There has been much talk in railfan forums of late about how Norfolk Southern has been shifting traffic around in Ohio in an effort to alleviate congestion on the busy Chicago Line between Cleveland and Chicago.
The need to address congestion on this route became quite clear this summer and fall when Amtrak trains were delayed for hours due to freight trains sitting on the tracks ahead awaiting new crews.
NS routes in Northern Ohio has or will be seeing increased traffic as NS reworks routings to more efficiently move traffic.
The somnolent former Nickel Plate Road route between Vermilion and Cleveland is sleepy no more. NS is now routing 10 to 12 trains daily on average over this line, most of which have been re-routed from the Chicago Line through Cleveland.
This includes trains 145, 14T, 287, 310, 316 and 309, which no longer use the connection at Vermilion to access the Chicago Line.
Instead, these trains run through Cleveland on the ex-NKP through Lakewood, Rocky River and Bay Village.
The pickup and setoffs that were once done by trains 145 and 14T at Rockport Yard are now handled by a Rockport-Bellevue turn job, the 364.
Also operating via the ex-NKP east of Vermilion are Conway (Pittsburgh)-Bellevue trains 14K and 15K. These trains operate between Conway and Ashtabula via the Youngstown Line and then take the southwest connection between that route and the ex-NKP in Ashtabula.
Traditional ex-NKP line trains that continue to reach the Chicago Line in Cleveland via the Cloggsville connection include 22K, 23K, 205 and 206.
Before the latest increase in the use of the ex-NKP on the west side of Cleveland, the route averaged about two trains a day.
To handle the increase in traffic, NS has reinstated the first shift operator at the Lorain drawbridge, which is now open 24/7.
NS also plans to increase traffic on the Fort Wayne Line west of Alliance, Ohio.
The scope of increased NS operations via the Fort Wayne Line remains to be seen, but word is that crude oil and other heavy trains may be shifted to that route all the way to Fort Wayne, Ind.
Reportedly, NS is establishing a crew district between Mansfield and Fort Wayne.
NS currently owns the Fort Wayne Line between Pittsburgh and Crestline. West of Crestline, CSX owns the route to Bucyrus.
Since the Conrail breakup in 1999, NS has continued to route some traffic on the Fort Wayne Line as far west as Bucyrus where it can take connecting tracks to go south to Columbus or north to Bellevue via the Sandusky District.
Between Crestline and Bucyrus, NS has authority to operate eight trains per day and six daily west of Bucyrus. It has not operated west of Bucyrus on a regular basis, though.
The primary user of the route west of Bucyrus is the Chicago, Fort Wayne & Eastern, which also uses the Fort Wayne Line east to Crestline.
Online reports indicate that although CSX owns the land on which the Fort Wayne Line sits west of Bucyrus, the CF&E owns the rails. NS, though, continues to dispatch the Fort Wayne Line.
CSX has never made much use of the Fort Wayne Line west of Crestline. This is because of a number of factors that also hinder NS’ use of the route.
One of the major operating challenges in using the Fort Wayne Line is the lack of passing sidings. The existing sidings also tend to be short.
The line has just two passing sidings between Bucyrus and Fort Wayne, located at Upper Sandusky and Lima.
The track on the Fort Wayne Line west of Bucyrus has not received much maintenance and speed limits are low.
Another factor is that the railroads is “dark” west of Bucyrus with the only signals being located at interlockings.
Both Penn Central and Conrail saw the Fort Wayne as secondary to other routes when it came to routing traffic between Pittsburgh and the Midwest.
Conrail did make use of the Fort Wayne Line east of Crestline with trains originating in Columbus, Cincinnati, Indianapolis and St. Louis that were bound for Pittsburgh and beyond using the route.
But that traffic pretty much ended with the Conrail breakup. The late 1990 rerouting of Amtrak’s Capitol Limited and Broadway Limited off the Fort Wayne Line also resulted in further cutbacks in maintenance, particularly west of Bucyrus.
One recent online report cited unnamed sources as saying that the Fort Wayne Line would be seeing as many as 30 trains a day west of Alliance within three months.
Some raised questions about that number, but from outward appearances, there is reason to believe that NS will be increasing its use of the Fort Wayne Line.
In late fall, the NS executive train made a trip over the Fort Wayne Line and online postings have reported seeing an increase in track work on the Fort Wayne Line in western Ohio.
In the meantime, NS has increased the number of coal trains that it routes over the Ohio Central between Columbus and Mingo Junction.
Until this fall, NS has exercised its right to use the former Pennsylvania mainline east of Columbus on an as needed basis.
One report has it that by routing coal trains over the OC, NS saves two NS crews per trip. As NS adds additional crews in Mansfield, it may make less use of the OC route for coal traffic.
Finally, there is a report that NS is eyeing the Peavine route between Cincinnati and Portsmouth, Ohio.
A short line operator, Frontier Rail, has been serving customers in the Cincinnati area after NS ceased using the former Norfolk & Western route.
The coming months are going to be interesting ones in which to observe how NS operations in Ohio continue to shake out.
Photographers who have forsaken the Fort Wayne due to lack of action may have to re-evaluate their plans.
It also might be time to make a trip south to the stretch of the ex-Pennsy Pittsburgh-St. Louis line that is jointly used by Ohio Central and the Wheeling & Lake Erie.
To be sure, none of the traffic moves have transformed these light- to moderately-used routes into busy mainlines hosting trains at streetcar frequencies. It does mean, though, that the odds of finding a train in daylight have been enhanced.
Although the route changes mean fewer NS trains rolling through Berea, there still promises to be plenty of action there to satisfy train watchers.