Railroads: CSX (former Baltimore & Ohio)
Traffic: About 20 to 24 trains a day
Radio Frequencies: 160.230 (road), 160.320 (dispatcher)
Highlights: Sterling hosts the junction of two former B&O routes, the Chicago-Pittsburgh mainline and the former Cleveland, Lorain & West Virginia. The latter splits at Lester into branches for Cleveland and Lorain. Like so many railroad towns in Ohio, Sterling has more than its share of ghosts. The Erie Railroad, later the Erie Lackawanna, used to cross the B&O here with the junction controlled by a tower known as RU. The initials stood for Russell, the original name of the town.
The Erie is gone now as is the tower, both victims of modernization and the great railroad shrinkage that began in the 1970s. Even the former B&O isn’t the same. The color position light signals that stood guard in Sterling for decades were removed in late 2008 and replaced with newer signals. But if you search in the weeds you might find a few vestiges of the old in the form of left behind Erie Lackawanna rails and ballast.
Sterling is a quiet place and on a Sunday morning while waiting for a train to arrive you can picture in your mind’s eye the Erie’s Lake Cities or the B&O’s Capitol Limited rushing through. Those Erie Lackawanna intermodal trains laden with UPS trailers and pulled by colorful locomotives must have been quite a sight pounding the diamonds and rattling the tower as the operator inspected the train on the roll by. Now that was railroading.
Today there is still a lot of railroading to be seen in Sterling with most of the action taking place on the Chicago-Pittsburgh route known to CSX as the New Castle Subdivision. Located at milepost 155.5, Sterling has sidings at both the east and west ends of the interlocking that sometimes are used for pickups and setoffs. Covered hoppers are sometimes parked next to Sterling Implement Company for transloading into trucks. An occasional grain or fertilizer car might be spotted next to the grain elevator. But for the most part trains just pass through Sterling.
Although double track, the New Castle Sub is signaled for one direction only. Westbounds use Track 1 and eastbounds use Track 2. The IO dispatcher in Indianapolis sometimes crosses eastbounds over to track 1 at Sterling. When this happens, the train must receive a track warrant to use the Rittman block.
One of the more unusual trains to pass through Sterling is Q640/Q641. These trains operate between Buffalo, New York, and Cumberland, Maryland, on a circuitous routing. These trains use the former New York Central Water Level route between Buffalo and Cleveland, the former CL&W between Cleveland and Sterling, and the ex-B&O between Sterling and Cumberland.
The former CL&W ends at Sterling and forms two legs of a wye. One leg enables trains to go directly from Cleveland westward while another leg enables trains such as Q640/Q641 to operate directly onto the ex-B&O toward Akron. Traffic on the former CL&W is minimal, about four trains a day.
Traffic on the New Castle Sub is a mix of intermodals, manifest freights, auto racks and unit trains. If you hear a K symbol that means it is a coal or coke train whereas a G symbol is that of a grain train. Trains carrying coal from the Powder River Basin of Wyoming regularly pass through with foreign power in the lead.
There is a detector to the east at Easton (MP 148.) and to the west at Pawnee (MP 169.2). However, the best way to know of approaching trains is to listen for crews to call signals on the radio. Trains can pass through Sterling as fast as 50 mph for freights and 60 mph for intermodal trains.
Sterling is located about 24 miles southwest of Akron and 44 miles south of Cleveland. To reach Sterling, the Seville exit from Interstate 76 onto Ohio Route 3. In Seville, get onto Sterling Road, which will take you to Sterling. Turn left onto Atlantic Avenue just before the crossing with the New Castle Sub and cross the western CL&W connection. Railfans often park in the middle of the wye. This is CSX property, but thus far the railroad has not made an issue of railfans being there.
Parking is also available in the parking lot of a restaurant across the tracks, which is located next to a city park. Entering the property of Sterling Implement Company on the south side of the tracks is said to be all right so long as you are not blocking the access lanes. But keep in mind that this is private property.
The Sterling Loop railfan club meets at Sterling on Wednesdays at 4 p.m. They welcome visitors so long as you do not cross the tracks in front of trains or litter. During good weather the “Loopers” will have their lawn chairs out.
Food and Beverages: Sterling is a village and there isn’t much there. There is a restaurant on Sterling Road on the south side of the tracks, but not much else. Otherwise, you will have to drive to Seville, Rittman or Creston for food and drink.