Sagging East of Alliance

Norfolk Southern westbound stack train 25Z comes out of the Garfield sag east of Beloit, Ohio, on April 10, 2010. (Photographs by Roger Durfee)

By Craig Sanders
It was the type of day that railfans dream about: Clear skies, low humidity, comfortable temperatures. I meet fellow Akron Railroad Club member Roger Durfee at a shopping center in Macedonia for a day along the Norfolk Southern Cleveland Line on April 10, 2010.

The first stop, though, was Motor Yard for photographs of newly painted and rehabilitated NS caboose 24040. Built in Altoona, Pennsylvania, for Penn Central in 1969, the N10 class caboose had worn Conrail paint until recently. Now it had been refurbished by the Motor Yard car shop and was ready to go back to work.

The caboose glistened in the early morning light. Roger is an NS conductor and would be using the car very soon during his work on locals based at Motor Yard.

We were headed for the yard office to check the computer to see what NS had scheduled, when we heard a Wheeling & Lake Erie train get a track warrant to go south on the Cleveland Subdivision. We headed out to intercept him, but got waylaid by a detour for a race of some sort with walkers and joggers.

As if that wasn’t enough, we also managed to encounter an Army training exercise on another road. These must have been reserves because some of the troops were clearly out of shape and struggling to complete the course.

In the meantime, we heard the Wheeling train get a track warrant to go south of Mogadore. Scratch that train.

Instead we set up in Hudson near the junction with the Akron Branch and shot an eastbound RoadRailer—No. 242—passing a work train tucked away in a siding. After relocating to a footbridge over the NS tracks near a city park, we captured eastbound manifest freight 18A.

We began hearing more radio chatter on the W&LE channel and decided to take a look in Kent in case there was an Akron Barberton Cluster train there. There wasn’t. Apparently we were picking up signals from Mogadore or Brittain Yard in Akron.

I hadn’t had anything to eat yet, so we stopped at a Sheetz convenience store in Kent were I got a breakfast sandwich and Roger got a deli sandwich that turned out to have a little too much mustard on it.

We ate next to the CSX tracks in Ravenna. But nothing was nearby on CSX so we struck out along the NS Cleveland Line, checking the grade crossings between Ravenna and Alliance.

We had heard the NS dispatcher talking to a 14K on the radio, but he seemed to be moving rather slowly. Roger recognized the voice of crew member. That was a little puzzling, he said, because the 14K ordinarily has a Bellevue crew, not a Cleveland crew. Not so, today, though.

Roger was hoping that the 14K would be routed over the Bayard Line out of Alliance, but that would not happen. We hung around the Amtrak station in Alliance, getting the latest news on NS train operations from the railfans gathered there. We learned that NS had recently added a pair of trains to the Fort Wayne Line west of Alliance.

That is good news because for several months the only scheduled trains on the route have been a pair of Conway (Pittsburgh)-Bellevue trains, the former PICO and COPI in Conrail days. Last year those trains began terminating at Bellevue instead of Columbus after NS mothballed Buckeye Yard in Columbus.

The 14K finally got within radio range and we went east of town to Alliance Junction, where the Lordstown Secondary branch joins the Fort Wayne Line. The Lordstown line is idle and in recent months has been used to store freight cars.

The 14K had a Union Pacific locomotive as its third unit and the engineer recognized Roger, although it took a minute or two for him to do that.

We ambled back into Alliance where a work train parked in the yard on the Bayard Line was stirring to life. We parked in a gravel lot where we could keep on eye on the work train, which had plans to drop ties on the Fort Wayne line near Sebring. Or so the crew thought.

We moved up to another grade crossing to photograph the work train pass a couple of factories, at least one of which is closed. It made for a nice industrial scene as well as a commentary about how much the industrial economy of northeast Ohio has declined.

The work train stopped well short of the home signal for the crossing of the Fort Wayne Line. With the work train apparently going nowhere for a while, we returned to the Amtrak station. In the meantime, we had heard on the radio the daily Bellevue to Pittsburgh train working at Canton and now he was nearing Alliance.

In the meantime we watched a pair of trains from the Amtrak station site go to and from the Cleveland Line.

We then climbed up the embankment of the main street that goes over the NS tracks to shoot the train coming around the curve on the Fort Wayne Line. We had to climb onto the fence to shoot over it. I wasn’t sure about that, electing initially to shoot the train through the fence with a telephoto lens. But as the lead engine got closer, I switched to a wide angle and climbed onto the fence, grabbed the shot and got down as fast as I could.

The work train crew finally reached the Cleveland Line dispatcher to ask when they would be coming out. The dispatcher talked it over with the chief dispatcher and relayed the chief’s comment that he wasn’t going to let a work train out onto the mainline on his shift. But the dispatcher gave the crew a phone number to call to “plead your case.”

With the work train going nowhere, we headed eastward, stopping in Sebring and Beloit to scout photo locations before setting up shop at the Ellett Road crossing east of Beloit. Here we had an open view of the Garfield sag, a significant dip in the tracks.

The lighting was ideal for a westbound. If we had one to photograph. But the radio was silent and we waited for what seemed like more than an hour. A train finally did show up, but it was an eastbound auto rack train. I shot it going away as it passed through the sag.

Finally, we heard the detector at Salem (MP 69) go off. A westbound stack train, the 25Z was headed our way. We stood on the rear bumper of Roger’s jeep to get the shot. When got the photo back I could see why we needed that elevation.

With some altitude, you can capture the train coming around a curve and coming up and out of the sag, which crests at the grade crossing. At ground level, the view is not as dramatic.

We elected to go into Beloit and while there we heard the 11V, a westbound manifest train, call the signal at CP Murph. We set up across the street from the post office and were treated with a train that an NS leader, but a pair of BNSF “pumpkins” trailing. There is a bit of uphill grade for westbound coming into Beloit, too.

We stopped in Sebring, hoping to get a westbound passing the depot, which is now owned by a model railroad club. But we had no such luck.

We heard the work train back in Alliance talking to the dispatcher. There had been a shift change and the chief dispatcher who was adamant that no work train was going to get out on “his railroad” had gone home. The second trick dispatchers were a little more receptive. But there was a UPS train on the east side of Cleveland and nothing was going to happen until it was past Alliance.

We returned to Alliance and heard the dispatcher inform the work train that it would be moving soon. We were hoping that the work train would be lined to go west on the Fort Wayne line so we could shoot the high-hood unit on the north end of the train at the Pennsylvania position light signals at signal edge of the interlocking. Instead, the work train went straight across the Fort Wayne Line and onto the Cleveland Line.

There he stopped to wait for a coal train coming east on the Fort Wayne Line. Finally, the work train got a signal and began moving eastward. We shot him splitting the PRR-style position lights on the Cleveland Line north of the junction with the Fort Wayne Line.

It was very late in the afternoon and time to head home. Roger has since bought a new Nikon camera and wants to try it out at the Garfield sag. Cleveland Line, here we come, again.

NS 18A passes eastbound through Hudson. The photo was taken through a fence with a telephoto lens.

After hours of waiting, the work train finally got to go to work. It shown heading eastward from the Cleveland Line onto the Fort Wayne Line in Alliance.

The crew of the work train had plenty of time to ponder the glory days of industry in Alliance as it waited on the Bayard Line for permission to get out on the Fort Wayne Line to drop some ties.

The 14K passes the former Alliance Junction, where the Lordstown Secondary branches off the Fort Wayne line east of Alliance.

RoadRailer 242 passes a work train at Hudson. Unlike the work train at Alliance, this work train was able to get out on the work to go to work in a timely manner.

The two trailing BNSF units were a pleasant surprise when the westbound 11V showed up in Beloit.

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