Mergers and acquisitions can be tough on a railroad line. Many a line has been wiped off the map after being deemed surplus as a result of a merger. While that fate has not befallen the Fort Wayne line that passes through Alliance, Canton, Massillon, Orrville, Wooster and Mansfield, the former Chicago-Pittsburgh mainline of the Pennsylvania Railroad isn’t what it used to be.
After the Conrail breakup, which resulted in the Fort Wayne line east of Crestline becoming Norfolk Southern property, traffic diminished preciptiously. Now the Fort Wayne line has just one pair of daily manifest freights that travel the route daily through northeast Ohio.
Until early May, 12V and 15V operated between Columbus (Buckeye Yard) and Pittsburgh (Conway Yard), using the Sandusky District between Columbus and Bucyrus and the Fort Wayne line east of there.
But NS temporarily closed Buckeye Yard on May 4, citing the downturn in traffic resulting from the current recession. Columbus area traffic will be marshaled at Watkins Yard, a former Norfolk & Western facility on the southeast side of Columbus. NS expects to reopen Buckeye Yard once the economy and its business picks up.
The 12V and 15V now operate between Pittsburgh and Bellevue. The trains continue to use the Sandusky District and to make the turn onto and off of the Fort Wayne line at Bucyrus.
The trains also have a new schedule. The 12V is now slated for a middle of the night departure from Bellevue and should reach the Canton-Alliance area by 8 a.m. The 15V is set to leave Conway at approximately midnight with a mid-morning arrival in Bellevue. The new schedule means that the trains are less likely to operate over the Fort Wayne line west of Canton in daylight hours.
Another change in recent weeks on the Fort Wayne line was the abolition of a pair of locals that operated between Mansfield and Bellevue. Local C37 had originated at Mansfield and hauled auto parts that were made at a General Motors stamping plant near Mansfield and taken to Belleveue for forwarding to GM plants via other trains. For now, this traffic will be handled by the 12V and 15V. However, the future of the GM plant in Mansfield does not look good as the company restructures and downsizes in bankruptcy proceedings.
NS continues to opeate a local between Canton and Massillon that runs during daylight hours, and a local that originates in Mansfield and runs to Wooster before returning. This train does work in Orrville, dropping off tank cars for the J.M. Smucker plant that is located on the former Cleveland, Akron & Columbus branch on the north side of Orrville.
Otherwise the only traffic on the Fort Wayne line is the occasional coal train or load of empty cars.
Two ARRC members inspected the Fort Wayne line between Bucyrus and Upper Sandusky last Saturday. While in Bucyrus we were told that the Chicago, Fort Wayne & Eastern, which operates over the line west of Crestline, hopes to build traffic over the next few years and even land some bridge traffic coming out of Chicago. A connection from the Fort Wayne line to the Sandusky District in the southwest quandrant of Colsan might be built.
The CF&E was fairly quiet last weekend. The only “train” we saw was a pair of CSX locomotives that CF&E reportedly uses to haul grain trains. Those ran light from Crestline to Lima in late morning.
The Fort Wayne line is mostly a single track railroad west of Crestline and looks more like a branch line than a mainline that once hosted such fabled trains as the Broadway Limited, Pennsylvania Limited, Admiral, General, Trail Blazer and Manhattan Limited.
The line still has Pennsy style position light signals and the defect detector is still in operation at Robinson (“Robbins”) east of Bucyrus. The train called signals over the radio as it made its way westward.
The Fort Wayne Line remains an intriguing line to photograph even if traffic is slight. The position light signals are still intact on the NS portion of the line west of Alliance. There is the famous Tuscarawas bridge at Massillon that is built on a curve. Just west of the bridge, there is nice photo vantage point of the former Mace interlocking from the bridge carrying Cherry Road NW over the tracks. Although the tower is long gone, this junction sees trains of NS, R.J. Corman and Ohio Central (using trackages rights over the Corman).
There is a nice restored depot and block tower at Orrville. At Bucyrus, work is well underway to restore the former Toledo & Ohio Central station, which is located just south of the junction of the Fort Wayne line with the NS Sandusky District. The group restoring the station has opened a souvenir shop adjacent to the T&OC depot. There is ample parking there.
Given the paucity of traffic on the Fort Wayne line, its future in the NS system would seem to be uncertain. NS probably only kept the route because of its on-line traffic at Mansfield, Wooster, Orrville, Massillon and Canton. The line certainly has little other reason to exist in NS’s eyes other than perhaps serving as a safety value or backup route for traffic moving between Bellevue and Pittsburgh that now goes via Cleveland. At some point NS might decide that it has more to gain by turning the route over to a short line or regional railroad.
Indeed NS is doing just that this summer with a lightly used branch in Cleveland. The former Erie line that once ran between Cleveland and Leavittsburg, Ohio, is being leased to the Cleveland Commercial Railroad on or about June 15.
The Cleveland Commercial, which currently leases a Wheeling & Lake Erie branch between Falls Junction and Cleveland, will operate the NS Randall Secondary between Broadway Avenue in Cleveland and milepost 27.5 in Aurora Township — a distance of 25 miles. Currently, the line is out of service east of Harper Road in Solon.
The agreement calls for the Cleveland Commercial to use the former Erie Van Willer Yard in Cleveland. Interchange with NS will occur on a connecting track between East 65th Street in Cleveland and Erie crossing, where the NS Cleveland line (former Pennsyslvania Railroad) crosses the former Erie route.
The Cleveland Commercial can access the Randall Secondary directly without having to use NS trackage by using a connection that passes through the Ferrous Metals scrapyard. This will enable the Cleveland Commercial to offer its customers on the Randall Secondary an interchange with the W&LE