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Norfolk Southern flagman Bob Rockey watches eastbound 268 pass 19th and Cascade Streets in Erie, PA - J. Alex Lang

Erie, Pennsylvania

by Melanie Good
and J. Alex Lang

Eastbound Conrail TV-14 passes BNSF C44-9W's and UP AC4400CW's on the interchange track at the General Electric Plant in Lawrence Park. - Kevin Burkholder

The following article appeared in the August, 1998 issue of Eastern Railroad News; an internet magazine dealing with railroading east of the Mississippi River (more or less).  For more information about ERN, check out their website. Reprinted with permission.

Erie, PA is an interesting and unique railfan location. In this quaint city, one can watch trains on Conrail's Chicago Line, on Norfolk Southern's Cleveland District, and on the Allegheny & Eastern. The Conrail and NS lines are within blocks of each other, so finding a strategic location and listening to the scanner can prove to be a fruitful railfan endeavor, full of variety.

The NS line features a particularly rare piece of history frozen in time. The tracks run directly through Nineteenth Street in the middle of town. This was done in 1882 to complete the Nickel Plate line from Cleveland to Buffalo. Because the city of Erie would not give the Nickel Plate permission to complete the line through the city, the railroad chose to construct the approximately ten blocks of in-street track on a Sunday, since the courts would be closed, and there would then be no legal way to stop the work. The most feasible solution for the railroad was to lay the track down the middle of 19th street, where the track remains today.

NS 310 passes the crossing shanty at Cascade Street on May 29, 1998. - J. Alex Lang
  Because Nineteenth Street is a residential road, the railroad speed restriction is 10 mph. There are three crossing shanties along 19th Street. NS employs crossing watchmen to guard the crossings during the school year, upon request from the city of Erie. These shanties can be found at Cranberry Street, Cascade Street, and Cherry Street. The Cascade Street shanty has been earmarked for preservation by the city of Erie. The future of the other shanties is unknown.


Between ten and twelve trains per day run through this trackage, which is single track the whole length of Nineteenth Street. Traffic is primarily east-west, to and from Buffalo. Much traffic is interchanged with CP Rail and the Susquehanna (NYSW) at Buffalo. Some of these runthrough trains, such as 268, often have CP or NYSW power in the consist.

To the west lies the Cascade siding, and to the east lies the Dean siding. The NS radio frequency is 161.250, and end-of-train devices can be heard at 161.115. Remember, Norfolk Southern crews are required to "call" each signal, reporting train symbol and lead engine number. In combination with dragging equipment detectors located several miles to the east and west of Erie, the railfan has ample notice to set up a shot of an approaching NS freight.

As a condition of the Conrail split-up, NS will be granted an easement along what will become CSXT's Chicago Line. On this easement, NS will build a new track through downtown Erie, bypassing the dangerous and slow in-street trackage on Nineteenth Street. The merger could become effective as early as August 23, 1998. Anytime after that point, construction of the new trackage could begin, paving the way for the abandonment of this relic of the past.

NS 309 traverses the street-running trackage on 19th Street in Erie. 309 typically picks up GE units interchanged via NS for western railroads. Transportacion Ferroviana Mexicana AC4400CW 2613 was in the consist of 309 on May 29, 1998. 2613 wears the colors of parent company Kansas City Southern. - J. Alex Lang

Conrail's Chicago Line is one of the busiest segments of their system. The Chicago Line hosts over 40 trains daily, featuring a variety of motive power and freight. This former New York Central route runs from Chicago to Albany, NY. Traffic includes every type of train Conrail runs from intermodals to unit steel coil trains. Most trains do not work at Erie, however there is some interchange traffic to the Allegheny & Eastern. Sheet metal and other raw materials are sent to the General Electric Transportation Systems locomotive plant in Lawrence Park. In Erie, there are also several industrial branches to the Port of Erie, over which several local freights switch.  
Conrail HEBU-9X approaches CP-85 with an extra train of steel coils. Two SD50's powered the train on May 29, 1998. - Melanie L. Good


Conrail COBU-6 switches the GE Plant at CP-83 on July 16, 1998 behind Conrail "Ballast Express" C32-8 6610 and C36-7 6623. - J. Alex Lang
  Railfanning Conrail's Chicago Line is not difficult: find a spot and wait! Scanner-equipped railfans will want to monitor Conrail Radio Channel 3 (160.860 MHz), as the Albany Division's "Lake Shore" dispatcher controls this territory from MP 2 (at Buffalo) to MP 97 (10 miles west of Erie). A hotbox/dragging equipment detector is located in downtown Erie at milepost 88.7 (Click to listen to the Erie DED) Conrail refers to it's dispatcher-controlled interlockings as "Control Points". There are three in Erie, all controlling crossovers and access to yard tracks: CP-89 is at the west end of Erie, CP-85 controls access to Erie Yard. CP-83 is located in Lawrence Park adjacent to the GE plant.

For many railfans, Erie is best known as the home of General Electric Transportation Systems' locomotive plant. Here, all GE locomotives are assembled, painted, tested, and set out for interchange and delivery. The newest GE units can be photographed here in the GE "backlot". The plant is located in Lawrence Park (eastern Erie), adjacent to U.S. 20 (Buffalo Ave) and PA 5. Immediately adjacent to both Conrail and NS, many railfans prefer to view trains at or near the GE plant. GE's switching railroad, the East Erie Commercial, operates a three-mile test track for the testing of new or experimental locomotives. The EEC track is equipped with overhead catenary for electric locomotives for those occasions when electrics must be tested. The test track is also multi-gauged for testing of foreign units.

Photography or access within the plant is not permitted, however, much activity can be viewed from public property. New units set out for delivery via Conrail can be seen from the Franklin St. overpass at the west end of the plant. Units interchanged via NS can be viewed off of Wesley Avenue. East of the plant there is a "railfan parking lot", across U.S. 20 from the Harborcreek Township building. Here, CR, NS, and the test track can all be photographed. Near this area there are several fast food restaurants providing necessary railfan replenishment.  
Union Pacific AC4400CW 7118 awaits delivery at the GE backlot.- J. Alex Lang

Erie Radio Frequencies
Conrail Road 1 161.070
Conrail Road 2 160.800
Conrail Road 3 160.860
Conrail Road 4 160.980
Norfolk Southern (N&W) 161.250
Norfolk Southern (EOT) 161.115
Allegheny & Eastern 160.290
Bessemer & Lake Erie 160.830
Bessemer & Lake Erie 161.310
  The two other players in Erie's railroading are the Bessemer & Lake Erie, and the Allegheny & Eastern. The B&LE main line runs from North Bessemer (northeast of Pittsburgh) to Albion, where it splits to run either to Fairview or to Conneaut, OH. Traffic to Erie used NS trackage rights east of Fairview. The majority of the B&LE's traffic now runs to Conneaut, OH. The B&LE line from Albion to Fairview is slated for abandonment.

The Allegheny & Eastern runs from Erie to Emporium, PA on a former PRR line. Conrail runs unit pulpwood log train HPA to Erie from Lock Haven, PA (Buffalo Line) using trackage rights over the A&E. The HPA trains are generally nocturnal but can sometimes be found during daylight. The A&E is part of the Genessee & Wyoming family of railroads. Power on the A&E varies; any power from GWI roads can be found there.

Erie has other attractions for railfans and non-railfans alike. Swimming, hiking, and biking are available at Presque Isle State Park, noted for beautiful sandy beaches. Presque Isle is also known as a migratory "rest stop" for many rare birds (not just BNSF units!). The Port of Erie has a lookout tower across Presque Isle Bay, views of CR's port area trackage can be had from here. Also, the Waldemeer amusement park near Presque Isle can bring fun to the kids if no trains are running.

NS, TFM and BNSF (in primer paint) units await delivery- Kevin Burkholder
  With three active railroads and the GE plant, Erie will remain an active railfan location. With the removal of the 19th Street trackage and associated new NS construction, the Conrail split-up will change the landscape somewhat. There will be some benefits from the merger, including increased traffic on the Cleveland District. In a few years, NS and CSX hotshots will race side-by-side through downtown Erie.


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