Railroads: Norfolk Southern (former New York Central, former Nickel Plate Road.
Traffic: About 50 trains a day on the Chicago Line, few than five a day on the former Nickel Plate within Vermilion.
Radio Frequencies: Chicago Line, 160.980 (road and dispatcher); ex-NKP, 161.025 (road and dispatcher).
Highlights: Despite Lake Erie bordering most of northern Ohio, it is not common to find a location to photograph mainline action where water is at the center of things. Vermilion is on the lake, but the water next to the tracks here is the Vermilion River. Specifically, the action revolves around the bridge carrying Norfolk Southern’s Chicago Line over the river.
There is more to this than it might seem for just south of the NS bridge, the river makes a bend which means that there are more photo angles then you might think, all of which are easily captured from dry land.
The bridge is located at about milepost 220.5 and is best photographed from the public boat launch that is accessible from the west bank. Winter is an especially good time to photograph trains here because the river often freezes and is snow covered. When that happens you might see snow mobiles and all terrain vehicles out on the ice and you might be tempted to walk out there yourself to get some angles you can’t get during any other season without a boat.
Winter is also a good time to photograph trains at Vermilion because of favorable lighting conditions. During the summer, the sun is higher in the sky and by late afternoon has crossed the tracks. But don’t despair as there are possible photo locations on the north side of the tracks, although they are not as easily accessible.
There are two parking lots for the boat launch area and it matters not which one you choose. There are stairs leading from the upper lot to water level. However, finding a parking space in the summer might be a challenge, particularly if the walleye fishing is good and the lot is filled with pick-up trucks and boat trailers.
Still, this presents an opportunity to capture trains and boats, and to enjoy watching the boaters take their craft in and out of the water. You can tell in a few seconds who knows what he or she is doing and who does not.
The former Nickel Plate line crosses the river south of the boat launch area. But traffic on that route is sparse, usually just a few locals going to work industries in Lorain and Avon Lake. Even rarer are trains that go all the way through to or from Cleveland. To shoot trains on the NKP bridge you would need to go into a marina south of the bridge, but this is private property. The same holds true for photo locations north of the Chicago Line bridge.
The reason for paucity of traffic on the ex-Nickel Plate is because when NS and CSX were dividing Conrail several years ago, residents of the Cleveland suburb of Lakewood feared an increase in train traffic through their densely populated community that has grade crossings every few blocks. NS agreed to build a connection in the Cleveland neighborhood of Cloggsville that enabled trains to be diverted from the former NKP onto the former NYC through Berea. To appease Berea, NS and the state agreed to build a bridge over the NS and CSX tracks on Front Street. That project was just getting underway in spring 2009.
Although Vermilion is nearly 30 miles away from all of this, NS built a connection west of town to enable trains to get back onto the former Nickel Plate to reach Bellevue. The connection runs somewhat parallel to Coen Road a mile or two west of Vermilion. Coen Road crosses the Chicago Line and the Bellevue Line with the connecting track hooking into the latter near the crossing.
Other locations to photograph trains within Vermilion include the former NYC passenger station, located on Toledo Street. A local church owns the station. The east end of the depot is obscured by vegetation, but the west end can be shot by using a wide angle lens. Victory Park sits between the depot and the Main Street crossing. The downside to the park is a line of trees blocks the view. However, there is enough of a gap to capture an image of a train and the depot. With a telephoto lens, you can get a train and the water tower proclaiming this city the home of the Vermilion Sailors, the nickname of the local high school teams.
Although four Amtrak trains a day pass through Vermilion, all of them do during the darkness hours. Your best hope of getting Amtrak would be if the eastbound Capitol Limited or eastbound Lake Shore Limited were running several hours late.
NS trains call signal indications over the radio. There is a detector on the Chicago Line less than a mile west of the bridge, so it may be of little help. The next detector to the east is 20 miles away in Olmsted Falls.
To reach Vermilion, exit the Ohio Turnpike at the Baumhart Road exit and go north until reaching Ohio Route 2. Go west on off Route 2 until reaching Ohio Route 60 where you will turn north. Upon entering Vermilion, Route 2 makes a right onto South Street. Continue on South Street – Route 2 will make a left onto Main Street – until it ends at West River Road. The boat launch is to the left of this intersection.
Food and beverages: There are plenty of restaurants and convenience stores within Vermilion.