The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad (reporting marks, CVSR) is a tourist attraction which operates more than 50 miles through Ohio's only national park situated just north of downtown Akron along the Cuyahoga River. It is headquartered in Peninsula, Ohio and has been in operation since 1975 as a non-profit organization. This remains the case today although the trackage, originally owned by the Baltimore & Ohio with a history dating back to the 1880's, is now the National Park Service's property. As such, the federal government and the non-profit Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad work together in maintaining the rails and growing ridership. Thanks to its effective marketing team, location within the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, and close proximity to Akron and Cleveland the railroad continues to break ridership records; 2016 was the best year yet with 214,063 passengers boarding its trains. In many ways it is surprising that a railroad had been allowed to continue operating in such a pristine natural setting, not far from two large urban centers. Most visitors board the trains for this reason, along with the many special events the railroad offers throughout the year. However, for the hardcore train enthusiast, the CVSR is popular for its eclectic fleet of historic American Locomotive Company (Alco) and Montreal Locomotive Works diesels that ply the rails each week.
The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad can trace its heritage back to the Baltimore & Ohio, which acquired control of the Valley Railway (VR) in late 1889. The B&O had spent much of the latter 19th century growing across the Midwest, largely through either outright acquisition or funding projects to gain control. In the VR's case it sought entry into the growing urban center of Cleveland. The VR was originally an independent operation incorporated on August 21, 1871 for the purpose of connecting Cleveland and Akron, Ohio, with coal mines located in Stark and Tuscarawas counties. The project proceeded quickly and by August, 1873 nearly two-thirds of the right-of-way between Canton and Cleveland had been completed. The financial panic that year slowed work for several years and track-laying did not begin until October 26, 1878 when the first segment was spiked down in Akron. Finally, almost a year to the day later, 57 miles from Cleveland to Canton was finished on October 27, 1879. Regular service commenced a few months later on February 2, 1880. The VR's officials, though, were not satisfied with Canton as the southern terminus. Following a few more years of work they managed to open an additional segment from Canton to Bowerston via Valley Junction and Sherrodsville, which was completed in 1884.
This allowed for a connection with the Wheeling & Lake Erie, which ran as far as Wheeling, West Virginia and offered further eastern connections with carriers such as the B&O and Pennsylvania. The 75-mile Valley Railway, however, would maintain a short-lived independence. While it handled considerable coal tonnage (comprising 75% of its traffic by 1888) the Baltimore & Ohio was after its Cleveland connection, a growing industrial and manufacturing center. After gaining stock control in the late 1889 the B&O placed directors on the VR's board on January 8, 1890. While now firmly under the B&O's wing, the VR remained a separate corporate operation for several years. It was reorganized as the Cleveland, Terminal & Valley Railway (CT&V) on October 3, 1895 following bankruptcy a few months prior, and the B&O did not take over management of the system until June, 1909. Throughout the B&O era the former CT&V Branch (which operated as part of its larger Akron Division) handled various types of freight, from coal and iron ore to general merchandise and less-than-carload (LCL) business. Passenger trains fell victim early on to the automobile with cutbacks carried out as early as July 18, 1933 with through trains to Marietta were discontinued. The last service to use the line was the Cleveland Night Express, which made its final run on January 3, 1963.
The B&O, itself, would eventually lose its independence. In the post-World War II era it struggled to remain profitable against rising costs, strangling government regulations, and competition from highways, airlines, and other railroads. As a result, the Chesapeake & Ohio gained control on February 4, 1963. The former CT&V Branch witnessed a general decline in business as well with the loss of steel mills and general manufacturing. By the Chessie System era, which brought together the C&O, B&O, and Western Maryland under a single holding company in 1972, the conglomerate was looking to shift traffic off the former CT&V and onto another B&O line which reached Cleveland via Sterling, Ohio (the Cleveland, Lorain & Wheeling Branch). In his article, "Cleveland's Streamliner Rocks" from the May, 2010 issue of Trains Magazine, author Craig Sanders notes that by the 1980's the only traffic remaining on the CT&V was Pittsburgh-Cleveland coke train (purified coal) which ran three or four days a week. But by then a new source of business had found its way to the CT&V, tourists. The line ran through the beautiful Cuyahoga Valley National Park and as early as 1967 the Cuyahoga Valley County Fair Board was asking the B&O to run specials to Hale Farm, a living history museum, which continues to educate visitors about life in the 19th century.
The railroad showed no interest but the group persisted and the Cuyahoga Valley Preservation & Scenic Railway Association was created in 1972 to fund the trips themselves. The excursions, which operated under the name "Cuyahoga Valley Line" kicked off in June, 1975 as seasonal, steam-powered affairs which operated only on the weekends. The locomotive utilized was Grand Trunk Western 2-8-2 #4070 (manufactured by American Locomotive in 1918), along with a fleet of heavyweight cars (all of which was owned by the Midwest Railway Historical Foundation), and during 21 trips which ran that first season (from the Cleveland Zoo to Hale Farm), carried 7,000 patrons. The runs were extended to Akron in 1977 but despite witnessing 90,000 passengers during its first five seasons (which lasted from June through October), the trips could not break even, let alone earn a profit. However, Chessie System continued to allow use of its tracks through the early 1980's, and even provided train crews until the railroad officially abandoned the 26 miles through the national park from Independence to Akron, in December, 1984. For another year excursions were allowed but in 1986 Chessie stopped all trains from using the line. After the railroad and federal government worked out an agreement, President Ronald Reagan signed legislation into law on November 6, 1986 allowing the National Park Service to purchase the trackage for $2.5 million.
Afterwards, in March, 1991, the Cuyahoga Valley Line dropped its association with the Midwest Railway Historical Foundation and began running with its own equipment, at which time it acquired its now-famous Alco's. As the years passed, the organization expanded service to increase ridership. For instance, it now operates numerous special trains throughout the year including a wine tasting train, Day Out With Thomas ("The Tank Engine"), Easter Bunny Express, The Polar Express, Halloween Express, and the Christmas Tree Adventure. Add to this stops along the railroad’s route which includes the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Akron Zoo, Hall Farm and Village, and the Stan Hywet Hall and Garden and its no wonder the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad sees thousands of riders annually. In June, 2003 it expanded by 25 miles from Akron to Canton when Akron Metro RTA, which had purchased the trackage from CSX Transportation in 2001 for $6.2 million, gave CVSR permission to use the line. While the tourist railroad has attempted to serve downtown Cleveland directly, an additional 8 miles from Independence, CSX still owns this trackage and does not allow excursions. There was an attempt to run buses but this garnered little interest.
The CVSR is one of the few tourist railroads that offers a year-round schedule, although it varies depending on the seasons. In September, 1989 the railroad began mid-week service as demand increased, which was further expanded to five days a week in 1995. However, this lasts only during the summer months as service curtails back to weekend-only during the cooler months. There are currently eight stations on the line including Rockside Station, Canal Exploration Center, Brecksville Station, Peninsula Depot, Indigo Lake Station, Botzum Station, Big Bend Station, and Akron Northside Station. In 1990, the CVSR witnessed respectable patronage at less than 20,000 passengers but nothing outstanding. However, throughout that decade the organization worked to increase interest and was hosting more than 100,000 annually by 2000. This further jumped to 153,000 in 2008 and, as mentioned in the introduction, the railroad now hosts more than 200,000! As mentioned before the CVSR is an Alco haven with models ranging from FPAs to RS3s. Below is a current roster of the railroad:
Ex-New York, Susquehanna & Western)
Ex-Canadian National #6777
Ex-Canadian National #6771
Ex-Seaboard Air Line #124
Ex-New Haven #2029
Ex-Canadian National #6780
Ex-Canadian Pacific #8779
Ex-U.S. Army #2014
Ex-Spokane, Portland & Seattle #71
Ex-Grand Trunk Western #3734
Ex-Delaware & Hudson #4088
Ex-Delaware & Hudson #4099
Ex-Canadian Pacific #4241
Ex-Boston & Maine #6903
Ex-Canadian National #6767
Ex-New Haven #48
Ex-New Haven #21
With assistance from the federal government, the CVSR can maintain track speeds of 25 mph, a very respectable speed for a tourist railroad. There are no freight trains running through the national park although freight does operate on sections from Akron to Canton. So, if you’re ever in northern Ohio or near the cities of Cleveland, Akron, and/or Canton please stop by and check out the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad which not only provides a comfortable, climate-controlled train ride but also fabulous scenery through the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Lastly, if you have the time please consider volunteering to help them with not only restoration work but also maintaining their railroad. I am sure they would very much appreciate the help! For more information about the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad please click here to visit their official website. There you can found exactly everything that they have to offer as it is filled with information from all of their available excursions to things you can do around the region. You can also find out when their excursion trains are operating and purchase tickets directly from the website.
(Thanks to Jerry Jordak for help concerning the information on this page.)