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Train Watching A Popular Pastime In Berea

Railfans gather on Depot Street in Berea to watch trains [Joe Kurilec]

Train watching has been around nearly as long as steam engines.

“It was almost human. It made noise, the valves, boiler, it hissed, chugged, it was almost alive. It was fascinating,” said railfan and model railroader Joe Kurilec, who has been around working steam engines.

“It was one of the biggest inventions. Seeing something so massive moving, that is pretty amazing,” he said.

The oldest train watching organization, dedicated to documenting and preserving information about rail history, is nearly 100 years old. The Railway & Locomotive Historical Society, Inc., was founded in 1921. 

A Norfolk Southern geometry train [Joe Kurilec]

One of the best places in the country for spotting trains, according to fans, publications and online sources, including  RailfanLocations , is the former Union Depot in Berea, Ohio. It’s the point where rail lines owned by Norfolk Southern and CSX pass within a few yards of each other before veering off in different directions. It attracts railfans from around the country.

“This used to be the third busiest connection in the country,” Kurilec said, having grown up watching trains. “I used to live along the Nickel Plate tracks along West 27th, and my grandmother would take me down to the Nickel Plate tracks to watch trains, and to me it was just fascinating.”  

BE Tower, Berea [Joe Kurilec]

The Berea Union Depot was established in 1876 to provide passenger and freight service for the city’s growing sandstone-based economy. It was home to one of the largest sandstone quarries in the world. Rail service was key to shipping it and other materials.

“Lumber, steel, coal, coke, grain, there was a ton of stuff that was shipped all over the country. It used to go by steam ship, but it was a lot more economical to send it by train than on a boat,” Kurilec said.

In 1958, the depot ceased operations, and the building was sold in 1980. Today it’s the Berea Depot Restaurant. Railfans park at the far end of one of its two parking lots peering down the tracks and listening for horns signaling the approach of the next train. Train watching isn’t an expensive hobby. Some simply sit and watch, while others invest in binoculars, cameras, notepads and scanners.

“They get railroad frequencies, so you can know what’s happening any special movement that’s going to be happening,” Kurilec said.

A Norfolk Southern passes a Florida East Coast locomotive [Joe Kurilec]

As many as 100 trains pass through the city of Berea every day, and train watchers gather 24/7, according to Kurilec.

“Some of the guys record the train number and the direction. Some of the young kids are taking video. Now that may not seem important, but when those diesels are gone 20 years from now and there’s something else, it’s like the steam engine, it’s very important to document this stuff historically,” he said.

Locomotive with vintage paint colors [Joe Kurilec]