Railroads: CSX (former Baltimore & Ohio), Wheeling & Lake Erie, Akron Barberton Cluster (former Erie)
Traffic: The CSX New Castle Subdivision, part of the former B&O Chicago-Pittsburgh mainline, sees about 20 trains a day. CSX traffic is a mix of intermodal, manifest and mineral trains. Traffic is sparse on the W&LE and ABC, usually no more than two trains a day, if that. The CSX line has enough trains to attract the railfan, but traffic can be spotty. You can sit at Kent for more than an hour, even two hours, and not see a train. Or you might get three trains in less than 45 minutes.
Radio Frequencies: 160.230 (CSX road) 160.320 (CSX dispatcher) 161.025 (W&LE, ABC)
Highlights: If you haven’t been to downtown Kent to railfan or photograph trains in recent five years it’s time to give this Portage County city another look. What Kent lacks in traffic it more than makes up for with intriguing photograph possibilities. CSX follows the Cuyahoga River through town, which means that trains can be photographed from bridges on Lake Street, Crain Avenue, Main Street and Middlebury Road. The tracks pass through downtown Kent on a north-south orientation.
There is plenty of opportunity to photograph trains at river level, too. A few years ago the channel of the Cuyahoga River was rerouted to bypass the Kent dam. The river now flows through a narrow path next to the CSX tracks through an old canal lock. This was part of a project to open the Cuyahoga River.
The Kent dam is still there, but now just decorative. As part of the project, the city expanded a riverside park so now you can walk around the dam on land that used to be under water. Although this was not done for the benefit of railfans, it had the effect of creating numerous new vistas from which to watch and photograph trains.
The city also converted a lane on the Main Street bridge into a parking lot. You can park on the bridge and watch trains from your car if you care to do that. What it all means is that downtown Kent is one of the most engaging railfanning spots in northeast Ohio.
It is also one of the most challenging. With the CSX tracks at river level, they do not get direct sunlight in early morning or late day. Trees on the river’s west bank block direct late day sunlight. It can be frustrating when the light is right for a particular photograph, but there is no train. Or there is a train but the lighting is not right. Figure that Kent is a place you will need to visit and explore several times.
But what photo possibilities that Kent offers. There is a river, the arches of the Main Street bridge, an old dam, the picturesque Erie passenger station, a grain elevator and lots of nature to work with.
You can photograph trains from above on the Main Street bridge, low along the Cuyahoga River, or somewhere in between. The stairway to the park from the Main Street bridge offers porches with good photo vantage points, particularly if you want to work the Erie depot into your picture. There also is an elevated platform overlooking the canal lock right next to the CSX tracks.
On the east side above the CSX tracks is a strip of land along the former Erie tracks from which to photograph trains. Pick a spot just south of the Erie station next to a fence atop the retaining wall next to the CSX tracks and you can compose a nice shot of water coming over the dam and the Main Street bridge in the background. This shot works best in mid to late morning with westbound CSX trains. The waterfall on the dam is turned off during the winter but the dam still makes a nice prop year round.
From the Main Street bridge follow a path that runs parallel to the river and CSX tracks. To the south the path leads to Summit Street where on the other side is another park. That park features a platform jutting out into the river – making it a nice vantage point to photograph trains – and a parking lot and picnic tables. To the north, the path leads to a point just short of Crain Avenue. There are a few openings that lead to the river.
The former B&O passenger and freight stations still stand in Kent, although the latter is in decrepit condition. It is located just south of Summit Street whereas the passenger depot is just north of Summit.
There is a nice shot to be had of trains passing the B&O passenger station from above near the Erie Station. You will need a telephoto lens. The tracks curve northward at Summit Street and curve eastward just north of the Crain Avenue bridge.
Having a scanner is essential in Kent. There are no grade crossings north of Main Street so westbound trains can sneak up on you with little warning. Westbounds come around a curve and if you are along the river by the time you see or hear the train it might be on top of you. There is better warning for eastbound trains because they sound their horns for the Summit Street crossing.
A radio is also handy because you might hear the IO dispatcher in Indianapolis talking to trains as far away as Warwick. Those conversations sometimes yield information about what is coming and when. When trains call the dispatcher you will hear a tone burst that sounds like the ringing of a phone with a strange bell.
Radio reception is good atop the Main Street bridge, but spotty along the river. You should hear the trains calling signals and even the dispatcher channel if you are at river level, but you’ll hear radio transmissions from further distances if you are higher up.
Food and Beverages: The Erie station has a restaurant called the Pufferbelly. Ray’s Place on Water Street a block away is a Kent landmark known for excellent burgers and plentiful beverages. There is a deli at the corner of Main and Water Streets, and a pub named Zephyr. These places are within walking distance. Kent is a college town (Kent State University) and Main Street is lined with fast food emporiums, coffee shops and sandwich shops seeking the student dollar.
Notable: During the inevitable lulls, walk around the dam and read the plaques providing history and vintage photographs. One plaque is dedicated to Kent’s railroad history.