PENN CENTRAL NORWALK BRANCH (CONRAIL/PENN CENTRAL (PC)/NEW YORK CENTRAL (NYC)/LAKE SHORE & MICHIGAN SOUTHERN (LS&MS) (Millbury-Elyria, OH)
In this article, we are covering the ex-New York Central/Penn Central (& Conrail) Norwalk Branch, part of PC’s Columbus Division, that ran from Millbury, through Genoa, Fremont, Clyde, Bellevue, Monroeville, Norwalk, Collins, Oberlin, to Elyria, OH.
The line connected to the NYC/PC Toledo Division (ex-LS&MS/Water Level Route) at Millbury and Elyria, OH, and ran east/west, about 25 miles south of the Lake Erie shoreline. Today a lot of the original ROW was preserved and made into a public trail. The trail currently (as of 2022) extends from Genoa to Collins. Hopefully the rest of the original ROW gets preserved to Elyria and Millbury. The trail follows most of the ROW through Fremont, and Clyde (the trail jogs a bit due to Whirlpool).
At Clyde, between Amanda/Spring and Vine Streets was a small yard that consisted of about 3 or so tracks. It was still in tack in the early 1980s, then torn out about mid to late ’80s or so. There also were some siding tracks (possibly continuation of the tracks from amanda/Spring Street), downtown Clyde near Maple, Main, and Church Streets, that served factories near that area and the depot west of Main Street. Just west of Maple Street there was a freight house and connection track that curved a bit NE, and connected the Norwalk Branch to the ex-NYC/PC Sandusky Branch (that ran north/south), for interchanging cars. A NYC/PC local crew and power (usually a GP9 or 7) came out of Toledo- Airline Yard, to service businesses along the Norwalk Branch, especially in Fremont, Clyde, and Bellevue. There was a signal near the crossing of the Sanduky Branch, near Maple Street. One of the signals (most likely from the sandusky Branch side just east of Maple Street at that crossing was restored and placed east of Main Street on the trail (it now looks much shorter in height, and the original had 2 red lights- no green!).
In Bellevue, the trail temporarily branches off and follows Rt. 20, due to NS still owning the ROW just east of CR 177 (west of Bellevue), on east into Bellevue. Just west of Kilbourne St. in Bellevue, NS has a siding track on the ex-ROW, and the MR&NKP Museum has tracks that was part of the Purina-Sunrise Mill from there to SW St. Between Kilbourne and SW St. was and still is the original team/freight tracks for NYC/PC Bellevue Yard, near the Depot and Freight House. The small yard consisted of 3 tracks that also crossed York St. (now closed by the museum). It also originally had a short spur track that curved south and ended just south of the original concrete Purina Checkered silos (spur was removed by the museum a few years ago, and a new building added just south of the yard in the middle of the original alley road). The Freight House still stands, with some modifications through the years, and the Depot was torn down by NYC in the 1960s or so. There was a signal near the brick apron walkway on the south side of the yard-in front of the depot. Most of this line was dark territory with no signals, except for crossovers.
From SW St. to Monroe St. there is no trail on the ROW, but from Monroe St. east past Bauer Raod, east of Bellevue, NS/W&LE have tracks on the orginal ROW. At that point near Bauer/Prairie Road, the trail starts again along the tracks, and eventually back onto the original ROW, going east into Monroeville and on. The Sandusky County Park District have a lot of credit getting a lot of the trail through Sandusky County, with a lot of help from R. Jordan.
The Norwalk branch line was originally built by the LS&MS, because the construction halted of their orignal first line near the Lake Erie shoreline. Later they continued the lakeshore line, and eventually the NYC downgraded the Norwalk Branch, moving most of the east/west traffic to the more north line. As years went by, the NYC and PC neglected most maintanence on the line, so speed limits were eventually made down to 25-20 MPH in some areas, to prevent derailments.
The NYC took over the LS&MS, and NYC named it the Norwalk Branch, Columbus Division, and later the PC (came about with the merging of the NYC, PRR, and NH in 1968) used the same names of the line. When Conrail came into existence in 1976, the line was abandonded. There are stories where PC took a lot of the joint bars off the line prematurely, to get it ready to be taken up. The PC then had to run a few trains during these track conditions- they either put the bars back in or ran the trains without them.
The NORWALK BRANCH is described in more detail as follows by Mile Pole (MP)/Control Point (CP):
Lake Region, Toledo Division, Norwalk Branch
(from 4/28/1968 TT No. 1 Penn Central)
Elyria Jct. to Millbury Jct.:
MP (from Buffalo, PA, WB from Elyria to Millbury, OH)
207.9 Elyria Jct. (Interlocking)
Stop sign at B&O Wye
Elyria to Oberlin Yard Limit between point of switch 600 ft E of MP 208 & 1034 ft W of MP 217
237.1 Norwalk (Yard E & W siding tracks 40 car lengths
Norwalk Yard Limit 900 ft W of MP 236 & 1900 ft W of MP 239
241.6 Monroeville (Interlocking; N&W & B&O Crossing)
249.0 Bellevue (Interlocking; N&W Crossing)
249.1 Bellevue (Yard, E & W siding tracks 46 car lengths)
Bellevue Yard Limit between 2175 ft E of MP 249 & 2250 ft E of MP 252
256.5 Clyde (PC Sandusky Br. Crossing, Yard, E & W siding tracks 55 car lengths)
Target Signal (Vertical-Proceed) at Clyde- operated by trainmen
Clyde Yard Limit between 2600 ft E of MP 257 & 1640 ft W of MP 258
264.9 Fremont (N&W Crossing, Yard, E & W siding tracks 52 car lengths, Train Register at Scale Box)
Target Signal (Vertical-Proceed) at Fremont, operated by trainmen
Fremont Yard Limit between 1930 ft W of MP 265 & 400 ft E of MP 268
277.2 Elmore (Yard, E & W siding tracks 36 car lengths)
282.0 Genoa (Yard, E & W siding tracks 48 car lengths)
Yard Limit Genoa to Millbury Jct. between 171 ft W of MP 281 Norwalk Br. & point of switch in Tol. Div. Main 1146 ft E of MP 281
286.8 Millbury Jct. (Interlocking; Yard, E & W siding tracks 26 car lengths)
2nd Class Freight Trains:
#645 WB M, W, F, leave Elyria Jct. 9:30 AM, leave Norwalk 11:30 AM, arrive Bellevue 1:30 PM
#649 WB T, Th, Sa, leave Bellevue 7:30 AM, arrive Fremont 8:01 AM
#647 WB daily-no Sun, leave Fremont 1:30 PM, arrive Millbury Jct. 3 PM
#646 EB T, Th, Sa, leave Fremont 8:30 AM, leave Bellevue 9:30 AM, leave Norwalk 11:30 AM, arrive Elyria Jct. 1:30 PM
#648 EB daily-no Sun leave Millbury Jct. 9:50 AM, arrive Fremont 12:30 PM
Extra Trains: no train orders needed between Elyria & Oberlin, Fremont & Clyde, Genoa & Millbury Jct.
All Trains: cleared on single track, no Clearance Form A needed at Elyria Jct.- for Norwalk Br. trains, at Bellevue-WB 2nd class trains, Fremont- 2nd class trains, Millbury Jct.- Norwalk Br. trains. All trains must stop at all non-interlocked RR crossings.
Max. speed allowed: 30 MPH on full Norwalk Br. all trains- also 10 MPH max at Whittlesey, Foster, Milan ave- Norwalk; Monroe St. W of station 10 MPH & between home signals 20 MPH-Monroeville; between home singnals 20 MPH & E yard limit board 15 MPH-Bellevue; Main St. Rt. 101 10 MPH- Clyde; Groghan & Garrison St., Birchard ave. 10 MPH- Fremont.
315,000 pounds max. load limit capy. between elyria Jct. & Millbury Jct.
Dispatcher in charge of Norwalk Branch- Toledo
Radio at Toledo/Toledo Div., in cabin cars and locomotives, channel 2- ex-NYC channel, radios have 2 channels (other channel- 1 for ex-PRR lines)
Siding Information: (per PC 4/69 TT)
Trains taking sidings would take first switch except at:
Norwalk– WB, second switch on north side, east of station; EB, crossover west of station.
Bellevue– WB, crossover; EB second switch
Clyde– EB crossover west of station
Fremont– EB, crossover
Per a PC 4/28/68 timetable, they labeled the line from Elyria Jct. to Millbury Jct., OH as WB. Most of the line was “dark territory”- a term used by railroads to mean the line had no working lighted signals in most areas of the line, except before and at railroad line crossings. Passenger trains were removed from the line, the line was downgraded by NYC and PC, and most freights were rerouted to other NYC/PC lines- such as NYC’s/PC’s NE, Lake, and Toledo Divisions of their Buffalo, NY to Chicago, IL Main Line, including their Western Region. All signals were removed decades ago, along with the rails, ties, and telephone poles.
Starting at Elyria, OH, the line began there, connected to NYC’s/PC’s Water Level-Lake/Toledo Division, and continued WB to Millbury Jct., where it connected back to the NYC’s/PC’s same Water Level route.
Photos of the original ROW recently:
(Vine St., facing EB, a few of the NYC/PC Clyde Yard tracks went through here, with the Main to the far right, and the interchange track to the far left, that went to NYC’s/PC’ Sandusky Branch also in Clyde, next to ex-Clyde frieght house. Freight house is the brick building to the far left. The crossover of the 2 branches was behind this later-added gazebo, near Maple St.:)
(Maple St., facing north, but Norwalk Branch went W/E- left to right- this is where both the NYC/PC Sandusky and Norwalk Branches crossed. NYC/PC Sandusky Branch pretty much followed where or to the left of the crosswalk stripes. The original tall wood plank- with 2 lights-type semaphore signal was also at this location where the small triangle of dirt is- the signal was moved to the far right of Main St. near the police/fire house. The original depot that served both lines was also in this location to the right. The brick walk and station platform roof there today at the far right not in the photo, was put in the 1990s or so, and is not original. 2020:)
(Ex-NYC/PC Clyde Freight House, now Moose, facing NW, south side of building, in foreground is where the Norwalk Branch and interchange track to the Sandusky Branch use to be. Before this parking lot was there, you could still see the lower graded wide area where the Norwalk Branch Clyde Yard tracks use to be. 2020:)
(Woodland Ave. facing EB, now trail, 2020:)
(Spring St. facing WB, 2020:)
(East end of NYC/PC Clyde Yard facing WB- had about 3 or so tracks, plus the main was on the far left, George St., 2020:)
(West end of NYC/PC of same Clyde Yard, facing EB, near Amanda St., 2020:)
(CR 302, west of Bellevue, OH, or Klines technically, facing WB. Norwalk Branch ROW was where the NS’s stone drive is. To the right is the ex-W&LE 1st Dist./NKP Toledo Div./N&W Toledo Dist./now NS Toledo Dist., 2021.:)
(Klines- west of Bellevue, CR 302, facing EB, ROW was where NS’s stone drive is:)
(York St.- behind us- Bellevue, facing EB. SW St. is in the background. Main track in to the right, then both Bellevue Yard tracks to the left- the far left track was extended by the museum in the 1980s. These tracks were rebuilt a few years ago with new ties, plates, and possibly newer rail. Some of the rail and plates may be original. The ballast in this picture is not original and was added during the rebuild. The majority of the original roadbed underneath the rails that was left was old coal slag and dark dirt, between the rail sets and ties, with the dirt being level with the ties and below grade compared to the brick apron to the left. The older slag/dirt roadbed was that way since the last time NYC rebuilt the roadbed in the 1940s or 1950s. Later in the 1990s the museum added some limestone ballast in between the rails overtop of the ties. The brick apron is original, and where the garden dirt mound is where the original NYC Bellevue Depot stood, which was torn down by NYC in the 1960s. Also an orginal semaphore signal use to be in front of the depot. The NYC and PC locals always rested here with a caboose and locomotive. See this site and look for the transfer cab at Bellevue, OH on the page taken by H. Ameling- it shows a photo of this yard facing north, just west of SW St. near the depot area in the background of this photo.:)
At Norwalk (MP 237.1):
PC had at least one local that came out of NYC’s/PC’s Toledo Airline Yard, and serviced at least Fremont, Clyde, and Bellevue, with interchanges between NYC/PC Locals from their Sandusky Branch at Clyde. At Clyde they serviced lumber yards, grain mills, possibly Whirlpool, and other businesses. Locals also serviced Norwalk, Monroeville, and other towns on the line. Most units for the locals were GP7 or GP9 units. (More info to follow in more detail from Tom, an ex-NYC/PC employees who worked these locals out of Fremont, Clyde, etc. during the 1960s and 1970s, and who’s father also worked these locals.)
(We will continue to add to this article with more information and photos.)
© Copyright 2022 1-West Productions™/P.Jordan. References: E. Durnwald (ex-N&W/NS Tower Operator/Clerk), A Sampling of Penn Central by Jerry Taylor- IN Univ. 1973, 2000).