The Ohio Central Railroad System (reporting marks OHCR), now a part of the Genesee & Wyoming family of short lines, once based out of Coshocton, Ohio
was actually a combination of small systems under one banner,
deliberately set up in this manner to allow the communities in which it served to feel more like they have a railroad to call their own. The railroad dated back to 1988 when a former owner, the late Jerry Jacobson, acquired a single segment of track in central Ohio and grew into one of the largest Class II, regionals in the country. The
OC, operated almost exclusively in Ohio (they also have a
presence in western Pennsylvania), was broken down into three divisions,
which include the Southern Lines, Youngstown Division and Pittsburgh
Much of its trackage was former Pennsylvania lines (including the PRR's "Panhandle Route" main line from Gould, Ohio [Mingo Junction] to Columbus) but also includes ex-Erie Lackawanna/Erie, Wheeling & Lake Erie/Nickel Plate Road, and Youngstown & Southern (a jointly-owned PRR/Pittsburgh & Lake Erie [NYC] property). Since the sale to Genesee & Wyoming the individual Ohio Central properties have lost much of their identity but remain on paper.
Within Ohio Central's three divisions were no less than ten individual short lines. While these small railroads operated mostly as paper companies many carried its very own livery giving them a local feel to the communities they serve. The Ohio Central's most famous corridor is the ex-Pennsylvania Railroad's "Panhandle" main line across central Ohio. This once-important PRR route was largely double-tracked connecting New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Columbus, Indianapolis, and St. Louis. Under Conrail, large segments west of Pittsburgh were pulled up. In 2008 Mr. Jacobson decided to sell off his major asset to the shortline conglomerate Genesee & Wyoming, in the process becoming a multimillionaire. It was reported at that time the Ohio Central boasted 70,000 carloads annually, contained 10 railroads, maintained 550 route miles, and had 200 employees. It was sold for $234 million. While the OC is no longer independently operated, the former owner gave the railroad historical movement one of its greatest assets when he completed his multi-million dollar "Age Of Steam Roundhouse" complex in 2012.
It is a meticulous replica of an original 18-stall roundhouse and for now will house his vast collection of steam locomotives. Upon selling his railroad to the G&W, Mr. Jacobson set about constructing his new roundhouse in 2010 which featured an impressive 18 stalls and a 115-foot turntable. The fleet continues to grow and currently includes 22 locomotives, a few of which remain operational. The most recent acquisition before his passing came in December of 2015 when Woodward Iron Company 2-10-0 #41 was sent to Sugar Creek. The Decapod was originally built in 1928 by the Baldwin Locomotive Works for the Alabama, Tennessee & Northern Railroad and sold to Woodward in 1948. The facility also maintains 12 historic diesel locomotives.
Two other acquisitions occurred during late 2015 including McCloud River Railroad 2-6-2 #9 built in 1901 by Baldwin and remains operational, as well as U.S. Army 2-8-0 #612, a 1943 product of Baldwin. In addition to the steamers others are under restoration. Following Jerry's passing, the roundhouse opened its doors to the public in 2018, offering a rare glimpse inside an active roundhouse, a facility which has almost entirely disappeared within the industry. Its very latest acquisition was Bessemer & Lake Erie 2-10-4 #643, added in August, 2019. The big locomotive has sat forlorn on an isolated siding near Pittsburgh (McKees Rocks) for years. Below is a list of the railroad’s former divisions and short lines operating within them:
Ohio Central Railroad (OHCR): The Ohio Central began in 1988 when Mr. Jacobson acquired the former Wheeling & Lake Erie/Nickel Plate between Harmon (trackage rights were obtained north of Beach City) and Zanesville. At this time the railroad handled coal, steel, brick, plastic, clay, and lumber. The properties he controlled at that time (Ohio Southern, Youngstown & Austintown, and Ohio Central) were collectively referred to as the Ohio Central Railroad System.
Ohio Southern Railroad (OSRR): This was Mr. Jacobson's original short line, launched in 1985 over the former Pennsylvania between Zanesville and New Lexington, acquired from Conrail. It also included a former New York Central branch between Glass Rock and FS Junction (located south of Zanesville). Most of the latter is now out-of-service with the right-of-way owned by the state of Ohio.
Columbus & Ohio River Railroad (CUOH): The largest individual part of the Ohio Central Railroad System, the Columbus & Ohio River was formed in 1992 when Jacobson picked up the old Panhandle Route from Mingo Junction (where a connection was established with the Wheeling & Lake Erie) to Columbus. The sale also included a former New York Central branch between Hebron and Heath, as well as an ex-PRR branch from Cadiz Junction to Georgetown. In all, it totaled 162 miles. At that time, the railroad's headquarters was transferred from Sugar Creek to Coshocton in the heart of Ohio's Amish Country. The CUOH grew larger in 1996 when it picked up Conrail's 3-mile Neilston Industrial Track (ex-PRR) in Columbus, providing additional customers. Then, 2001 it acquired more industrial trackage around Columbus from Norfolk Southern.
Mahoning Valley Railway (MVRY): The Mahoning Valley was acquired from LTV Steel in 2001 and resurrects the property (Youngstown-Struthers, which was previously the Lake Erie & Eastern Railroad). Most of the MV is a disconnected former component of New York Central from Bayard (NS interchange) and Minerva Junction (W&LE interchange) to Hopedale where another W&LE interchange is found. Altogether, the track totals 53 miles.
Ohio & Pennsylvania Railroad (OHPA): Created in 1995, the Ohio & Pennsylvania Railroad began operation of the former Youngstown & Southern Railway (once controlled by the PRR and Pittsburgh & Lake Erie) between Youngstown and Darlington, Pennsylvania (via Negley). It also included Conrail's short Canfield Branch, a former Erie/Erie-Lackawanna property. The old Y&S was owned by Columbiana County Port Authority and Ohio Central's involvement ended in 2006. Today, it is operated by the Youngstown & Southeastern Railroad, an Indiana Boxcar subsidiary.
Warren & Trumbull Railroad (WTRM): This was yet another project launched by the Mahoning Valley in 1994 when it purchased 5 miles of an old Baltimore & Ohio branch between Warren and DeForest Junction from CSX Transportation. Once again, Mr Jacobson is named operator and forms the Warren & Trumbull Railroad.
Youngstown & Austintown Railroad (YARR): Formed in 1986 when the Mahoning Valley Economic Development Corporation acquired a 4-mile segment of a former industrial branch from Conrail, originally owned by Erie/Erie-Lackawanna. Mr. Jacobson was asked to operate the trackage, thus creating the Youngstown & Austintown Railroad.
Youngstown Belt Railroad Company (YB): The Youngstown Belt began service in 1996 when it acquired 45 miles of the former Erie/Erie-Lackawanna main line between Ravenna and Warren. This included trackage rights south of Warren to Girard and Youngstown, enabling through service to what is now its former Ohio & Pennsylvania Railroad. It also tied in the system's other small properties in the region, the Warren & Trumbull, Youngstown & Austintown, and Mahoning Valley.
Pittsburgh & Ohio Central Railroad (POHC): This addition came in 2000 when the Ohio Central picked up the former RailAmerica's Chartiers & Youghiogheny, a 42-mile section running between Neville Island and Arden with service to Walkers Mill. It is another section of the old PRR Conrail no longer wanted long ago.
Aliquippa & Ohio River Railroad (AOR): This very short section of track was formerly part of LTV Steel's Aliquippa & Southern Railway, running 9 miles north of the Pittsburgh area. Acquired in 2002 with traffic based in chemicals, plastics, metals, minerals and stone it was renamed as the Aliquippa & Ohio River.
While the freight trains paid the bills perhaps what the OC was best
known and recognized for among railfans and the public was its large and
continually growing steam fleet. The railroad just recently acquired
former Nickel Plate Berkshire #763 (sister to famous #765) from the
Virginia Museum of Transportation and plans are to still in place to one
day return it to operation, which will certainly be a sight to see!
Aside from the big Berk, the OC’s collection of steam
locomotives included 2-8-0 #33, 4-8-4 #6325, 4-6-2 #1293, 4-6-0 #1551 (this Canadian National steamer first hosted trips between Baltic and Sugar Creek in 1989),
2-8-0 #13, 0-4-0 #3, 4-6-2 #1278, and 2-6-0 #96.
After the G&W takeover of the railroad it was announced that founder Jerry Jacobson "will retain rights to operate his steam locomotives and passenger cars on the property. Sources say he will build a roundhouse near his home in Sugar Creek, Ohio to stable the steam locomotives" according to Trains Magazine. Alas, Mr. Jacobson sadly passed away on September 13, 2017 at the age of 74. His legacy lives on in the multi-million dollar roundhouse he built. To visit Jerry's "Age Of Steam Roundhouse" website please click here. While the Ohio Central has become yet another fallen flag the G&W has pledged to continue the high quality of service the railroad was known for. So, if you are near Ohio’s Amish country or anywhere else in northeastern Ohio or western Pennsylvania you should certainly look up one of the OC's former lines, it was certainly a very interesting railroad. Also, if you are photographer now is the time to get your shots of locomotives in OC paint before they disappear into G&W's orange, yellow and black.