Portsmouth to Cincinnati, Ohio
A self-guiding railfan tour
WEBMASTER'S NOTE: As of early 2003, Norfolk Southern has closed this line. Rail is still in place, but the trains do not run. This tour was written before this action was taken, and is included for those who would enjoy the tour of the line, even though there will be no trains. It is a lovely part of the country.
There are many reasons for taking one of Frograil's self-guiding tours. This one will reward you with decent, if not spectacular traffic, and there are several nice railfan locations, but the big attraction for most of the tour is the beauty of the rural southern Ohio countryside. You'll be mostly on very minor secondary roads, and you'll not want to hurry. Take your time and enjoy the scenery, while admiring the excellent condition of the railroad and its trains. The tour is about one-third complete, beginning in Portsmouth and ending temporarily in Peebles, a distance of about 37 miles. That includes some Portsmouth trackage.
Contents And Navigation:
WHAT YOU WILL FIND HERE: From a particular starting point, each segment of this coverage will allow you to follow the instructions given, drive to a railfan site, then to the next, etc. etc. Traffic levels and patterns will be given, and the photographic/ lighting considerations for each site will usually be mentioned. You'll be told about area attractions, such as tourist and historic sites, as well as hotels and restaurants which are trackside or otherwise worthy of note. In short, you'll be able to plan an entire family or railfan-only outing or even a vacation from this guide, as it is completed in the months to come.
WHAT YOU WILL NOT FIND HERE: This is a railfan guide, not a photo collection. There are already many excellent and enjoyable railroad photo sites available, and one more really wouldn't add much value to the general railfan. Besides, photos take up a lot of memory, and your humble Webmaster has to pay for memory.
You will also not find fancy graphics, as this is a tour guide, not an exhibition of HTML or graphics expertise. You'll be able to load these pages quickly and print them without waiting a week for each page to print. Also, you'll conserve toner in the process.
Major contributors to this effort include:
Tony Hill, Webmaster and all content, unless otherwise noted.
Roger Rassche, Station list details and other informational goodies.
If you'd like to contribute to this, or any other tour, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and let me know what you'd like to do. We'll work together: You supply the data/info, and I'll do the HTML stuff and upload it. You'll get a chance to review the fruits of your efforts before the general public sees the finished product, so you can let me have your corrections, additions and changes.
The Railroad. This is the Cincinnati District of the Lake Division. The main line of the Pocahontas Division comes up from Bluefield/Williamson. From Huntington northward, it's the Lake Division, thru Portsmouth and then up to Columbus. In the northwest corner of Portsmouth, the Cincinnati District branches off at Vera Junction, and heads on to its namesake city and what was Clare Yard, as distance of 96 miles. The railroad was built cross country, rather than along the Ohio River, as was the Chesapeake and Ohio. The District is single track, with 7 passing sidings of at least 5,500 feet in length. Trains don't zoom along the route, but the track is good, and the engineering likewise. You'll see intermodals going 50 mph is some areas, so be alert, prepared and stay well back from the tracks at all times.
Mapwork: Much of the tour is not easy if you have no detailed map for back country roads. I definitely recommend you get a DeLorme Atlas & Gazetteer, study it before your trip, and copy pertinent pages for your field work. You can find information here about Railfan Maps that are available.
Security. As you can imagine, this tour is mostly very rural. Unlike the typical tour which encompasses fairly large urban areas, there is relatively little concern throughout the tour's length with personal security. You've kind of got to work hard to get bopped over the head. However, there is a major concern with personal security once "away from civilization." You do not want to scramble down a hillside to get to a remote location by yourself. If you fall and break an ankle, you will probably die out there. In all railfan outings, you are encouraged to have at least one male buddy with you.
WEBMASTER'S NOTE: I do not recommend, or even condone, walking along the tracks, as this means trespassing or 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 any other tour which is 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.
Railfan sites -- Portsmouth to Cincinnati, Ohio
Portsmouth -- West Yard Throat. Norfolk Southern (Ex-N&W) comes up out of the Ohio River Valley and West Virginia laden with coal, chemical and merchandise traffic; indeed, while some think of this road as nothing but a coal hauler, you can expect everything from coal drags, unit grain trains. manifest drags, to hot intermodals. From the yard in Portsmouth, the line heads due west for a short while, then curves north and hugs the Scioto River to Vera Junction where one line heads west to Cincinnati, and the other goes north to Columbus and Bellevue.The best place to watch traffic in Portsmouth itself is downtown at the yard.
This tour details the line from Vera Junction west towards Cincinnati, but since the Frograil Railfan Guide is incomplete in Portsmouth, we'll start down at the yard and bring you thru Vera Junction and into the southern Ohio countryside.
The eastern end of the yard is buried in an inaccessible industrial area, but the west end has excellent photo locations on both sides of the tracks. From the yard throat at Gallia and Broadway, to several blocks west are numerous locations. From south of the tracks, a good point is from Gallia and Prospect. There is a brick-paved, small parking area across from a building supply company, and a nice large grassy area is between the bricks and the tracks. Bring a lawn chair and a cooler. There are oodles of at-grade crossings near here, so you'll hear the trains well before they arrive.
Directly across the tracks from this location is a large gravel, open area where you can set up for afternoon shots.
The yard throat itself is an excellent photo location for everything coming in and out of the yard, but on the north side of the tracks is a contract fueling activity, and its tankers go in and out of here. You need to be pretty careful, and I'd suggest the Gallia and Prospect location instead. Whatever you do, STAY OUT OF THE YARD.
Portsmouth -- 10th Street. "10th Street" is an euphemism for the alley/old street which parallels the tracks west from the yard thru the city. It goes along for several blocks, and provides excellent viewing from the north. West of Lincoln Street, cross the tracks, and continue west on 10th, which is now south of the tracks, giving excellent viewing from the south.
Portsmouth -- Waller Avenue. 10th Street "ends" at an abandoned factory, but you can continue along the gravel track towards Waller Avenue. Bump, hump and slump your way thru the area, and you'll get to Waller. Park somewhere and walk along the western curve of the railroad as it swings 90° from west to north towards Columbus/Toledo/Bellevue. Afternoon shots can be great here, but you've got to plan for the right lighting, and the trains don't always cooperate.
Portsmouth -- Vera Junction. Continue west on 10th all the way to US-23, which is the main north/south road thru Portsmouth. Head north, pass 23rd Street, and take a left onto Clare Street. Drive down towards the tracks and park. There is a well-disguised dirt road going north along the tracks. This road should not be attempted except on foot. In the summer, you will pretty much get covered by chiggers, ticks and spiders. You will itch for the next 10-12 days. It is not pleasant. After 1/4 - 1/2 mile, you'll see signals and electronic boxes. There is a crossover from the (compass) west to the east track, and around the curve to the north, perhaps another 1/4 mile is Vera Junction. I do not know if the dirt road goes to the junction itself, as everything is very close here, and even if the road continues on, it is probably on railroad property (at least up to the junction itself). The junction area is in a lousy photo location, with the Scioto River flood plain well below you to the west, and a vertical wall on the east. There are trees on both sides of the tracks. Other than the fact that you can now say you've been to the beginning of the Cincinnati District, there really is no earthly reason for trying to visit this location.
For those of you keeping score, Vera Junction is the beginning/end of the Cincinnati District, as it branches off the Lake Division.
McDermott. To continue the tour directly requires a helicopter, as the railroad goes across the broad flood plain of the Scioto River, and then goes over the river itself. Retrace your route back to US-23, and go south to the intersection with US-52. Go west over the river, and take you first right onto OH-73/OH-104. Continue north for several miles, and the railroad will come in from the right (east). At this point, let me tell you a few things which will help you make decisions along the way.
Southern Ohio is beautiful, bucolic and full of trees -- lots and lots of trees. The railroad will often be close enough to almost reach out and touch, but either a lack of a decent road shoulder or a steady progression of trees along both sides of the right of way will make both photography and train watching difficult. We are doing a tour of this railroad thru the countryside, and we are more interested in the railroad itself than the individual trains on it. I'd suggest you kick back and enjoy the scenery. Any railroad action is a bonus, and your scanner will usually give you some warning. So, with all this in mind, you can greatly shorten the tour just to watch trains, or explore it fully, and I'll try to point out both options.
Within a few miles after re-joining the rails, OH-73/OH-104 will split. If you're in a hurry, take a left on OH-73 and drive all the way to Otway, where you can re-join the tour. For those doing the entire tour, continue north on OH-104. The railroad is hard to the east all along here, and there are several gravel road crossings for limited photo access, but all are fairly tight. Trees are your problem along this route.
When you get to Rushtown (there is no sign announcing the town) the railroad bends from north-northwest to west, and just before crossing the tracks and the river, turn left onto McDermott-Rushtown Road. This is a paved road, but it's not striped, and there is no road sign. At this point you'll think: "My gosh, I'm just driving into a trailer park", and it does look like it, but just keep going. As for the crossing of the tracks at OH-104, it is at grade, but there is no place to get photos, and the road is quite busy. It's not a railfan location.
McDermott-Rushtown Road will take you to (no prizes here for correct guesses, folks) McDermott. This is the first decent location on the tour for photos and train watching. In the center of the metropolis, go north to the tracks. The views from the north are very nice, while those from the south are so-so. This is an attractive place, and we're about to really get into the country. You're at MP 96.8.
Continue on what was McDermott-Rushtown Road, which will become Tatman Coe Road, which will T-end into Tatmon-Arion Road. Take a right and drive into Arion. Unfortunately, while a pretty area, this is not a railfan location, because private property abuts all 4 quadrants of the crossing. If, however, you can sweet talk the homeowners into allowing you to set up for a known meet, the place will do well for you. Ok, now let's attempt to get good and lost.
Go over the tracks at Arion and continue north as the road becomes Henley Deemer Road. I confess this one went over my head, and I would up on Pollock Road. No problem, as I ended up at the intersection of Arion/Pollock/Henley Deemer roads. Here's the point: It really does pay to study where you're going ahead of time, so if you miss a turn, you'll know intuitively what you have to do to get back on course. Take a left on Henley Deemer.
Go west on Henley Deemer, which winds around and leads you to a left on Diehlman Road. This is a gravel road, and you'll probably think you've made a mistake, but you'll soon see it's a beautiful road, with both pastoral and seemingly wild vistas. Slow down and enjoy yourself, because it gets better. The railroad's Brookside passing siding is below you now, and probably a mile to the south. It is inaccessible via public roads. As you drive along, you'll begin to notice small, old patches of paving. Eventually, the road will become paved, and will become rather subtly up hill -- more uphill than you probably realize. When you think you're at the top of the hill, look well back to the southeast (drive very slowly), and you'll see a view that looks like some places in Switzerland. It is best appreciated on foot or on a bicycle. IMHO, this is one of the best overlooks you'll see east of the Mississippi. Even in full summer it's nice, but it would be spectacular in winter with no leaves and some snow.
Shortly after getting to the top of the hill, Diehlman Road will take you back downhill, where it will end at Henley Comstock Road. Take a left and drift down to the tracks at Henley.
Henley. This isn't much of a photo spot -- indeed, it's only rated NE4, SE3, SW4, and NW4. However, you're in civilization again, and you can at least see an expected train. Unless you know a train is imminent, however, you'll really do better by heading on towards Otway. Take a right on OH-73, and head west.
Otway -- MP CT88. From Henley to Otway via OH-73 (remember that road? Those who took the short cut at from south of Rushtown will re-join the tour here.), you'll be very close to the tracks, but it's hard to get any pix, because of the danged trees. Watch closely, however, and you'll find a few places for them. As you come into Otway, one such open location appears at MP CT88, where there's a convenient concrete mile marker. This is mostly a northern location, but it's pretty, and a nice place to enjoy a train.
Otway. Continuing into Otway, take a left on OH-348, and go south. Just before the crossing is a convenience store (life support at last!) on the northwest quadrant of the crossing. This is a decent photo location, especially from the northwest quadrant. The tracks run basically northwest-southeast, so most eastbounds should be OK in early morning light. NE3, SE4, SW3, NW1.
Rarden -- MP CT84. OH-73 closely follows the railroad up to Rarden, but with the same difficulty of seeing nothing but trees, brush and other cars and trucks. However, just like Otway's MP CT88, MP CT84 opens up just east of Rarden for a grassy, very pretty photo area. Once again, however, it's good only from the north, so you photo guys will be unhappy.
Rarden -- West End Siding. Once in Rarden, via OH-73, take a left at the only real junction in town (CR-772) and go to the tracks. Park at the northeast quadrant. Here, we have an interesting challenge. The obvious photo values are only NE2, SE4, SW4, NW3. Bummer. But wait. If you can get over the tiny creek just west of the street, the southwest quadrant becomes an SW1, and there is plenty of room well back from the tracks. The spot is excellent for photos almost any time, as the railroad has flattened out to a mostly east-west bias. The trick is to get over the creek without trespassing, but I'm sure you can figure out how to do so. Immediately to the east of CR-772 is the west end switch for the Rarden passing siding. This is MP CT82.0
Peebles. Further west on OH-73, enter Adams County, cross Scioto Brush Creek, and then take a left onto Portsmouth Road. This place is called Pine Gap, but you'll see no such sign. Portsmouth will parallel the tracks closely for a mile or so, and then swing off to the northwest. You'll come to OH-32, a major highway, cross it, and continue on towards Peebles. You'll be well away from the tracks from the time you first swung to the northwest. As you come into Peebles, take a left onto OH-41, drive south for a few blocks, cross the tracks, turn right, and find a place to park after about 2 blocks. Here, on the sun-friendly south side of the tracks is an excellent area for relaxing and watching trains. Get out the lawn chairs, coolers and scanners, and enjoy yourself. Viewing is also good from north of the tracks. This is, by far, the best railfan location on this first leg of the Cincinnati District tour.
This is temporarily the end of our Cincinnati District tour. If you'd like to contribute to an extension of the tour towards Cincinnati, please get in touch with me at: email@example.com .