Wheeling and Lake Erie Railway (1990)
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|Locale||Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia|
|Dates of operation||1990–|
|Predecessor||Norfolk and Western Railway|
|Track gauge||4 ft 8+1⁄2 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge|
|Length||Owned: 575 miles (925 km)|
Rights: 265 miles (426 km) Full Trackage Miles: 840 miles (1,350 km)
The Wheeling and Lake Erie Railway (reporting mark WE) is a Class II regional railroad that provides freight service, mainly in the areas of Northern Ohio and Western Pennsylvania. It took its name from the former Wheeling and Lake Erie Railway, most of which it bought from the Norfolk and Western Railway in 1990.
Original Wheeling and Lake Erie Railway (1880-1949)
The W&LE Railroad began standard gauge operations under investor Jay Gould in 1880. It's mainline ran from Wheeling to Zanesville to Cleveland, and it ran freight and passenger trains primarily between those cities. It eventually completed a route connecting Pittsburgh, PA (Rook) and Toledo, Ohio. Most freight traffic on the line was coal and iron ore, with general merchandise also making up a significant portion. Passenger service ended in 1940 just before the start of World War II. Brewster begin serving as headquarters of the Wheeling and Lake Erie Railway in 1914. Service from Huron to Massillion, Ohio was opened on January 9, 1882 and new lines were constructed that eventually reached the Ohio River and Toledo. The WLE also developed new docks on Lake Erie at Huron that opened May 21, 1884 when the first cargo of iron ore was received. In 1880 another 3-foot narrow gauge line, the Connotton Valley Railway, was formed; building north from Canton, Ohio to Cleveland and then south to Coshocton, Ohio and Zanesville. The Connotton Valley became the Cleveland, Canton & Southern Railroad and was converted to standard gauge in one day on November 18, 1888. The Cleveland, Canton & Southern Railroad joined the WLE in 1899 after its purchase at a foreclosure sale, becoming WLE's Cleveland Division. At its height, the WLE ran from the Pittsburgh region (through a connection with the Wabash-Pittsburgh Terminal, later the Pittsburgh and West Virginia Railway) to Lake Erie at Huron and Toledo. However, the mainlines of the WLE never reached outside Ohio's borders. It also ran from Cleveland to Zanesville, with the lines crossing at Harmon, just east of Brewster, Ohio, which became the location of WLE's corporate headquarters and locomotive shops. With two busy main stems crossing on the map of Ohio; the road's nickname for many years was "The Iron Cross." Ironically, the mainline of the WLE never actually reached Wheeling, West Virginia. However, a branch between Steubenville, Ohio and Martins Ferry was completed in 1891, which led to an indirect connection to Wheeling via a subsidiary, the Wheeling Bridge and Terminal Company. The WLE began producing locomotives at its Brewster, Ohio shops in 1910, and boasted one of the finest locomotive producing facilities in the country. Over the years, the WLE built and rolled boilers and erected fifty of their own steam engines, a feat never tried by many larger and more famous railroads. The Wheeling & Lake Erie was jokingly called the "Wailing and Leg Weary" but, after several early financial embarrassments, finally found prosperity in its later life.
The Wheeling & Lake Erie's story begins with two different systems; one carrying the same name and another as a narrow-gauge linking Cleveland with Zanesville.
The first W&LE was incorporated on March 10, 1871 as the Wheeling & Lake Erie Rail Road Company. It was the vision of Joel Wood who believed a profitable enterprise lay in the transportation of coal from eastern Ohio mines to Lake Erie ports.
The line was to be standard-gauge (4 feet, 8 1/2 inches) featuring grades no worse than 0.947% (or 50 feet to the mile).
The initial leg would link Wheeling and Sandusky while the ultimate goal was Toledo. Wood's idea was sound but, unfortunately, ill-timed. To attain funding he tried to procure monetary support from major cities along the route.
At first, Wheeling promised $300,000 but a disgruntled taxpayer was successful in having the ordinance rescinded in 1871. Then, the Panic of 1873 ended any hopes of either Sandusky or Toledo providing assistance.
In the end, Wood's proposal only saw a bit of grading completed (including three tunnels) between Navarre and Martins Ferry (across the Ohio River from Wheeling).
As the W&LE lay mired in uncertainty he was ousted by fellow associates who wanted to scrap the original plans in a favor of a three-foot, narrow-gauge system.
These gained widespread popularity after the Denver & Rio Grande successfully demonstrated their viability in the 1870's as a cheaper alternative to their standard-gauge counterparts.
The belief was that such a national network would yield greater returns on investment. This new undertaking began at the northern end when W&LE officials acquired the defunct Milan Canal's tow path.
With a right-of-way ready for rails the first 12.5 miles between Huron and Norwalk opened during June of 1877. While more grading was completed around New London and to the south (totaling 37 miles), the original W&LE was an utter failure. Before shutting down in late 1879 the group was successful in converting the Huron-Norwalk segment to standard-gauge.
In the meantime, another much more successful three-footer, which went on to become part of the modern W&LE, had been launched nearby. It too, however, got off to a shaky start.
It was promoted by General E.R. Eckley who had similar ambitions to Joel Wood. He incorporated the Ohio & Toledo Rail Road (O&T) on May 7, 1872 to move coal from eastern Ohio mines to Lake Erie. Instead of building from the Wheeling area, however, this pike would sought a point slightly north at Wellsville, Ohio.
With insufficient capital and an insistence to utilize shoddy construction standards his entire plan may have ended at the drawing board if it were not for the moribund 4-foot, 10-inch Carrollton & Oneida Railroad (C&O).
Built to even poorer standards than the typical narrow-gauge, the C&O, with a history tracing back to 1837, linked its namesake towns along a 10-mile line laid with strap-iron rail.
At Oneida, it interchanged with the Cleveland & Pittsburgh (a PRR subsidiary). During its brief time in service it was a hopeless failure.
The operation was so bad, in fact, it was returned to its creditors in 1859 and deemed unsafe for steam locomotives.
With no capital it limped along for the next seven years as a local, mule-powered operation. On February 26, 1866 it was reorganized as the Carrollton & Oneida whereupon some capital improvements allowed steam-powered service to return.
Things remained this way until Carrollton sold the railroad to Eckley for $1 on July 15, 1873. He integrated it into his O&T system and made further upgrades, such as laying solid iron T-rail (3-foot gauge) and extending service to Minerva during 1874.
After giving up on a Toledo route the general decided upon a Youngstown connection where interchange could be established with another narrow-gauge, the Painesville & Youngstown.
Following yet another change of heart, Eckley scrapped the Youngstown idea and, instead, would aim for Painesville. Incorporated as the Painesville, Canton & Bridgeport Narrow Gauge Rail Road on January 12, 1875 it began construction from Chagrin Falls.
Without the necessary funding, Eckley managed only to reach Solon (5.15 miles) by November of 1877 before money ran out.
His venture then passed into Dr. Norman Smith's hands who incorporated the Youngstown & Connotton Valley (Y&CV) on August 29, 1877.
Eckley initially remained president but after a dispute broke out between the two (regarding the northern terminus) the O&T was sold to creditor Cleveland Iron Company.
It then awarded Smith the property in 1878 and Eckley's involvement ended. Just a year later, on October 20, 1879, Smith renamed the company as the Conotton Valley Railroad (CVRR) and completed an extension of the old O&T to Canton in early May of 1880.
His greatest achievement, from an historical perspective, was acquiring solid financial backing for the venture through a Massachusetts syndicate which aimed to develop the CVRR into one of Ohio's most successful narrow-gauges.
To a greater extent they actually accomplished this feat, pouring some $2.6 million into the railroad and completing the entirety of the future Wheeling & Lake Erie's Cleveland - Zanesville corridor.
Upon arriving, they quickly scrapped the Painesville idea and instead sought a direct entry into Cleveland. Construction began on July 5, 1880 and passenger service into downtown Cleveland was inaugurated on February 21, 1882.
As George Hilton points out in his book, "American Narrow Gauge Railroads," while this was ongoing the railroad built a short, 8.7-mile extension south of Carrollton to reach coal mines in the Sherrodsville area that opened on January 1, 1882 (it was later abandoned in 1936).
With a well-built right-of-way now capable of supporting relatively heavy traffic the CVRR next focused on a line due south from Canton.
What was built as the Connotton Valley & Straitsville Railroad would extend to New Straitsville via Zanesville and Coshocton in pursuit of the Perry County coalfields. Work got underway in June of 1882 and had reached Coshocton (114.7 miles) almost exactly one year later in June of 1883.
The group attempted to gather financing for the final push into Zanesville but managed only to secure around $300,000, less than half the amount needed (this money was later used to construct a beautiful, two-story passenger terminal in Cleveland which opened on August 29, 1883).
Despite relatively strong business (in 1884 it carried 456,627 passengers, moved 192,400 tons of coal, and handled 41,668 tons of other freight) the company's heavy debt resulted in receivership during June of 1883.
On May 9, 1885 it was reorganized as the Cleveland & Canton Railroad (C&C) and eventually managed to raise $1.7 million to convert the entire property to standard-gauge, a process completed on November 18, 1888.
The C&C finished the 29-mile line to Zanesville but never made it into Perry County.
Another name change took place in 1892 as the Cleveland, Canton & Southern Railroad (CC&S) but it was again in receivership within a year. The Wheeling & Lake Erie went on to purchase the CC&S for $3.85 million on August 5, 1899. Gould, arguably the most hated man in America at the time, had big ambitions in which the W&LE would play a vital role. By the 1880's his aspirations for a true, coast-to-coast transcontinental railroad was nearing reality.
The Wabash was the Midwestern component of this network and from its eastern terminus at Toledo offered a potential connection with the W&LE.
The latter's charter stipulated it could build from that point towards the Ohio River in a southeasterly direction. Using the W&LE, Gould would connect it with the New York, Pennsylvania & Ohio (Erie) at Creston for through service into Youngstown. He then only needed 70 miles of new construction to reach the Pennsylvania-controlled Allegheny Valley Railroad. This system ran across the Keystone State and connected with the Central Railroad of New Jersey, another Gould interest.
During late 1880, he formally acquired the defunct W&LE and by early 1881 things got underway. Actual construction commenced east and west of Creston and by November of 1881 the line was finished from Massillon to Norwalk/Huron.
Nickel Plate Road and Norfolk and Western Ownership (1949-1990)
In 1949, the New York, Chicago, & St. Louis Railroad, or Nickel Plate Road (NKP) as it was known, leased the W&LE. The W&LE was operated as the "Wheeling and Lake Erie District" of the NKP. In 1964, the Nickel Plate combined with the Norfolk and Western Railway (N&W), bringing the W&LE into N&W and, after the N&W-Southern Railway merger, Norfolk Southern.
Wheeling and Lake Erie Railway (1990-Present)
In 1990, the Norfolk Southern, sold some of its lines in Ohio and Pennsylvania. The sale included most of the former W&LE and the Akron, Canton and Youngstown Railroad, as well as a lease on the Pittsburgh and West Virginia Railroad. The Wheeling Acquisition Corporation was created by a group of private investors to take ownership of a large portion of the sale. The company was renamed the "Wheeling and Lake Erie Railway" on May 1, 1990, before operations began.
In 1994, W&LE the former Akron and Barberton Belt Railroad and part of the Conrail “Cluster” railroad in the Akron, Ohio area. The two railroads were combined into the Akron Barberton Cluster Railway, which operates as a subsidiary of W&LE.
Routing and Trackage Rights
At its formation, trackage rights on Norfolk Southern were extended to the new organization to serve several limestone quarries in the Bellevue, Ohio area, and trackage rights with CSX Transportation from Connellsville, Pennsylvania to Hagerstown, Maryland, this being a remnant of the 1950s Alphabet Route of which the original W&LE was a part. W&LE Ry also maintains trackage rights from Wellington to Cleveland on CSX.
There are several portions of the original W&LE operated by companies other than the current W&LE. West of Bellevue, Ohio, the now-NS Toledo District was not sold back to W&LE. Immediately after W&LE operations began, Norfolk Southern removed the at-grade crossing in Bellevue, which connected the current W&LE Hartland District to the current NS Toledo District. W&LE now has trackage rights to Toledo on this line, obtained after the Conrail split in 1999. W&LE uses these rights to interchange with Canadian National Railway. Another section is the former Cleveland Division south of Harmon (east of Brewster), which was sold to the Ohio Central Railroad by NS in 1988.
In the sale, the W&LE acquired the Huron Branch, a line between Norwalk and the Huron docks, but the line was never activated north of the Norwalk city limits, and was later removed in its entirety. Until 2019, W&LE served the Huron Docks using trackage rights on NS's former Nickel Plate Road mainline (now the NS Cleveland District) from Bellevue using a connecting line to the docks built by the NKP in 1952. The trackage rights expired in 2019, and W&LE ceased operations to Huron.
Some other small portions of the original W&LE and AC&Y have been abandoned and/or replaced with trackage rights on parallel lines by W&LE. One of these instances occurs on the Carey Subdivision between Greenwich and New London, Ohio. W&LE uses trackage rights over CSX to move between the eastern and western portions of the Carey Subdivision. The partial-abandonment of the Carey Sub was done to remove two at-grade crossings between the CSX and W&LE Lines. A similar case is on the Rook Subdivision between Bowerston and Jewett, Ohio, where W&LE operates over the Ohio Central Railroad. This arrangement allowed the W&LE to remove approximately 12 miles of their route, which paralleled the now-used Ohio Central Route. The Brewster Subdivision runs 40 miles through the fields of Medina, Wayne and Stark Counties in northeastern Ohio. And sees the largest amount of traffic of any Wheeling and Lake Erie Subdivision. Starting in Spencer the line begins at the diamond where the Akron, Brewster, Carey and Heartland Subdivisions all meet. Spencer is hardly regarded as the crossroads of the Wheeling & Lake Erie. All the trains that are sent West along the Brewster sub interchange with Norfolk Southern in Bellevue, CSX in Willard Or Canadian National at Lang Yard in Toledo. In Creston, there is a radio controlled switch siding which is the only one on the Brewster Sub. In 2010, The Wheeling & Lake Erie Railway had finished installation of a 6,900-foot siding at Creston to provide a badly needed place for trains to pass on the Brewster Subdivision between Brewster and Spencer. The siding has powered switches and signals. The view below shows a red aspect on the signal. It does not mean “stop” in the usual railroad parlance. It only means that the signal has not been activated by an approaching train. The signals are activated by a tone generator from an approaching train. This switch has a specific code. The switch at the other end of the siding has a different code. The signal aspect will go “green” for normal (straight through alignment) and “Aaber” for reverse (switch lined for the siding). This system is prevalent at many W&LE locations. The west switch is at MP B108.76, just east of Brooklyn Street. The east switch is at MP B110.2 north of Sterling Road. The new siding will allow meets between eastbound and westbound trains on the Brewster subdivision (Spencer–Brewster). Trains had been passing at Orrville Junction, using the former W&LE mainline, now the Orrville secondary. Use of that line requires heading in on lesser-weight rail and then backing out to the mainline after the meet. The new siding at Creston will eliminate that tedious move.
In the 1970s, under Norfolk & Western ownership, there were passing sidings every 10 miles. Those sidings had remotely-controlled switches and signals. They were removed shortly after the current Wheeling came in to being in May 1990. Current operations are controlled with track warrants issued from the system dispatcher in Brewster at the company headquarters building. After the switches were installed, the adjacent right-of-way was cleared, and then ties, rails and ballast were installed. After the track machines left, the siding was placed in operation. It was used by trains traveling at restrictive speed to settle the new track. The track is 136-pound welded rail, although the switches were not yet motored at that time. Continuing East past Creston, the Brewster sub passes through rural farmland into the villages of Smithville, Orrville, Dalton, and Kidron. Upon reaching Brewster, they have to go through the yard limits at Shorbs if they want to get their train in the yard.
W&LE also has trackage rights to Lima, Ohio, that originally used CSX lines from Carey to Upper Sandusky to Lima, but after the lease of the CSX line (the former Pennsylvania Railroad Fort Wayne Line) by RailAmerica's Chicago, Fort Wayne and Eastern Railroad, W&LE now uses trackage rights from its lines at New London to Crestline, Ohio on CSX, then west on the CF&E to Lima. These trackage rights were also a result of the Conrail split.
Branch lines reach as far south as Benwood, West Virginia (just south of Wheeling) and as far east as Connellsville, Pennsylvania. The W&LE joins the Southwest Pennsylvania Railroad at Owensdale, Pennsylvania. The W&LE currently owns 575 miles (925 km) of track and retains trackage rights on another 265 miles (426 km), totaling to 840 miles (1350km).
Most traffic on the Wheeling and Lake Erie includes stone, farm products, chemicals, forest products, steel products, petroleum, paper, and other traffic. Wheeling and Lake Erie moves approximately 140,000 carloads annually.
Traffic on the Brewster Sub consists mostly of stone, liquified petroleum gas tankers, lumber cars and other miscellaneous cargo. The Carey Subdivisions primary cargo is stone coming and going from the National Lime and Stone Company Quarry in Carey which is the westernmost town on the wheeling line.
Symbols for the Wheeling and Lake Erie trains. Class 1 companies in parentheses are interchanges: CSX in Willard, Norfolk Southern in Bellevue at Moorman Yard and Canadian National at Lang Yard in Toledo.
221 Brewster, OH- Hartland Yard
222 Hartland Yard- Brewster, OH
227 Bellevue, OH- Brewster, OH
228 Brewster, OH- Bellevue, OH
237 Brewster, OH- Willard, OH (CSX)
238 Willard, OH (CSX)- Brewster, OH
240 Brewster, OH- Wellington, OH
301 (Foreign Origins- Mingo Jct, OH)
430 Brewster, OH- Lima, OH (CF&E)
431 Lima, OH (CF&E)- Brewster, OH
732 Carey, OH- Brewster, OH
735 Brewster, OH- Carey, OH
768 Carey, OH- Brewster, OH
958 Brewster, OH- Orrville, OH (NS)[Turn]
107 Canton, OH- Brewster, OH
261 Brewster, OH- Akron, OH
262 Akron, OH- Brewster, OH
271 Canton, OH- Canton, OH (Republic)
285 Akron, OH- Barberton, OH
290 Medina, OH- Akron, OH
291 Akron, OH- Medina, OH
551-555 Canton, OH-Canton, OH
561 Brewster, OH- Canton, OH (extra 261)
562 Akron, OH- Middlebranch, OH [Turn] (extra 262)
563 Akron Storage Lead Local
564 Akron, OH- Green Tree, PA
565 Akron, OH- Solon, OH
600 Canton, OH-Carrollton, OH [Turn]
601 Canton, OH- North Canton, OH [Turn][Tuesday]
624 Brewster, OH- Navarre, OH
625 Navarre, OH- Brewster, OH
641 Barberton, OH- Akron, OH
642 Akron, OH- Barberton, OH
651 Canton, OH- Sandyville, OH
662 Medina, OH- Medina, OH
663 Solon, OH- Akron, OH
771 Parkertown, OH- Canton, OH
772 Canton, OH- Parkertown, OH
774 Parkertown, OH- Akron, OH
775 Akron, OH- Parkertown, OH
777 Canton, OH- Brewster, OH
E & W Rook/Pittsburgh/River Sub
213 Green Tree, PA- Brewster, OH
214 Brewster, OH- Hanna, OH
215 Mingo Junction, OH- Brewster, OH
218 Brewster, OH- Green Tree, PA
226 Hanna, OH- Green Tree, PA
243 Green Tree, PA- Benwood, WV [Turn]
328 Benwood, WV- Jewett, OH
329 Jewett, OH- Benwood, WV
535 Mingo Junction, OH Yard Jobs
591 Hanna Local
609 Green Tree, PA- Longview, PA
610-616 Green Tree, PA- (anywhere needed)
617 Connellsville, PA- Green Tree, PA
618 Green Tree, PA- Connellsville, PA
634 Mingo Junction, OH- Benwood, WV [Turn]
643 Green Tree, PA- Westland, PA [Turn]
681 Connellsville, PA- Hagerstown, MD (CSX)
682 Hagerstown, MD (CSX)- Connellsville, PA
93 Brewster, OH- Toledo, OH (CN)
94 Toledo, OH (CN)- Brewster, OH
223 Brewster, OH- Toledo, OH (CN) [Turn]
415 Wellington, OH- Clarksfield, OH
416 Clarksfield, OH- Wellington, OH
707 Hartland, OH- Brookpark, OH (NS)
708 Brookpark, OH (NS)- Hartland, OH
711 Carey, OH- Akron, OH
712 Akron, OH- Carey, OH
- Corns, John B. (1991). The Wheeling and Lake Erie Railway, Volume 1. Lynchburg, Virginia: TLC Publishing Company. ISBN 0-9622003-5-2.
- Corns, John B. (2002). The Wheeling and Lake Erie Railway, Volume 2. Lynchburg, Virginia: TLC Publishing Company. ISBN 1-883089-75-1.
- Rehor, John A. (1994) . The Nickel Plate Story. Waukesha, Wisconsin: Kalmbach Publishing Co.
- "History". Wheeling and Lake Erie Railway. Retrieved 2008-07-28.
- "System map". Wheeling and Lake Erie Railway. Retrieved 2017-01-13.
- "Roster". NSDash9. Retrieved 2021-11-06.
- "WE Wheeling & Lake Erie Railway". CSX Transportation. Retrieved 2008-07-28.
- "Wheeling and Lake Erie RR details". Norfolk Southern Railway Short Lines - Ohio. Retrieved 2008-07-28.
- "Wheeling and Lake Erie RR system map". Wheeling and Lake Erie RR. Retrieved 2013-05-01.
- Media related to Wheeling and Lake Erie Railway (1990) at Wikimedia Commons
- Wheeling and Lake Erie Railway