on the lead of a train. About the only color you will see on the point other than NS black is Conrail blue on unrepainted ex-Conrail locomotives owned by NS.
One challenge to photographing NS trains is the fences on the Ravenna Road bridge over the tracks. You can shoot from the sides, although vegetation might spoil some shots. Otherwise, you need a ladder to elevate yourself enough to get straight on shots. Brady Lake Tower can be worked into photographs of NS trains, but this shot works best in the winter. During the other seasons the tower is obscured by vegetation.
For the historically minded, there is much to ponder at Brady Lake. Brady Lake Tower, a sturdy concrete structure built by the Pennsylvania Railroad stands inside the park. The tower has been closed for years and you can’t get inside it.
At one time, this tower controlled a junction with the Lake Erie & Pittsburgh route from Cleveland. Trains on this New York Central subsidiary used the Pennsylvania between Brady Lake and Ravenna and the Baltimore & Ohio between Ravenna and Youngstown. The eastbound LE&P track ran alongside the PRR for a short distance before merging into it at Brady Lake. The westbound LE&P track diverged at Brady Lake and rose on a grade until crossing over the Pennsy west of Lake Rockwell Road.
Although Penn Central abandoned most of the LE&P, the bridge carrying the westbound track over the former Pennsy stood unused until being removed in the early 1990s. The only remnant of the LE&P is a spur that diverges near Brady Lake Road and leads to a sand and gravel pit at Hugo (Twin Lakes).
If you feel like taking a hike, the park has a trail that parallels the former Erie between Ravenna Road and Lake Rockwell Road.
Less than a mile away, there are nice photographs to be had of the NS line from the Lake Rockwell Road bridge. Unlike the Ravenna Road bridge, there are no fences on the Lake Rockwell Road bridge. However, there is no convenient parking, either. Your best bet is drive down there if you know a train is coming, pull as close to the side of the bridge as possible, get your shot and return to the park.
Food and Beverages: None are available at the park other than a water fountain. There are plenty of eateries and such in nearby Kent and in Streetsboro along Ohio Route 14. The latter is the easiest to reach from Brady Lake and offers an array of options ranging from fast food franchises to sit down restaurants.
Notable: The parking lot of the park is situated on the original Cleveland & Pittsburgh right of way. The Pennsylvania built an “air line” between Hudson and Ravenna in 1905 without grade crossings.