Railfanning Cleveland to Pittsburgh -- And Back!
(or, How to Stretch Five Hours of Driving into Two Days)
Frograil welcomes Rob Richardson of the Cleveland area as the host of this city-to-city tour. Rob has been a steady contributor to Frograil since way back when. This is not your typical Frograil point-to-point tour following a specific railroad. Rather, it's a casual attempt to point out some good railfan locations between two cities in the northeast. Is it massively comprehensive, like other Frograil tours? Of course not, but that's not the point. What this type of tour does is allow you to get to point A from point B in a fairly efficient manner, but it also throws in some spots to see trains -- and break up the monotony as you drive along.
Here, we pick up Rob's narrative, with all first person pronouns referring to Rob, unless otherwise noted:
For the last three years, I've gone to a retreat in a Catholic monastery in Pittsburgh for a weekend in September with my father-in-law and other family members. On my way there and back, I've railfanned my way between the two cities. This year, 2005, I took notes.
WEBMASTER'S NOTE: I do not recommend or condone walking along the tracks, as this means trespassing and exposing yourself to danger. You will have to be creative, in some instances, to avoid trespassing while getting to the detailed locations included herein, but you will either have to be creative or not visit those sites. At no point in this tour guide, or in any other part of Frograil, is it recommended that you trespass or expose yourself to danger. If you are a fool and have a leg cut off (or worse), don't come crying to me: You have been warned. Trains are big, powerful, and often surprisingly quiet. Don't end up being a statistic.
Charlestown. I left Cleveland about 7 AM, heading for Charlestown, east of Ravenna on the CSX Newcastle Subdivision. Take I-480 east to its end, and follow OH-14 into Ravenna. Bear left onto OH-5. At Rock Springs Road, which will be marked by signs to West Branch State Park, turn right, go over the tracks on an old wooden bridge, and turn immediately left onto a gravel access road. I suggest parking at the top of the road and walking down to the tracks. At the tracks, there will be the wooden bridge to your left, old, leaning telegraph poles to your right, and a CPL signal in the distance. There are also tall weeds and a picturesque abandoned house. Don't let rain stop you! This is a great spot, but with cool, misty rain and crickets singing and the old-time feeling of the spot, this is absolutely gorgeous!
Paris. From Charlestown, go back to OH-5 and turn right. There are various side streets that cross the tracks in case scanner chatter tells you of the approach of a train. At Paris is another side street, with a view of straight tracks and a signal in the distance. Some additional info on Paris is here.
Newton Falls. Go back to Rt. 5 and turn right again. Follow Frograil's directions into Newton Falls. The tracks run through on a raised embankment, and trees block much of your view. There are probably some photo opportunities there, but I'm not sure exactly where they are. One thought: If you stand on the street looking at the tower and then walk along the street to your left, you'll come to a junkyard. There is a path between the junkyard and the embankment, leading back toward the river. You may find some possibilities back there.
Lordstown. GM's Lordstown plant gets much of its supplies by rail, and I hoped there would be someplace good to see some of it. Make your way back to OH-5 and turn right yet again. Get onto the Ohio Turnpike eastbound. Get off at Lordstown. At the bottom of the ramp, turn left. At the first public road to the right, named 'Industrial Trace', turn right. At a 90-degree turn to the left, turn and park immediately. If you walk down the gravel road, you'll get to a large yard serving the plant. I recommend taking your photos quickly and leaving. There are no "No Trespassing" signs, but it's obviously a place where strangers would stand out like a sore thumb. You can also walk back along the road a short way, push through cattails, jump a ditch, and walk through waist-high weeds to get another view of the tracks. It helps if you, like me, like goldenrod and are not allergic to poison ivy.
There may be other vantage points along the tracks further away from the plant, but I didn't have time to look for them.
Homewood Junction. From Lordstown, get back on the turnpike eastbound. Cross into Pennsylvania and get off at the first exit onto PA-60. Make sure you have 50 cents in exact change! Get off PA-60 at the first exit and turn left, toward PA-18. After a couple of miles, you will come to a stone arch with "Pennsylvania" engraved across the top. Instead of going under it, turn left. The first road to the left will be Ayer Hill. Stop there, look back over your right shoulder, and admire the view. Then keep going into the cute little town of Homewood Junction. Keep going up hill and make your way over the bridge. Find someplace to park and walk back onto the bridge. Halfway across, you'll find a stairway with a path at the bottom. At the end of the path, you'll find yourself in the middle of a wye. (There's a street that ends there, but I haven't yet found the other end of the street.) Get out of the wye and off railroad property, and walk over to the main line and relax. You're on the outside of a curve with a good view in both directions, and the oversized Pennsy signals are just to your left.
At the wye, all traffic coming north from Conway Yard in Pittsburgh splits to head west to Cleveland, or north to Youngstown/Ashtabula. The Cleveland Line is busier than the one going north. This is a very busy place, so stay off railroad property and be safe.
Beaver Falls. Come back down the hill and turn left, under the "Pennsylvania" arch. (It's possible that there's something worth seeing if you go straight across Rt. 18 into an industrial area, but I'm not sure.) At PA-18, turn right. You will be driving rather slowly through downtown Beaver Falls. The NS main line tracks are to your right someplace. I didn't poke down any side streets through here, but there might be something worth seeing. (If you find anything, let me know.) As you emerge from the south side of the downtown area, the tracks will appear on your right. Usually, they are a bit above you. There are a couple of places where you can turn right and go under the tracks to the Beaver River. You may find some good views on that side.
As PA-18 approaches Rochester, it will rise steadily. There are a couple of good parking lots on your right overlooking the tracks.
Rochester. PA-18 will eventually get you into Rochester, PA, my second-favorite railfanning location (second only to Fostoria). (It's possible that PA-60 could get you there faster, but I haven't tried.) (It's possible that I won't put any more parentheses in this paragraph.) (But don't count on it.) Make your way down hill and look for a sign that says "Rochester Business District." If you look across the street, you'll see a "No Outlet" sign. Go down that road. You'll be alongside the four-track NS main north of Conway Yard, with great views in both directions. If you want different views, go back to the end of the driveway, turn sharp right, go over the bridge, turn right at the bottom, and park in front of the bowling alley. Or keep going down the road and see if there's an angle you like better. Or turn left from the bridge and go over to the park. You'll be below the main NS line, but there's an occasionally used single-track NS bridge over the Beaver River and a spectacular, frequently used bridge carrying CSX trains across the Ohio River. That single track NS bridge carries traffic departing the Pittsburgh area for the Ohio River valley along the chemical and steel complex of the northern West Virginia panhandle.
Conway Yard. This is one of the greatest frustrations a railfan will ever experience. Take PA-65 south from Rochester. Conway will be on your right, but there's no place to stop and enjoy it! At 11th Street, you can turn left, away from the yard, and find someplace to stop and look for a vantage point. The main entrance to the yard is across the street from there, but stay on your side of the street. This might be worth doing if you have binoculars. A bit further down PA-65, you'll come to a sign for the Baden business district. Turn left there and find someplace to stop. This time, you can probably cross the street, but don't go up onto the bridge. You might see the top of a train going by. But all in all, it's probably not worth it.
After Leetsdale, PA-65 becomes a superhighway again. There are various little residential and industrial areas on the right, but I have no idea how to get down to them. If you find out, please let me know!
McKees Rocks: Pittsburgh & Ohio Central Railroad. At PA-51, turn right and cross the Ohio River. Keep following PA-51 south. Soon you'll drive past the headquarters of the Pittsburgh & Ohio Central Railroad. It's got two locomotives, an SW1500 (I think; I don't know switchers very well) and a GP-9M, both painted in a very impressive maroon and yellow scheme. The headquarters building has carved into the sandstone over the door "Pittsburgh, Chartiers and Youghigheny Rwy." I have never tried to follow the P&OC's tracks. If one or both locomotives aren't at headquarters, it may be worth while to try to find them.
McKees Rocks: Meeting the CSX tracks. Keep following PA-51 as it winds its improbable way through McKee's Rocks. Eventually it will try to run head-on into the CSX tracks and the Ohio River valley. At the last second, it will turn right. You can turn left, then turn right across the tracks, find a place to park, and wait for trains. When you decide to resume your trek south, you will find the tracks separated from the road by a fence made of thick, rusty iron rails. There are side streets on your right you could stop at and cross to the fence if you feel like it, but there's no sidewalk on that side and you're quite exposed to traffic. Fairly soon, a bridge will carry NS tracks over the street.
As you approach Pittsburgh, stay close to the river and stay downhill. There's one place where the road forks and it's not clearly marked. Stay right. I'm pretty sure that's where PA-51 leaves the river, and you want to stay close to the river. After that, you will see a bridge marked "Norfolk & Western" crossing diagonally over the road, with the near end of the bridge on your left side. I do not know if that bridge is used, or how often.
After you pass under that bridge, you'll have CSX tracks below and to your left and NS tracks above and to your right. There may be places along here to stop, cross the road, and check to see if there's anything on CSX. I don't know where you can see NS through here.
There are two inclines along here, cable cars that carry passengers up the steep hill to your right.
On your left is the several-block-long Station Square complex, similar in feel to Akron's Quaker Square, but much larger. Shops, restaurants, and CSX tracks along the river.
You are now on Carson Street, a very crowded, busy street with lots of interesting shops, restaurants and bars, in case you're tired of trains. Make your way to 18th Street and turn right. Work your way up the hill (under the NS tracks at one point), and turn right onto Monastery Place and right again on Monastery Ave. You'll find Saint Paul of the Cross Monastery and Retreat Center in front of you. Park in their visitors' lot. You might stop in the church to pray or to enjoy the stained glass, or you might enjoy the view of downtown Pittsburgh over the river, or you might wander the streets and admire the unique architecture of the houses on south Pittsburgh's hills. Maybe you'll make a weekend retreat at the monastery, as I did.
Here ends part 1 of this tour. In the next part, we'll come home!
Pittsburgh -- 18th Street, Lux Ornamental Iron. Presumably, you're now rested -- both physically and spiritually -- and ready to leave St. Paul of the Cross Monastery and head home to Cleveland. Again, we'll take just about the whole day to do it.
Drive back down 18th Street from the monastery. Shortly before you get to the bridge carrying the Norfolk Southern tracks over 18th, you'll see an abandoned business named Lux Ornamental Iron on your right. You can park there and see the NS tracks well, although the view is not at all scenic. While not as busy as the Pittsburgh Line well to the north of the river and your location, there is still plenty of coal traffic up from southwest Pennsylvania, and the line is frequently used to take some congestion off of the Pittsburgh Line.
Pittsburgh -- 22nd Street. This was a completely unexpected gem. Continue down 18th Street to Carson Street and turn right. At 22nd Street, turn left, and drive to the end of the street near the river. Find a place to park and walk down to the tracks. Just to your right is a signal controlling traffic through a switch for double track in front of you and to your left, and single track to your right. You're on the outside of a curve, which gives you great views in both directions. These are CSX, ex-B&O, tracks.
There is a little spur running next to a building to your left, on your side of the tracks. When I was there, and old locomotive was parked on it. You can walk along the spur a bit to get a better photo angle, or to see what aspect the signal is displaying. Across the river is a large silver building owned by Union Switch & Signal.
If you prefer, you could have continued north on 18th Street, crossed Carson Street to 18th's end, and taken a right into Riverfront Park. You'll be right next to the tracks, but the views are better at 22nd Street. However, there are shade trees and picnic benches, etc., so if you've got kids with you, this might work better.
Pittsburgh -- Corliss Street. Get back to Carson and take a right to head west/north. As you drive along the street, the Monongahela and Allegheny rivers have joined to form the mighty Ohio River. When you join PA-51, after the US-19/PA-51/PA-60 intersection, you'll be heading north. Look for Castalia Street on the left, and turn into it and park. Walk back to Corliss Street. There's a traffic light that will let you cross the street and look over at the CSX tracks. You've also got a view of a north-south NS line crossing Carson Street on a bridge.
[Webmaster's Note: MapQuest does not show Castalia Street; it shows Corliss running all the way into Carson. Trust Rob, as he's been on the ground.]
McKees Rocks -- Again. Continue north on PA-51, and leave Pittsburgh to enter McKees Rocks. You can stop and visit a couple of places I mentioned in the other direction. PA-51 will leave the CSX tracks at a 90° left turn. You can go straight instead, and wait for trains there. Back on PA-51, you'll snake through town. Just after you pass under the PC&Y bridge and take a sharp right, you'll be back at the Pittsburgh & Ohio Central headquarters.
Coraopolis -- Montour Hotel. Keep following PA-51 out of McKees Rocks. This is where we leave the path we followed on the way into Pittsburgh. Eventually, you'll get to the town of Coraopolis. Just past the turn onto the bridge for I-79 (which you will not take), turn right onto a gravel road across from the Montour Hotel. You'll be at a single track with an interlocking expanding to 2 tracks just to your right. The tracks are CSX, ex-PLE & B&O, and the railroad point is CP10.
Coraopolis -- Chestnut Street Footbridge. Back on PA-51, continue west for a few blocks to Chestnut Street and turn right. You'll be at a footbridge over the tracks, giving you a great view in both directions.
At one point as I was poking around Coraopolis, I saw that the signal at the interlocking was green. I hurried back onto the footbridge and settled down with may camera and a book to wait for the train. As I was waiting, a somewhat elderly woman came across the footbridge. She commented that I had found a comfortable spot.
I replied: "Yes. I just hope the train that signal is for shows up soon."
"Signal? What signal?", she asked.
"Turn around", I said.
"Oh! I walk across this bridge every day, and I never knew that signal was there!"
Coraopolis -- Mill Street Station. About 4 blocks north of Chestnut Street via PA-51, is Mill Street. There's an old wooden one-story station there. It once looked very good, but is now in serious disrepair. Of course, that doesn't mean it's not photogenic.
Aliquippa. After Coraopolis, PA-51 becomes a freeway. Get off it at Aliquippa, and follow the street to Aliquippa Industrial Park. If you look closely, you'll see an overgrown rusty set of stairs on your right. You can take the stairs up to the tracks, but do not leave the stairs, or you will be trespassing. These are still CSX tracks.
When you are getting back onto PA-51 to head further north, there is a spot at the top of the ramp where you can pull off next to the tracks.
Monaca. As you get to the Monaca/Beaver River area, PA-51 ceases to be a freeway. As you enter the town, watch for a little strip shopping area named "Kings Court" on your left. You can park there and walk onto the bridge that carries PA-51 over the tracks. Be alert, as PA-51 is a very busy road.
After you cross the bridge, turn right into the Beaver Valley Industrial Park. Follow the road along the buildings. You'll get a very nice view of the tracks.
Beaver -- Beaver Area Historical Museum. At Monaca, PA-51 goes over the Ohio River and into East Rochester. Of course, you won't want to drive thru Rochester without stopping at the bowling alley, as we told you before. Leave the Rochester area via PA-51, and cross the Beaver River into the town of Beaver. Take the first exit, PA-68, go under the tracks and turn left onto East End Avenue. Park at the Beaver Area Historical Museum. The CSX tracks are right behind the museum, with a view over the trees on your right of the bridge carrying the tracks over the Ohio River and the NS line to West Virginia.
Salem. From Beaver, PA-51 veers mainly northwest as CSX heads mainly north. Follow PA-51 as it heads towards Ohio. It is called Constitution Boulevard for much of the way. Less than 5 miles from the Ohio border, PA-51 crosses a double track rail line (NS, ex-PRR, Cleveland Line), but there's no good place to park. There's a sprinkling of abandoned buildings and other things through here that may appeal to photographers who like such things (like me), but it's a while before we find railroads again.
When you cross into Ohio, PA-51 becomes OH-14. After about 15-17 miles from the border, you'll come to the town of Salem. OH-14 will go over the tracks, and you should take your first left onto Sharp Street. Turn left again onto any side street and drive to the tracks, which are cutting a southeast/northwest arc thru town. This is the NS Cleveland Line heading to Alliance and Cleveland, and it's big-time railroading. You've got nice views along the tracks, with industries providing good photographic backdrops.
Alliance -- Mahoning Avenue. When you're ready to leave Salem, take either Howard Street or Ellsworth Street to the left/north, and re-join OH-14. This latter is now OH-14/US-62Business. When OH-14 veers off to the right, take US-62Business westbound instead. This road will run into the US-62 by-pass, and you should continue west on US-62. You'll cross the NS, ex-PRR, line coming up from the industrial Ohio River valley along the West Virginia panhandle, and should look for Mahoning Avenue after about 1/2 mile. Take a right, and just before you reach the tracks you just crossed on US-62, stop in Alliance Machine's lot, or cross the tracks and park on gravel.
There is a mostly vestigial yard to the southeast, and an interlocking to the northwest. The latter is probably very rarely used, as the tracks joining the NS line south of Mt. Union were abandoned many years ago. You can take a left onto Summit Street and go to the tracks for a different view of this area.
Alliance -- Railroad Street. Further north via Mahoning Avenue, take a right on Railroad Street. These tracks are the NS Cleveland Line, and are much busier than the secondary main coming up from the Ohio River. Drive to the far end of Railroad Street for good viewing.
Alliance -- Amtrak Station. Retrace your drive back to Mahoning, and go west on Broadway. Cross the NS line from the Ohio River, and then turn right onto Webb Avenue. Take Webb up to Main Street and the station is on the right. This is the traditional railfan hangout in Alliance. The junction has lots of tracks and actions, but there are 4 routes which merge/cross. The Cleveland Line comes up from Pittsburgh; the Ohio River line which we saw back on Mahoning Road to the south, joins -- this is the least busy route here; the Fort Wayne Line peels off/joins the Cleveland Line; and finally, the Cleveland Line itself continues northwest towards the city of the same name. More info on this location can be found here.
Alliance -- OH-183. From the Amtrak station area, drive into downtown Alliance via continuing west on Main Street. Take a right onto Union Street/OH-183/OH-225. When these two state roads split, take OH-183 to the left. You'll be running next to the busy NS Cleveland line for several miles.
When you meet back up with OH-14, take a left towards Cleveland. Beyond this point, I'm going to leave you to your own devices. You're getting close to the metro area, and there are numerous routes you may need to take. Also, by now you're probably getting sleepy and you just want to get home and lie down. I will mention, however, that if instead of turning left on OH-14 you continue straight north on OH-183, you'll get back to Charlestown, and the beautiful little spot that was our first stop on the outbound journey.
Rob Richardson, Christmas, 2005