Railroads: Norfolk Southern and CSX (both former New York Central). Wheeling & Lake Erie (trackage rights on CSX to the west, NS to the east).
Traffic: Both railroads typically see 50 to 60 trains a day, making this the busiest railfanning location in northeastern Ohio. Both railroads feature a multitude of intermodal trains as well as plenty of manifest freights, and some coal and unit trains. Amtrak’s Capitol Limited and Lake Shore Limited use the NS route, but are scheduled through nightime hours. The W&LE has one train that delivers coke and scrap metal. This train does not operate daily.
Radio Frequencies: 160.980 (NS road and dispatcher west of Berea), 161.070 (road and dispatcher east of Berea); CSX, 160.860 (road), 160.800 (dispatcher east of Berea).
Highlights: A high volume of traffic makes Berea the premier railfanning location in northeast Ohio. The busy Chicago-East Coast routes of Norfolk Southern and CSX pass within a few hundred yards of each other before veering away.
The NS Chicago line is the former Lake Shore & Michigan Southern, which continued to Chicago, whereas the CSX line is the former Big Four, which continued to St. Louis. Both came under the control of the New York Central in the 19th century. During the heyday of the Central, such passenger trains as the Twentieth Century Limited, Southwestern Limited, Commodore Vanderbilt, Knickerbocker, Lake Shore Limited, Mercury, New England States, Ohio State Limited and The Pacemaker rolled through Berea. Trains that served Cleveland Union Terminal used the present-day CSX route east of Berea. Those that did not board passengers in Cleveland, e.g. the Century, used the Lakefront Line, which is the present day NS route.
Berea formed the center of the Conrail X, with its major legs reaching eastward to New York and Boston and westward to Chicago and St. Louis. During Conrail days, the former Big Four was a single-track line west of Berea and had a moderate level of traffic. The Chicago line between Berea and Elkhart, Ind., carried the highest volume of freight on the Conrail system.
About a year before the Conrail carve up by CSX and NS, Conrail double-tracked the former Big Four between Berea and Greenwich. Today CSX trains originating or terminating in Chicago use the former Baltimore & Ohio between Chicago and Greenwich, the former Big Four between Greenwich and Berea, the Short Line between Berea and Collinwood Yard on Cleveland’s east side, and the former NYC Water level route east of Cleveland. Also joining the mix are trains from Columbus, Indianapolis and St. Louis.
Norfolk Southern trains use the former Water Level Route between Chicago and Berea, the Lakefront Line to downtown Cleveland and the former Pennsylvania Railroad line between the Drawbridge over the Cuyahoga River and Pittsburgh. In Conrail days, some Pittsburgh traffic used the Short Line between Berea and CP 9. At the latter, there was a connection that joined the ex-Pennsy at CP White.
All of these connections are still in place and the two railroads have agreements to use each other’s tracks. However, they seldom do so. The Toledo connection at Berea, which was quite busy in Conrail days, sits largely unused today. Likewise the W&LE is the only regular user of the Big Four connection at Berea between the Lake Front line and the former Big Four.
Railfans are fortunate that private property owners in Berea are tolerant of railfans parking on their property. Many fans park in the west parking lot of The Station restaurant, which closed in 2008. Some park on a driveway leading to a business on the south side of Depot Street just west of the restaurant parking lot, while others park on a grassy strip just west of that driveway on the south side of the street. Another parking area is adjacent to a storage business farther west on Depot Street.
From a photography standpoint, Berea offers wide-open views of both railroads. Block signals, BE tower and the former Big Four station, which used to house The Station restaurant, can be worked into photographs. A former Pennsylvania passenger car parked next to the depot can be used as a photo prop, too.
For much of the year and much of the day, the lighting is favorable with the sun behind photographers. However, during the summer, the sun crosses the tracks in late afternoon. The best time of day from a lighting standpoint is mornings. Berea is part of Cleveland and that means lake effect clouds.
In addition to many trains, you are also likely to meet a lot of railfans at Berea. Although most are from the Greater Cleveland area, it is not unusual to meet railfans from all over the country. Many don’t mind swapping railroad or railfanning stories.
Food and Beverages: There are restaurants and convenience stores north of the tracks along Front Street. Other offerings are along Bagley Road about a mile to the south.