Fostoria, Ohio

A steel triangle where quiet moments are few and far between
CSX Fostoria diamond
CSX AC4400CW 37 rolls past Fostoria, Ohio's F Tower on the point of southward grain train G061 on February 18, 2001. With two railroads, three main lines, diamonds, and an active tower, Fostoria provides countless opportunities and angles for train watchers.
James B. Winters
A triangle of steel rails cross each other, the echoes of air horns ring out, and the throb of a diesel engine is almost always in the air. While residents may bristle when stopped by the flashing lights and lowered gates of a grade crossing, rail enthusiasts will delight in the seemingly endless parade of trains.

Welcome to Fostoria, Ohio, one of the busiest railroad spots in a busy railroad state.
An Ohio crossroads

Five carriers once crossed paths here on diamonds less than a half-mile apart: the Baltimore & Ohio, Chesapeake & Ohio, Lake Erie & Western, New York Central, and Nickel Plate Road. Today, the number of railroads serving Fostoria is down to two, with traffic concentrated on three high-volume main lines, but the action is busier than ever, thanks in part to the 1999 breakup of Conrail, which diverted more traffic to CSX's former B&O route.

Running on a Northeast-Southwest alignment is Norfolk Southern's Fostoria District between Bellevue, Ohio, and Fort Wayne, Ind., originally part of Nickel Plate Road's main line from Buffalo to Chicago.

Local yards can be found on either side of the city. North of town at the Fostoria Mixing Center, Ford Motor Co. vehicles are brought in by train from assembly plants and sorted by destination, in much the same way that a trucking warehouse sorts packages.

Double track extends through Fostoria, from a point east of the mixing center known as Ilers, to Arcadia, 6 miles west, where the Lima District branches off to reach Findlay and Lima. NS operates a weekday local out of Fostoria down the branch to Lima.

CSX's double-track Willard Subdivision, part of the B&O's main line, runs east-west through Fostoria, and is the railroad's main artery for traffic moving between Chicago and the Northeast. This includes business originating on former Conrail lines serving Boston, New York City, northern New Jersey,  upstate New York, and Montreal, as well as traffic on the traditional B&O route from Philadelphia, Baltimore, Cumberland, and Pittsburgh.

The north-south route is known as the Columbus Subdivision south of the city and the Pemberville subdivsion to the north. It acts as a steel conveyor belt for northward-moving coal from Kentucky and West Virginia, and is the gateway for automotive, grain, and merchandise freight trains serving Toledo, Detroit, and other points in Michigan.

North of Fostoria, the line is double-track to a control point outside Walbridge yard near Toledo. South of Fostoria, stretches of single and double track alternate to Columbus.

Four wye tracks connect the B&O/C&O diamond, which allows trains to head in any direction on either line. About half the CSX trains through Fostoria do change routes.
Fostoria tower interior
Eight computer monitors, a keyboard, radio, and mouse are some of the critical tools used by the operator in F Tower to direct trains through the busy interlocking.
Matt Van Hattem
On CSX, Fostoria is its own subdivision, part of the Great Lakes Division, stretching from milepost BI 36.1 to BI 37.0 on the B&O, and from milepost CD 87.4 to CD 88.1 on the C&O. (Mileposts on the B&O are measured west from CSX's large classification yard at Willard. On the C&O, they're measured north from Columbus.) All trains running through Fostoria are operated timetable directions east and west.

The Fostoria Sub is controlled by the operator at F Tower, under the direction of the SC dispatcher in Jacksonville. The tower is situated at the northeast quadrant of the B&O/C&O diamond, Willard Sub milepost BI36.4 and Columbus Sub milepost CD 87.7. The tower operator also controls freight traffic on Norfolk Southern's Fostoria District across the two CSX lines.

On the B&O, trains crossing the diamonds are restricted to 40 mph. Speed limits are 35 mph on the C&O, and 35 mph on Norfolk Southern. Trains negotiating the interlocking's complex web of wye tracks, transfer tracks, and yard leads are restricted to 10 mph.; crossovers are good for 15.

An abundance of trains

While traffic levels fluctuate throughout the year, the number of trains passing through Fostoria on a given day can approach 100 or more. CSX freights outnumber NS trains by about three to one.

Norfolk Southern's 10-20 trains a day are a mix of intermodal, automotive, and merchandise freights, with a handful of unit coal and grain trains as well.
CSX Fostoria C30-7
CSX C30-7 7041 smokes it up with transfer freight Q224, passing Sandusky Street north of the diamonds, at midday on February 17, 2001.
James B. Winters
CSX's former B&O is a high-volume intermodal corridor. Many of westbound trailer and stack trains run at night, in a window from about 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. On Sunday and Monday, the number of intermodal trains drops by about a third.

Unit coal trains abound on CSX. About three-fourths of the coal moving through Fostoria uses the Columbus Sub from Kentucky and West Virginia. In roughly equal numbers, the coal trains continue north to Lang Yard in Toledo, utilities in Michigan, and during shipping season, the Toledo Docks. A few veer west at Fostoria for destinations in Indiana and Chicago.

Radio chatter
NS in Fostoria
A classic view of the NS/CSX diamond adjacent to the Amtrak depot parking lot. At 9:16 a.m., on September 30, 2000, an eastward NS freight clatters over the B&O, splits the signals, and rolls across Main Street.
James B. Winters
Although they're not required to, most trains will radio the tower as they near the city limits to confirm their route and progress through the busy interlocking. If traffic is heavy, the tower may instruct approaching trains to wait at designated holding areas outside of town so that grade crossings in the city will not be blocked.

Both CSX and NS train crews call out signals. Talking defect detectors on NS are located six miles east of Fostoria at Ilers (Milepost 273.9) and six miles west at Arcadia (Milepost 285.5). CSX trains pass a detector five miles east of F Tower at Bascom (Milepost 31.1).

The operator at F Tower and train crews on CSX transmit on radio frequency 160.230 (AAR 08). The Willard Sub IP dispatcher can be heard on 161.520 (AAR 94), the Columbus Sub HD dispatcher uses 160.320 (AAR 12), and the Pemberville Sub RL dispatcher uses 160.635 (AAR 35).

Norfolk Southern's Fostoria District road channel is 161.250 (AAR 76).

Where to watch the action

They are many great places to view trains in Fostoria. Public streets cross all three lines at several locations. Use the map at the end of the article to help orient you to the area.
CSX Fostoria quadrant
CSX C30-7 7041 smokes it up with transfer freight Q224, passing Sandusky Street north of the diamonds, at midday on February 17, 2001.
James B. Winters
The land surrounding F Tower and the B&O/C&O diamond is private, and with so many trains moving through the interlocking, CSX does not tolerate trespassers.

Most train watchers congregate near the now-closed Amtrak station on Main Street, which sits on the south side of the B&O tracks. A parking lot is located across the tracks from the depot, sandwiched between the CSX and NS lines just east of the diamond where they cross.

Poplar Street, located at the east end of the station platforms, crosses both the CSX and NS mains, and offers a good spot to view activity on both CSX and NS.

Columbus Avenue crosses all three main lines in relatively close proximity on its Northwest-Southeast route through the city. The street passes just 10 feet from the C&O/NS diamond, and within view of the western throat of NS's Blair Yard. Further east, the road crosses the B&O main, yielding good views of the tower and the B&O/C&O diamond.

For a change of scene, take Highway 12 past the Mennel Milling Company plant southwest of the diamonds. The mill produces various types of flour for customers such as Pillsbury, Campbell Soup, and General Mills.

With so many locations to choose from, and with trains running in so many different directions, good photographs can be taken all day long.

Fostoria amenities and attractions

If you go, chances are good you won't be alone. Railfans from near and far flock to Fostoria, so much so that the city's chamber of commerce is developing a campaign to attract train watchers, their families, and their tourist dollars to the area. (Once home to 13 different glass plants, Fostoria has several attractions that celebrate the city's heritage as a leader in glass production. The downtown area is designated a state historical preservation site.)

"In the mid-summer of 2000, a group of railfans and merchants got together to see what they could do to make the train-watching experience better," Dorene Nowatzke, former president of the Fostoria Area Chamber of Commerce told The chamber established a Train Tourism Focus Group, and soon after hired a director of marketing to move the effort forward.

If you're planning an extended trip to the area, you'll find hotels and restaurants along Route 23 east of the city. A Days Inn on Route 12 about two miles west of the diamonds provides distant views of the NS main line from guest rooms facing the highway and tracks.

Fostoria is also home to a tangle of highways. Interstate 75 is about 15 miles west of the city. Three Ohio routes, 12, 18, and 613 provide a direct connection to Fostoria. U.S. Highway 23, running between Toledo and Columbus also provides easy access to the city and follows the former C&O route.

For more information on accommodations and amenities, visit the Fostoria Area Chamber of Commerce web site at

In the October 2001 issue, Trains Magazine visited Fostoria's busy F Tower, and showed you what it takes to thread 100 trains through this complex maze of track every day.
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