Posts Tagged ‘Portage Hike and Bike Trail’

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.

Some Erie Railroad Archeology

October 21, 2019

I like to dabble in railroad archeology by looking for the remains of railroad infrastructure.

A good place to do that is along the Portage Hike and Bike Trail, which between Kent and Brady Lake is built on a portion of the former Erie right of way.

There remains one track still in place that is used by the Akron Barberton Cluster Railway, but otherwise much of the infrastructure is gone.

That includes the yard and its lead tracks. But if you look around, there are many relics of the Erie still sitting there.

The block signals were removed many years ago, but the bases on which they sat can still be found.

These signal base remains are located in Brady Lake next to the lone track still in place. At one time they supported a semaphore signal.

The concrete in this base is slowly succumbing to the forces of nature wearing it down and perhaps it is only a matter of time before it become just another pile of gravel.

But that won’t be for a while.

Oops, There’s a Train

May 26, 2018

I took my camera with me during a recent walk on the Portage County Hike & Bike Trail near Kent.

The trail runs parallel to the CSX New Castle Subdivision and passes through where the Erie Yard and shops used to be.

There are a couple of benches along the trail, one of which faces the tracks. There are even some open areas to make photographs.

Unfortunately, the area right in front of the bench facing the tracks is not one of those.

I didn’t have my radio with me so I was counting on hearing an approaching train.

How much in advance you hear it depends on conditions. I heard an approaching train all right but saw it at the same time that I heard it.

I scrambled toward an open area, which was not the one that where I wanted to be.

The top image was far as I could get to get an open view of the lead engine of what I believe is the Q015.

The bottom image was made in the clearing where I’d prefer to photograph a westbound train.

Although it didn’t quite work this time, there is always another day and another train. Next time I’ll make sure to take my scanner.

Vindication of Sorts on the New Castle Sub

November 30, 2017

Yesterday I wrote about an outing I had on the CSX New Castle Subdivision near Kent in which I had hoped in vain to get a westbound train in gloriously warm late-day light. It didn’t happen.

It was the second time I had come up empty hoping for a westbound on the New Castle Sub in the nice late-day sunlight.

With CSX operations still in a state of flux as the precision scheduled railroading operations model is implemented, I’ve treated my recent visits to the New Castle Sub as learning experiences.

Some trains have been annulled while others have been consolidated.

Railfanning the New Castle Sub has always tended to be a feast or famine proposition and now that is even more the case.

But if E. Hunter Harrison is trying to implement train operations that run on a schedule, then with enough observations I should be able to discern a pattern as to when those trains are likely to operate.

Four days after striking out on getting a westbound near Kent in late-day light I decided to try it again.

This time I got an earlier start, arriving at about 1:15 p.m. along the tracks where they run alongside the Portage County Hike and Bike Trail.

Aside from gathering information on how the New Castle Sub is operating these days, another benefit of these outing has been getting exercise. It is a mile walk in and a mile walk out.

This time I bought my scanner and camera bag. I set them down on a bench and began the waiting game.

I had seen trains operating westbound on the New Castle Sub in early afternoon during forays to Kent last October. Those included the Q015, the Q137 and the Q299.

I had been waiting about a half hour when the radio came to life. It was the Q015 calling the signal at “Davey Tree.”

I scrambled to get into position. The sunlight at about 2 p.m. is not as warm as that in late afternoon, but still quite nice.

That’s due to the low sun angles of this time of year and the fact that it provided more side lighting than would be the case in another two hours.

Q015 came rumbling around the curve with CSX ES44AC-H No. 721 on the point and a BNSF “pumpkin” trailing.

I suppose it would have been nice had the order of the locomotives been reversed, but I didn’t want to be too greedy.

I got the westbound that had eluded me a few days earlier, albeit in light that was not as warm as that of the earlier outing.

I debated whether to stay a little longer and hope for another westbound. I had to be home by about 4:30 p.m. so I didn’t have much time to work with.

It would take time to walk the mile back to my car and I also had a hankering to get a Norfolk Southern train crossing the Cuyahoga River by the Akron water treatment plant along Ravenna Road.

I elected to try to get the NS shot on the theory that I had a higher chance because the NS Cleveland Line has far more traffic than the CSX New Castle Sub.

I relocated to Tower’s Woods park and set up my big antenna with my scanner. I continued to monitor the CSX frequencies out of curiosity.

Sure enough, shortly after I arrived at Towner’s Wood, I heard CSX auto rack train Q299 calling signals followed not afterward by a westbound coal train.

However, I also got wind of an NS dimension train coming west and I was able to get the photograph I wanted of that train crossing the Cuyahoga. It was, for once, a win-win afternoon.

Share the Trail With a CSX ET44EH

November 3, 2017

Walkers, joggers and bicyclists are common users of the Portage Hike and Bike trail, but with a little imagination you can pretend that this CSX ET44EH is coming around the curve and continuing down the trail to Kent.

In reality, CSX No. 3343 is going away on Track No. 2 in a light power move.

Note the remains of the foundation of the Erie Railroad roundhouse at the right by the sign that explains some history of the Erie in Kent.

That sign contains a few photographs of the Erie in Kent that were made by the late Robert Redmond, a one-time Akron Railroad Club member.

Pair of Pumpkins to Kick Off October

October 2, 2017

October is the month of Halloween, fall foliage and some really nice days to be out photographing trains. And, of course, it is the month of the pumpkin.

I went to Kent on Sunday, a place that has long been one of my favorites but which I’ve neglected in the past year or so.

It being the first day of October, I was pleased to see a pair of pumpkins leading CSX westbound intermodal train Q137.

They are shown along the Portage County Hike and Bike Trail on Sunday afternoon.

Autumn on the (Former) Erie

January 13, 2017

erie-tracks-and-autumn-x

poles-and-autumn-02-x

poles-and-autumn-x

Several years ago I made an image of a maple tree next to the former Erie Railroad mainline near Kent at Lake Rockwell Road.

That was back in the days when I was making images with slide film.

I liked that image and wanted to try it again as a digital image. But for various reasons it didn’t work out once I went to digital photography in 2011.

I couldn’t get down there, I got there too early, I got there too late. If you’re a photographer you know the reasons why something doesn’t get done.

It wasn’t a high priority on my autumn “to do” list but it was still there.

Last autumn everything finally lined up. I went down to Kent to walk on the Portage Hike and Bike Trail, which runs parallel with the lone track that is left of the ex-Erie.

That tree that I remembered at the Lake Rockwell Road crossing was at its peak fall colors. It was a mostly sunny day.

So, here it is along with a couple other images of the tracks, fall foliage and a few utility poles left over from the days when they had wires used to communicate and provide power for the signal system.

Article and Photographs by Craig Sanders

The Mystery of Brady Lake Tower

October 11, 2016

It has been 50 years since the Brady Lake Tower operator routinely watched over the tracks from these windows.

It has been 50 years since the Brady Lake Tower operator routinely watched over the tracks from these windows.

Curiosity as much as anything motivated me to venture to the 40th anniversary celebration of Towner’s Wood Park in Portage County.

For years I’ve made the park a place to hang out and watch Norfolk Southern trains pass by on the adjacent Cleveland Line.

Looming over the park is the former Brady Lake Tower – once known as Brady’s Lake Tower – that was operated by the Pennsylvania Railroad.

The tower controlled the junction of the east end of the Lake Erie & Pittsburgh with the Pennsy.

There has always been an air of mystery about Brady Lake Tower. I had never been inside of it and long wondered what there was to see. The answer turned out to be “not much.”

For the 40th anniversary event, the park district converted the bottom floor of the concrete tower into a makeshift exhibit area.

There was poster about railroads, but much of the information was about nature.

The second story of Brady Lake Tower looks like a wreck. The Park District uses it for storage of all manner of things.

There are holes in the ceiling and no trace of anything that was associated with the railroad other than the structure itself.

I wasn’t expecting to find the interlocking machine, the operator’s desk, or clipboards containing railroad bulletins and orders hanging on the wall that had been left behind.

Those have long since been removed.

There were a few reminders of the railroad on the first floor, but those were obvious only if you knew what you were looking at.

You had to use your imagination to “see” the railroad presence on the top floor.

Photographs of the interior of Brady Lake Tower are rare or nonexistent. There are some images of the exterior, including a photo made by Paul Geiger that is published on Page 100 of Volume 12 of the Pennsylvania Railroad Facilities series by Morning Sun books.

We know that the original Cleveland & Pittsburgh ran through what is now the parking lot at Tower’s Woods.

The C&P was a single-track railroad that crossed the predecessor of the Erie Railroad at grade at Brady Lake.

When the PRR rebuilt its line in the early 1900s, the tracks were shifted to their current alignment and at least a portion of the former right of way between Brady Lake and Ravenna was sold to the Erie.

The rebuilding gave the Pennsy a better grade for its ore trains and slightly shortened the distance between Hudson and Ravenna.

The Pennsy facilities book reports that Brady Lake was removed from service on May 14, 1966, but kept intact to “be placed in service by train order or general order.” By 1970, its interlocking capability had been removed.

We don’t know for certain when Brady Lake Tower was built. A PRR track diagram from 1965 has the notation “built (or rebuilt) 1928.”

The LE&P opened in 1911. Could the tower have been built then? Or was it built earlier?

I’ve heard various speculations from railroad historians on that point but my visit Saturday yielded no new hard information about the origin of Brady Lake Tower.

I enjoyed my visit to the tower. One of the speakers said the bottom floor might be converted to a light food service facility that is open part time to sell snacks and beverages.

Towner’s Woods is the most popular park in the Portage Park District network and strategically located on the Portage Hike and Bike Trail.

So Brady Lake Tower seems assured to have a long continued life.

But as for when that life began as a railroad facility, some mysteries, it seems, might never be solved.

Article and Photographs by Craig Sanders

A view from a window of the operator's bay of the Norfolk Southern tracks. The trees weren't there back when this was an active tower.

A view from a window of the operator’s bay of the Norfolk Southern tracks. The trees weren’t there back when this was an active tower.

To say the least, the second floor of Brady Lake Tower is cluttered. The view is looking toward where the operator's desk probably sat.

To say the least, the second floor of Brady Lake Tower is cluttered.
The view is looking toward where the operator’s desk probably sat.

Roger Durfee records the railroad exhibit on the first floor of Brady Lake Tower with his cell phone.

Roger Durfee records the railroad exhibit on the first floor of Brady Lake Tower with his cell phone.

Bruce Dzeda gives a presentation of the railroads that passed through Brady Lake.

Bruce Dzeda gives a presentation of the railroads that passed through Brady Lake.

Sanders Photo Published in Rails to Trails Mag

September 29, 2016

A photograph made by Akron Railroad Club President Craig Sanders has been published in the Fall 2016 issue of Rails to Trails magazine.

ARRC logoThe image of the Portage Hike and Bike trail is used to illustrate a story about the Industrial Heartland Trails Network, a collection of nearly three dozen pathways featuring scenic wilderness, dramatic railroad tunnels and trestles, and trail towns and historical sites from the birthplace of America’s Industrial Revolution.

The system has 1,450 miles of trails in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and New York.

The article has been posted online at:

http://www.railstotrails.org/trailblog/2016/september/13/a-view-from-the-industrial-heartland-trails-network/

Neglected Reminder of the Erie Railroad

May 17, 2016

Looking down the tracks where rails used to be on an old Erie Railroad bridge near Kent.

Looking down the tracks where rails used to be on an old Erie Railroad bridge near Kent.

The view of the old Erie Railroad bridge over Breakneck Creek as seen from the Portage Hike and Bike trail.

The view of the old Erie Railroad bridge over Breakneck Creek as seen from the Portage Hike and Bike trail.

When a railroad line is abandoned, the railroad and/or salvage company generally removes anything that might be of value.

Most notably, it pulls up the rails, ties and ballast. In many cases, though, bridges are left in place because they cannot be easily removed, particularly if a bridge is quite large.

Along the Portage Hike and Bike trail is one such example. The bridge shown above probably carried a set of lead tracks into the yard in Kent over Breakneck Creek.

It is located adjacent to what used to be the westbound main and judging by it looks of it it has not been used in several decades.

The Erie Lackawanna greatly diminished operations in the Kent yard well before the EL became part of Conrail in 1976. In fact, the Kent yard was rationalized quite a bit in the middle 1960s as the financially strapped EL cut back on yard operations in a bid to save money.

It’s doubtful that EL executives at company headquarters in Cleveland concerned themselves with the fate of a bridge over a creek. The decision to leave this bridge in place was made much lower down the chain of command.

Boards have been placed at both ends of the bridge to keep trespassers off, but the barriers are not substantial enough to deter someone determined to walk out onto the bridge.

I would imagine that has been done before and maybe some people still do it. Myself, I would not want to find out how sturdy this bridge still is. The metal supports are probably strong, but the wood boards show signs of advanced deterioration.

It was enough for me to observe this bridge from a safe distance while wondering what tales this structure could tell about about times past.

Article and Photographs by Craig Sanders