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View Full Version : The Hunt for Moxahala (part I)


ccaranna
04-20-2006, 10:11 PM
Spring has sprung, and what a perfect time for a railfan adventure. I've wanted to check out some lines in Ohio still unfamiliar to me, and the NS West Virginia Secondary won the contest as the first trip of the year.

For me, there's always something new to learn about railroads and railroading. Maybe that's why I'm so attracted to it. There are always unknown elements involved, and I guess my fascination with history and cartography combined with the real-life thrill of train watching is what makes it so appealing.

As far as the WV Secondary is concerned, I tried to learn as much about it as possible before I began my quest. Honestly though, I didn't have the patience and time to become an expert on the subject before I began my journey, so with a little internet luck, my SPV and DeLorme atlases under one arm, and my scanner set to 161.070 in the palm of my hand, I was ready to go.

Up to this point, I knew the Secondary runs through the scenic southeast part of Ohio, and connects Columbus to Charleston, WV. Unlike the flat lands of central Ohio of which I'm accustomed, I knew I would be in for a treat as I headed down to the unglaciated step lands of the Appalachian Mountains.

Some tidbits of information I learned about the line was that it was built sometime in the mid to late 1800's and wasn't fully completed until around a hundred years ago. It has a single track mainline, though there are at least two passing sidings in Ohio along the way. There are some industries as well, one of which is a chemical producer, as well as a recently built coal mine. The railroad itself has seen numerous owners and name changes since it's inception- Toledo and Ohio Central until it was absorbed into the New York Central in 1937; the Penn Central from 1968-1976; and finally Norfolk Southern when it obtained the line from Conrail in 1999. After some track work and repair, the line is in good shape and is right at home in the hands of the NS.

As with any railroad engineering and building project in the 19th century, the construction in flat regions went more quickly than through the rugged terrain in the hills and valleys. There are several tunnels which it threads on its course; several down in Megis country near the Ohio River (didn't get time to find those, which may be part two at a later date) and two further up the line at New Lexington and Moxahala. The tunnel at Moxahala delayed completion of the line for many years. Lack of funds slowed work on it, and its length at nearly 1,300 feet may have been another factor in the late finish. Not only is Moxahala the longest tunnel on the Secondary, but the line actually crests inside the S-shaped tunnel after the 1.1% northbound grade through the Wayne National Forest. Not the steepest grade in U.S. railroading by any means, but helpers are sometimes required up the ascent with 100 car coal trains. Once northwest past New Lexington, however, the line levels off and can easily traverse the rolling plains of Fairfield County on its way to its Columbus terminus, Buckeye Yard.

Traffic flow and density has always been the hardest aspect of fanning for me to grasp a firm handle on. I'm sort of a `wait and see' type fan, though information from groups and message boards found on-line help guide me somewhat. In Columbus, I can be certain that I'll catch some action in certain locations pretty regularly, but luck is still involved more or less, like a fisherman with nothing but a rod and a prayer. I know where to fish, but I don't have any scientific help to assist. So all alone, I climbed in my rowboat and paddled for the hills of southeastern Ohio.

(continued)