Posts Tagged ‘Akron Branch’

More Than Likely the Rails Will Become a Trail

February 22, 2021

It doesn’t have to be an either or situation although it probably will wind up being that.

For several years, the former Akron Branch of Pennsylvania Railroad between Hudson and Cuyahoga Falls via Stow and Silver Lake has been fallow, its rails rusting away and the right of way overgrown with weeds and brush.

Now there are competing plans for use of that right of way.

A company called Hudson & Southern Railway wants to revive rail service on the line.

But a group known as Trail Advocates of Summit County instead wants to see it transformed into a hike and bike trail.

In addressing the Hudson City Council late last year, the trail group, which also goes by the name TASCForce, made it clear it adamantly opposed allowing the trail line to be reactivated.

Among other things the group said trains are noisy, dangerous and interfere with traffic.

Trying to sound like populists, the group said a multipurpose trail would be a “higher and better” use of the right of way even though it was built as a railroad.

Allowing the right of way to revert to rail operations would allow “a very few railroad employees and some unpopular businesses entities to benefit,” the trail advocates said.

Some of the rhetoric that TASCForce has espoused is political posturing and yet it also reflects how upper middle class homeowners typically think about railroads.

A railroad is fine so long as it operates somewhere else. It is classic NIMBY thinking.

Lest you think that TASCForce members have a special dislike of trains, they also took aim at “heavy industries that require rail service,” which it called inappropriate for a suburban setting.

H&S has talked about providing service to a bulk transfer station but TASCForce dismisses this as unsuitable for “the office/warehouse/light manufacturing business parks that people expect to find in a residential area.”

Not only does TASCForce dislike the idea of trains in the neighborhood it doesn’t like heavy trucks, either.

Nor does TASCForce like the idea of the rail line being used for rail car storage as H&S has suggested.

TASCForce said suburban homeowners don’t want rail cars sitting in their backyards for months at a time.

What TASCForce is seeking to do is to pressure Akron Metro Regional Transit Authority, which owns much of the rail line, into renouncing the proposal to revive rail service and to instead seek authority from the Federal Transit Administration to allow immediate construction of the hike and bike trail.

Presumably, TASCForce would be opposed to any plan in which there would be a rail line and a trail.

It can be done and has been done in the Akron region. There is a trail alongside an unused former Erie Railroad line in Talmadage.

The Portage Hike and Bike Trail shares space with an active former Erie Rail line between Kent and Brady Lake that has rail service provided by the Akron Barberton Cluster Railway.

The Portage trail is instructive because it is an example of what could be possible with the Hudson-Cuyahoga Falls line.

Rail traffic on the Kent-Brady Lake line is minimal, typically only operating on weekdays.

The situation with the Hudson-Cuyahoga Falls line is complicated. Akron Metro bought the rail line several years ago for potential commuter train use.

That prospect is unlikely to happen which is why the rail line has been inactive all this time.

Although the rail line has been abandoned, it has been railbanked meaning it is being preserved for potential future rail use.

The transit agency apparently has considered ideas in the past about reviving the line for rail use with the H&S proposal the latest proposal.

At one point a dinner train company proposed using the line but it never materialized. At the time, there was fierce opposition to that idea in Silver Lake.

Using the Hudson-Cuyahoga Falls rail line for anything other than rail service would require Akron Metro to get FTA approval.

Valerie Shea, director of planning and strategic development for Akron Metro, told a local newspaper the agency is planning to seek the FTA’s concurrence to use the rail line land and its surrounding right-of-way as a trail.

Trail advocates want to speed up that process and kill the H&S proposal ASAP.

Whether the backers of the H&S would be able to launch freight rail service is uncertain, something TASCForce has noted when it told the Hudson City Council the success of H&S is “far from certain.”

On this point TASForce showed its cards when it said allowing rail service could potentially delay for several years the development of trail on the right of way.

Some Hudson City Council members have spoken in favor of the rail to trail process.

Councilman Skylar Sutton said he wants to “keep a focus on rail-to-trail conversion.”

The city of Stow has won approval for $700,000 in funding to develop a trail.

It is not difficult to see why trail advocates covet converting inactive or lightly used rail line into trails.

They offer a liner piece of land well suited for a trail. You don’t have to mess with the expensive, sometimes difficult, and time-consuming process of land acquisition.

Not every homeowner along an inactive rail line is necessarily onboard with the idea of converting the property into a trail.

Some of those homeowners dislike having a trail in their backyard and have spoken against the idea of passing hikers, joggers and bikers being able to look into their homes.

But hiking and biking trails have become a sort of status symbol for upper middle class suburbs with affluent and well-educated homeowners who are politically connected and know how to manipulate government and regulatory processes.

For that reason alone I’d bet that more likely than not, the land hosting what was Akron’s first rail line is going to wind up being a trail rather than an active railroad.

Startup Wants to Revive ex-Akron Branch

December 5, 2020
The former Akron Branch as it looked in October 2012 near Stow.

A Norfolk Southern worker has proposed restoring freight service to an out of service former Pennsylvania Railroad line in Summit County.

Jeff White is a founder and part owner of the Hudson & Southern, which would operate the nearly 15-mile line that runs between Hudson and Cuyahoga Falls via Hudson, Stow and Silver Lake.

The line in question has long been known as the Akron Branch and was the first railroad to serve Akron when it was completed on July 4, 1852.

The line was last used by Conrail in 1994 and has since been railbanked.

White indicated his primary business initially would be the storage of rail cars for shippers using NS and CSX.

Most of the line is owned by Akron Metro Regional Transit Authority which bought it in 1995 and railbanked it for potential commuter rail use.

However a portion of the line in Hudson is owned by NS and is still used occasionally by that company to turn equipment on a wye.

Although the H&S is still establishing its business plan, White said longer term his company is considering establishing a transload facility near Seasons Road that would transfer bulk commodities between rail cars and trucks.

White said he has learned of interest by some companies to build manufacturing facilities or warehouses in the Seasons Road area, but they would do that only if there is an active rail line nearby.

“It’s kind of a ‘if you build it, they will come’ kind of thing,” he said.

However, Akron Metro and the residents of Cuyahoga Falls, Stow and Silver Lake have other ideas for what use should be made of the railroad right of way.

Valerie Shea, director of planning and strategic development for Akron Metro said her agency has met with officials in those communities about their interest in developing the land as a hike and bike trail.

“That’s kind of been what we’ve been pursuing a little more,” Shea said.

She said Akron Metro met with H&S officials about a year ago but has not spoken with the company since then.

White said N&S last met with Akron Metro in fall 2019 but the COVID-19 pandemic stalled development of those plans. Work resumed on creating a business model within the past month.

In a best case scenario, White envisions it would be three to four years before trains resume using the line.

N&S will need to work with the Ohio Rail Development Commission on rehabilitating the track.

The railroad would also need to obtain approval of the U.S. Surface Transportation Board to reactivate the line as well as the approval and cooperation of NS and Akron Metro.

White hopes to file a petition with the STB in spring 2021.

Akron Metro would need approval of the Federal Transit Administration before the rail line could be used for a trail.

Shea said she didn’t know how long that process would take.

In the meantime, Shea said Akron Metro is working with all the municipalities along the line to ensure the use of the land is “amenable to everybody.”

She said the public transit agency is willing to consider H&S’s proposal “if it’s vetted through the municipalities that we’ve been working with.”

That could lead to widespread opposition as happened several years ago when another rail operator proposed using the Akron Branch for a dinner train.

White said he knows resuming rail use has been “a touchy subject in the past.”

Since revealing his plans for the ex-Pennsy line, White said he has heard from people concerned about noise and trains traveling past their homes at late hours.

In response, White said modern trains are not noisy, N&S would only operate two to three times a week on weekdays during mid morning or late afternoon.

The trains of five to 12 cars would travel no more than 10 mph and quiet zones could be established in residential areas.

He also said that his company would not be handling hazardous materials, noting the area is not zoned to allow operations that would involve those.

“Most people who live along the tracks are going to be hard-pressed to ever even see the train,,” White said adding that he N&S wants to be a community partner.

Taking the Farkas Challenge: One Afternoon When Akron’s First Railroad was in its Final Days

August 1, 2016

Farkas Antibus

The first train chugged into Akron on July 4, 1852, amid much celebration. It came from Hudson on the Akron Branch of the newly-built Cleveland & Pittsburgh.

Akron’s first rail line eventually became part of the mighty Pennsylvania Railroad network and the Akron Branch was extended to Columbus.

Shown is a CSX rail train on the former Akron Branch on Sept. 30, 2001. It would be one of the last trains to use the line within Akron proper.

The image was made by Richard Antibus and is my nomination on his behalf for the Farkas challenge.

A CSX train is on these rails because the railroad had considered rehabilitating the Akron Branch and using it as a second mainline between AY (Arlington Street) and Cuyahoga Falls.

Instead, the Akron branch was abandoned and the rails were pulled up. The track remains in place between Cuyahoga Falls and Hudson, having been railbanked by Akron Metro. But those rails have been dormant for several years.

Likewise it has been a while since the PRR position light signals here have been used and one signal head has been turned to show that it is out of service.

The other signal was probably used as a “distant signal” in advance of AY, a role it will no longer be serving for much longer.

So much of Akron’s railroad history is “what used to be.”

Sic transit gloria mundi is a Latin expression that has been widely interpreted to mean “wordly things are fleeting.”

And so it would seem are railroad lines. The Akron Branch served Akron well for more than a century, so we wouldn’t necessarily call its existence fleeting.

Yet for those in the Akron Railroad Club who grew up in or near Akron, their acquaintance with the Akron Branch has been quite fleeting.

Article by Craig Sanders, Photograph by Richard Antibus

New Life for the Akron Branch?

November 23, 2012

Looking north on the former Pennsylvania Railroad’s Akron branch on October 21, 2012, from Hudson Drive. The bridge in the background carried the Lake Erie & Pittsburgh line of the New York Central. It is now a hiking and biking trail.

I’ve never seen a train on the Akron Branch. By the time that I arrived in Northeast Ohio in August 1993, Conrail had pretty much shut down operations on this former Pennsylvania Railroad line. In November 1994 the branch was abandoned between Hudson and Cuyahoga Falls and a year later it was sold to the Summit County Port Authority.

Since then, it has been railbanked to preserve it for possible commuter train service between Akron and Cleveland. That proposal has been dormant for years and shows no sign of coming to life anytime soon.

A few years back Akron Metro and Silver Lake duked it out in court over the town’s efforts to stop a proposed dinner train service on the line. The court ruled against the town, but the dinner train never turned a wheel.

In the meantime, the right of way became overgrown with trees and other vegetation and CSX removed the switch in Cuyahoga Falls that connected the Akron Branch with the former Baltimore & Ohio mainline that runs through Akron.

In recent months, though, there have been reports that the branch might be reactivated to serve an industrial park. Akron Metro in early 2011 began studying the freight potential of the Akron Branch and the ex-B&O route between Akron and Canton. The latter is now used by the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad and in some places the Wheeling & Lake Erie Railway.

In late October, I was out with fellow Akron Railroad Club member Roger Durfee on a local outing to photograph trains.

We were driving to a location that Roger didn’t identify other than I would find it interesting. That turned out to be the grade crossing of the Akron Branch with Hudson Drive.

We got out and walked the tracks southward. There was plenty of evidence that a crew had been through earlier to clear the trees that has grown between the ties and rails.

More work needs to be done to get the track ready for service. But the rails, although rusted, appeared to be in reasonably good condition. They could support a slow speed operation to serve local industries.

The Akron Branch was Akron’s first railroad, reaching the city on July 4, 1852. The first train ran between Akron and Hudson the next day.

Akron’s first railroad was also the first to be dismembered.  It has been removed between Cuyahoga Falls and Arlington Street in Akron. In theory, the Akron Branch lives on between Arlington Street and Clinton (Warwick) because CSX uses what for decades was a joint trackage operation between those points.

Much still needs to happen before the Akron Branch comes back to life. But perhaps I will get the chance to see and photograph a train on the line after all.

Article and Photographs by Craig Sanders

Looking southward after walking a short distance along the tracks south of Hudson Drive.

The area to the left used to be the location of a siding or short branch. That it has been maintained and mowed could indicate that a track might be put back in here.

One of the smaller trees that the crews cut down that had sprouted between the rails.

The distant signal for Hudson has been dark for years. At one time this signal mast probably held a PRR-style position signal head.