Railroads: CSX (former New York Central), Norfolk Southern (former Nickel Plate
Traffic: About 50 to 60 trains a day on CSX, about 12 trains a day on NS.
Radio Frequencies: CSX, 160.860 (road), 161.520 (dispatcher); NS, 161.250 (road and dispatcher). The CSX IG dispatcher controls traffic in Cleveland and can be heard on 160.800.
Highlights: Perry is probably best known as the home of a nuclear power plant and its cooling towers loom over the land to the north near Lake Erie. For the railfan, though, Perry is the place where NS and CSX lines come together and run in close proximity to nearby Madison before veering away.
Perry sits between U.S. 2 and Ohio Route 84. To reach it from Route 84, turn onto Narrows Road, which becomes Main Street in town. There is ample parking on the north side of the crossing with CSX, either on the street or in the large parking lot shared by Perry Coal and Feed and a tavern. Although this vantage point offers an excellent view of CSX, you will have to get out and walk toward the NS tracks if you want to photograph its trains because trees obscure the view.
Perry can also be reached from Route 84 by turning onto Maple Street. From U.S. 20, turn onto either Center Road or Call Road, both of which will eventually intersect Main Street.
CSX is the main attraction in Perry with a mix of intermodal, mainfest and unit trains on the former New York Central Water Level Route. Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited comes through here, too, but is scheduled through in the wee hours of the morning westbound and just before dawn eastbound. During the summer months you might have enough light to get the eastbound Lake Shore, particularly if it is late.
Aside from hearing crews call the signals, another way to be forewarned of approaching CSX trains is a detector at Madison to the east and at Painesville to the west. CSX comes through Perry on a tangent, so good old-fashioned looking down the tracks will work, too, if you do not have a radio.
NS has two lines in Perry. There is the Cleveland-Buffalo mainline and a branch that diverges at Perry to go westward. The branch is the former Fairport, Painesville & Eastern, which was an independent railroad until being purchased in 1984 by Norfolk & Western. A local that originates at Conneaut serves the branch, usually operating three days a week.
NS crews also call signals and there is a detector just east of Painesville that will warn of approaching eastbound trains. NS trains are under the jurisdiction of the Youngstown Line dispatcher, which controls the line westward to UD in Euclid.
Perry is the western terminus of Perry siding. The block signals in town, which are constant lighted, might give an idea whether any moves are planned through the area in the immediate future. But traffic on NS can be hit and miss. You can sit for hours at Perry and see plenty of CSX trains, but hear nary a peep on the NS radio channel.
Photographing NS trains in Perry presents a challenge. Most shots are rather tight, although you can use the signals as props. For the adventurous who have good road maps, there are a grade crossings between Perry and Madison on Davis Road, Townline Road and Wood Road at which to photograph both railroads. A former Nickel Plate freight station still stands in Madison. It is situated just west of the crossing with North Lake Street.
Perhaps the most dramatic photographs are of the Painesville trestle over the Grand River. To reach the trestle, take Ohio 84 west until you see the bridge. Just beneath the trestle is a pull off that often has vehicles belonging to fishermen parked there. Walk south of the bridge, following a well-worn path at the river’s edge. A good view is from a sandbar where a small side wash comes down to the river. A little exploration will yield other good vantagepoints of the plate girder span that is similar to NKP bridges at Ashtabula and Conneaut.
For a upper level view of the trestle, turn onto Riverview Drive, which crosses the NS tracks at grade. Park just off the road at a highway maintenance facility and walk across a small grassy field toward the trestle. This view works best in winter as the vegetation tends to grow up during the summer and obscure the view of the bridge.
There are a number of props to work into your photographs at Perry including the former NYC freight house and a signal bridge that has been shorn of its signals.
Food and beverages: Perry is a village and the choice of eateries is slim. The tavern next to the tracks attracts quite a few locals to eat and may be a good choice. Perry is located on the eastern fringe of the Cleveland metropolitan area. Numerous restaurants are available nearby in Painesville and Mentor, some of which are just off Interstate 90. Closer to Perry, there are restaurants in Madison along Main Street.