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Exploring Ohio Through Historic Trains and Railroad Stations

Patty has enjoyed traveling between Canada and the USA for over 20 years and always finds something fascinating to report.

A caboose like the one owned by an individual in the northwest part of Columbus, Ohio. She uses it for vacations, hooking it to various freight trains for a fee.

A caboose like the one owned by an individual in the northwest part of Columbus, Ohio. She uses it for vacations, hooking it to various freight trains for a fee.

Changes in Rail Service

Ohio enjoyed statewide passenger train service from 1850 until the early 1970s, when the popularity of passenger railways began to decline due to the increase in automobile ownership. During the heyday of all rail service, Ohio maintained the largest number of track miles of any U.S. state, having some 3,000 miles.

While the state maintains a few passenger rail stations along Lake Erie and one in Cincinnati, a number of historic stations and trains have become tourist attractions and destinations for K–12 student field trips.

Ohio decorates many holiday trains that operate during the autumn harvest and at Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's. These excursions often provide passengers with refreshments like those served by the singing and dancing waiters in the film Polar Express. In fact, a few of these trips are called the “Polar Express” and serve hot chocolate. Some of these seasonal trips also include Christmas carolers that I have enjoyed on such rides.

One side of The Cap. The matching architecture of the restaurants looks much like old Union Station.

One side of The Cap. The matching architecture of the restaurants looks much like old Union Station.

Capital Area Rail Icons

Passenger trains declined in popularity in Ohio during the early 1970s. The space once occupied by the large Columbus Union Station in the capital city is now part of a short strip of restaurants and shops in the Short North neighborhood near the downtown district.

The strip is called The Cap and sits on a highway I-670 innerbelt overpass with views of the historic freight train yards that are still in use. One of the tall arches of Union Station was moved to a small park along the downtown Scioto Mile parks as a historic memorial to our bygone train station.

Columbus' Ohio Railway Museum train ride begins at the museum at Proprietor's Road and Route 161 in North Columbus/Worthington.

Columbus' Ohio Railway Museum train ride begins at the museum at Proprietor's Road and Route 161 in North Columbus/Worthington.

Ohio Scenic Railway (OSR)

The OSR museum, the oldest rail museum in the state, exhibits include historic diesel, electric, and steam trains, early streetcars, and even the rare electric interurbans. One of the best exhibits at the museum is an old wooden interurban streetcar. These streetcars ran in Columbus during the early part of the 20th century, and one line ran through the front yards of homeowners in the Bexley community east of downtown. People could sit in their front rooms and porches, watch the street cars pass through their yards, and wave to the passengers!

The museum also displays tools, clothing, and memorabilia that represent the advancement in railroading through 120 years of its highest popularity. Opened in 1948, the facility is at 990 Proprietors Road in northern Columbus, just a few blocks east of North High Street (Route 23) and just north of Route 161. The phone number is (614) 885-7345.

The installation is open Sundays from May through December from 12:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m., with trips scheduled every half hour beginning at 12:30 p.m. Admission rates are $9 for adults, $8 for seniors aged 65 and older and military personnel with ID, and $7 for children ages 4 to 12. Children ages three and under are free. Any admission entitles a ticket holder to ride all of the rides offered on any Sunday.

Toledo and Ohio Central Railroad station, 1895–1930. Now a historic landmark at  379 W Broad St, Columbus, OH 43215.

Toledo and Ohio Central Railroad station, 1895–1930. Now a historic landmark at 379 W Broad St, Columbus, OH 43215.

Depot Rail Museum

A large steam locomotive is displayed at the Depot Rail Museum at 919 Old Henderson Road, Columbus, OH 43220. It serves as a rental space for parties, weddings, and catering. I found the spot accidentally as I turned down a dead-end road and was pleasantly surprised. An 1886 Ringling Brother’s Executive Private Car also is exhibited.

The overall facility looks like a small railway station and is, in fact, a 19th century station that operated on the far east side of Columbus. It was dismantled and rebuilt at the present site with centuries-old woods and Amish décor.

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A long dining car on site provides extra seating for meetings and a miniature train ride and a trolley car transports meeting guests from various pick-up points. I have also seen the trolley transporting visitors to large garden centers in our city for Christmas shopping.

Cincinnati Union Station Terminal.  Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal, 1301 Western Avenue, Cincinnati, OH 45203.

Cincinnati Union Station Terminal. Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal, 1301 Western Avenue, Cincinnati, OH 45203.

Southwestern Ohio Rail Experience (ORE)

The Ohio Rail Experience is part of the Cincinnati Scenic Railway in Southwest Ohio under the operation of the Lebanon Mason Monroe Railroad.

A major passenger line once ran from Cincinnati up through Columbus and Cleveland and plans have been announced to rebuild that line. Meanwhile, Cincinnati is the only city on the Ohio River with an Amtrak station and Old Union Station has become a popular museum and entertainment venue.

Excursions on the ORE are much longer than those offered in Columbus, covering most of a day and often including a layover for sightseeing and shopping. Trips are family friendly and made along freight line tracks according to a safely enforced schedule, and people living along the line enjoy seeing the passenger trains as they pass. The 1930s-era coaches include comfortable stationary and reclining seats and large viewing windows.

Excursion prices begin at $70.00, leaving from either Cincinnati, Springfield, or Washington Court House. Soft drinks and some snacks are complementary, but a deluxe 1940s dining/tavern car and a 1950s concessions car are available as well.

Ohio Rail Experience/Cincinnati Scenic Railway; 16 E South St. Lebanon, OH 45036. (513) 933-8022

Features at the Cincinnati Rail Museum

  1. Union Terminal - Visit the main terminal and even catch an Amtrak train out of Ohio. Long-term parking offers 1300 parking slots and the Cincinnati city bus line Number One connects with the train station. The Amtrak Cardinal and Hoosier State Lines runs through the city, stopping at dozens of cities that include Chicago, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Charleston WVa, Alexandria VA, Washington DC, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Trenton and Newark NJ, and New York City. The Hoosier State runs only between Chicago and Indianapolis.
  2. OMNIMAX® Theater
  3. Cincinnati History Museum
  4. Cincinnati History Library and Archives
  5. Cincinnati Railroad Club
  6. Duke Energy Children's Museum
  7. Edge of Appalachia
  8. Lebanon Mason Monroe Railroad, part of the Cincinnati Scenic Railway
  9. Museum of Natural History & Science
The old Cleveland Union Terminal is now part of a business district downtown called Tower City Center.

The old Cleveland Union Terminal is now part of a business district downtown called Tower City Center.

Eastern Ohio Railroading Opportunities

Here are some more opportunities to explore railroads throughout the state.

Northeastern Railways

State rail societies and historic sites provide various excursions through Northeastern Ohio. These scenic rides entertain families and individuals on Pumpkin and Fall Fest trips and rides keyed to Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's, and “snow country.”

The Cleveland-area Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad through Cuyahoga National Park takes passengers on a three-hour scenic trip in first-class or coach seats, with a dome car option as well.

Some rides offer an open-air coach, and occasionally, a Valentine's Day excursion with dinner is also offered in a uniquely decorated dining car. You can contact the main office at Peninsula Depot at 800-468-4070 for information about tickets and the stations along the route through the park.

Southeastern Railways

Southeastern Ohio rail societies also offer train rides, especially through rural farmlands and the Appalachian foothills that are magnificent backgrounds for leaf peeping in the autumn. These include the Hocking Valley Scenic Railway.

Passenger Stations Along Lake Erie

Different amenities are offered at the rail stations along Ohio's North Coast border.

  • Bryan, Ohio. In the northeast corner of the state, this small town has a station with a waiting room but no ticket office. Many people purchase tickets online.
  • Toledo. Full station. Celebrates National Train Day yearly on the Saturday closest to May 10, the anniversary of the Golden Spike that connected two long rail lines across America.
  • Sandusky, home of Cedar Point Amusement Park. Thie depot has a platform and a shelter area.
  • Elyria. Platform only.
  • Cleveland. Full station. Cleveland Lakefront Station: 200 Cleveland Memorial Shoreway, Cleveland, OH 44114. Historic rail buildings are located nearby. Built along old Native American pathways, the Lake Shore Limited line passes through all Lake Erie stations cites on its way from Chicago to New York City or Boston.
  • Alliance. Platform only.

Future Passengers

Government and business leaders in Columbus, Ohio. have planned and gained financing for a passenger train to downtown Columbus that will travel between the capital city and Chicago and another line running from Cincinnati through Dayton, Columbus, and Cleveland.

Northeast Indiana Rail Association representatives reported that at least 26,800 jobs could be created in 30 years with the first new rail line alone. Groundbreaking for both projects is set for 2023, the year NASA's Mission to Mars is to become active as well. New travel by rail and by spacecraft are both in our future.

Sources

© 2014 Patty Inglish MS

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