W+H Herald W+H Main Yards Herald

W&H MAIN YARDS: Railfanning in Columbus, OH

By Christopher Coleman
Tips for mailing me
Last Updated 6-30-99

Lines and Yards

Until the Conrail breakup Columbus was served by all three big East railroad companies; CSX, Conrail Norfolk Southern. Conrail has the largest yard, Buckeye, on the west side just outside the I-270 outerbelt. This was a replacement for their scattered yards just north of downtown which are now the location for I-670, and a few other small yards in the urban area. Buckeye has an engine turning loop (no turntable), sanding towers, yard hump, signal department, and a few tracks used as a signal training area. In 1994 I drove right into the end of the parking lot and took pictures without asking permission and no one minded, but I did not venture toward the tracks. Security has been tightned recently and there are no less than a half dozen signs at the entrance threatening trespassers with prosecution and siezure of property. I have not risked entering since, though you can see some operations from the entrance prior to the signs. Power from all three roads and their predecessors can be found idling here. Keep an eye out for the three Alco slugs used for humping and yard work and the working semaphore at the drive entrance to the yard.

NS's yards are on the far South end, but I have no details on it not having been there. Their old yards on Joyce Avenue on the near Northeast side are being stripped and may soon be a housing development, but still support a yard office at my last visit. This is where excursion runs staged runbys for the passengers.

CSX maintains the least presence with their old Parsons Avenue yard on the south side. The yard is in bad shape and the classification tower was recently demolished. It did still maintain a turntable at my last visit, the last one in town of 5 in service in 1945. This is a bad neighborhood and may make for risky railfanning.

NS has one double track main extending to the south along the Scioto River to Chillicothe and Portsmouth, which was originally the Scioto Valley Railroad. Their line north was a Pennsylvania line until 1964, when it sold it to the N&W. The line parallels Conrail to Delaware and proceedes to Sandusky. The line has been throughly "N&W-ized" since then and is nearly unrecognizable as a PRR line. NS maintains telephone lines to the south, but have removed them to the north. They have a taking hotbox/dragging equipment detector at Weber Road. All signals are constantly lit, usually yellow. Greens will give 5-15 minutes warning. The color-position N&W signaks are rapidly being replaced with triple target Southern RR style signals. All lines are very well maintained.

CSX runs on an ex-C&O line built in the 1920's from Portsmouth to Toledo, and a former Hocking Valley RR (later C&O) line to Lancaster. Much of the Lancaster line has been sold intact. Their ex-B&O line to Cincinnati and east where it paralleled the CR/PRR Panhandle line, are still operated. The Cincy line is downgraded and sees light traffic. The East line is now operated by the Ohio Central as the Columbus and Ohio River and sees periodic locals to Newark and branches in that area. The north-south line is well maintained and doubletracked through the City. They have a hotbox/dragging equipment detector beside Riverside Hospital just north of North Broadway. Signals are dark and normally red when on, and give anywhere from 10 minuites to 2 hour warnings when activated. A green signal will usually give 5-10 minutes warning. An excellent vantage point is a pedestrian crosswalk a mile North of Highland Drive.

Ex-PRR and NYC lines departed the city in no less than 8 directions, many of which have been abandoned. They serve to make Conrail's lines in the city a spiderweb. Signals are dark on some and lit on others. Signal activations will usually give only 5-10 minutes warning with a green signal at the last minute. The busiest place in town is the CR line bordering the North edge of downtown where several lines converge. Part of the line passes under streets and northbound trains typicaly run full throttle for the hill out of the Scioto Valley and up to parallel the NS line. A lighly traveled line extends southeast to Athens and the Ohio River. The busiest line is the main to Cincinnati.

The Conrail Breakup

What does this leave?

No change here, still CSX and short/regional lines

CSX has two PARALLEL lines to Toledo: expect one to get the ax. CSX's original line is much newer with fewer grade crossings and better infrastructure. The ex-CR line has Honda of America in Marysville, a plant CSX very much want to woo. CSX could concievably rebuild the Deleware to Marysville portion of the old CCC&StL/NYC for Honda and dump the rest of the line to branches and locals. It is also said that fewer Hodas will be shiped by rail shortly and Marysville-Colubus trains will drop from 22 to 5 and Toleo-Columbus will drop from 15 to 1 per day. Did CSX just want to kill competition here? The section of the ex-CR line to Cleveland between Columbus and Delaware is more rail with a grim future. There is an interchange with CSX's Toledo line in Delaware making this segment redundant. It is reported that traffic on the line will drop from 13 to 7 trans a day. Passenger rail planners are said to be eying both endangered sections of line.

NS retains it's Sandusky line, which will take on increased importance with the acquisition of lines south and the CR New York-Chicago lines. This line is receiving new triple target signals to replace its vintage N&W signals plus some track upgrades.

CSX gets nothing new here, except more traffic we hope.

NS now has three lines to the Ohio River, two of which are routes to the Virginia coal fields then Roanoke.

The ex-CR Cincinnati main is a heavily used line that connected the three largest cities in Ohio. NS's New Service Routes include only this line as a primary route. It is billed as part of Mid-South Route connecting Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Detroit and Chicago to Jacksonville FL and New Orleans through a throat from Cincinnati to Chatanooga.

NS's line to Portsmouth is level, largely double tracked and well signaled and remains the shortest route between the coal fields and the Great Lakes. This line is receiving new triple target signals to replace its vintage N&W signals.

The ex-CR West Virginia Secondary is very twisty, hilly and ?dark?, but serves SE Ohio, an area with little other rail service. It also gives a through route from central WV coal to the lakes, as it was CR's only entry point into the Virginia coal fields. It is capable of taking overflow Virginia coal from the NS route. Furthermore it expands NS's presence in the WV coal fields by granding access to those around Charleston.

So what's so great about the merger? Northern Ohio lines will receive a major boost as CSX and NS build super-railroads from New York to Chicago and Saint Louis. NS:
Kansas City-Fort Wayne-Cleveland-Buffalo-Syracuse-New York

Chicago-Ft Wayne (bought back from NS) -Crestline-Cleveland-Buffalo-Syracuse

In any event, Columbus is named on NS's Conrail breakup map and NOT on it's new NS map. Hmmmmm.

Rail Historical Sites

Although Union Station was demolished, one arched entrance was saved and moved. It resides near Front Street and Nationwide Blvd. It is going to be moved to the new Nationwide Arena plaza in the next three months to make way for a new parking garage. There is also a fine train mural on a High street building which can be seen when driving North out of Downtown.

The Ohio Railway Museum is in Worthington, North of Columbus, is open May 11 and runs through October 12, Sundays from 1pm to 5pm, including some trolley rides. Their collection can be partially viewed from the parking lot. It includes:

Do not try to enter the property when they are closed, as where it is fenced and strictly guarded to keep vagrants and trespassers out.

Holiday Season Display

Quality Chevrolet usually has a sizable Lionel layout in the showroom during the holiday season.

There is a large G gauge layout created by Paul Busse in the Huntington Banks headquarters downtown at Huntington Capitol Square, 17 South High Street.

7:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Mondays through FridaysMBR> 1- 5 p.m. Sunday
Dec. 13 and 20 (1998)

In the Kingsdale shopping center in Upper Arlington is a scale layout in one of the storefronts. The hours in 1997 were Mon-Sat 10-9, Sun 12-6.

Railroad Shows

Spotter's Spots in Columbus

All Conrail lines in the city converge before passing through downtown. The combined lines pass just to the North of downtown along Nationwise Blvd. and between the convention center and the Hyatt Regency. The traffic density is pretty good and it can be viewed from the streets, a level above the tracks.

Michael Stokes, mjs284@psu.edu
20 Feb 1996

Just south of Rt. 161, near Sinclair Rd., NS operates a CTC interlocking where its line to Sandusky swaps sides with the parallel CR route to Cleveland, although the two continue on northward side-by-side for some miles before parting company. When the Pennsy owned the now-NS trackage, it operated "Worthington" tower at this spot by obligation, having arrived on the scene after the NYC. I once visited the tower as a teenager to watch the "armstrong" ops. What a thrill to see a Pennsy coal drag halt for NYC's "Ohio State Limited."

When I returned in the N&W era, to my disappointment the new owner had replaced the tower with a large CTC relay box. On the other hand, the PRR manually blocked this line and signals were sparse, so the N&W's bi-directional, color position light installation on this double-tracked stretch added new interest. For its part, CR inherited the color-light system of the NYC, with three-headed interlocking masts here at "Worthington." (Fan accessibility these days?)

Another good spot is a small, downtown park on the south side of Rich St., just west of where the Main-Rich St. bridge crosses the Scioto. The park offers an excellent view of CSX's double-tracked, through truss bridge, an especially good spot for photographers. Occasionally, northbound CSX trains out of the Parsons Ave. yard hold on the bridge. Beyond a clump of trees at the park's western edge there is easy access to the CSX right-of-way, without the need (*please*) to trespass. Parking is available nearby on Washington Blvd., between Rich and Town Streets. The park seems safe enough by day, but should probably be avoided between dusk and dawn.

Brett Barker, brbarker@students.wisc.edu
10 Apr 1996

Columbus railfans tend to congregate at the "old crossing" of Cooke Rd over CR and NS on the north side. You can get there by going one block north on Indianola Ave. of the "new" Cooke Rd underpass. Turn is at the Clark gas station. The crossing lights are still there, and the location offers a good view of NS signals to the north. As long as you stay out of the way, and don't block entrance to the self-storage facility, no one bothers you.

If you know of any other good 'Spotter's Spots' in Central Ohio, send them in and I'll add them.

Coal Tower
Back to the Main Yards
W&H Herlad
Back to the W&H RR Co.