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Roots Revealed Blog

A Lesson in Trestlin’ (or, You’ve Been Trained)

Posted: 6/26/2013
Posted By: Doug Kusak - Cultural History Interpreter


Looming large across Ohio & Erie Canal Reservation (OECR) is a rather impressive two-track trestle. Guests to CanalWay Center and OECR are treated to the frequent familiar rumblings from the upwards of 50 freight trains per day. Tons upon tons of material roll across the 1,988’ metal marvel at all hours of the day. Sections of the Cuyahoga River, the Ohio & Erie Canal and the Towpath Trail seem dwarfed as they lie 160’ below. "Hidden Valley" guests who gaze skyward often ponder the trestle’s vast expanse and the Herculean construction effort required when this monument to mechanized locomotion was erected in 1907. Born of the Cleveland Short Line, its lineage can be traced through the New York Central to Conrail to its current role in the CSX family.

Freight flying along those rails is most often meant for more distant depots. Those CSX lines run around the city (and its immense inventory of intersections), allowing trains to maintain speeds of up to 50 mph. Heading southwest of OECR the lines run parallel along the south side of I-480 (the tracks were there first), which allows passengers in your car to compare your legal speed of up to 60mph against the speed of a train moving in the same direction (Drivers: keep your eyes on the road!).

So why is the trestle here?

The OECR encompasses a six-mile stretch of the Cuyahoga River Valley. The valley makes for an ideal transportation corridor… so long as you want to follow the valley. Problems arise when you want to get across that monstrous divide.

Early denizens could cross the river valley by finding where the river widens (and the water level is lower) and simply wade across or ride across on horseback. Settlers later operated ferries to cross the river and/or created floating bridges by chaining logs together.  As technology improved, sturdier fixed wooden (and later, steel) bridges were built. But all those means of traversing the river valley were at the bottom of the valley. You had to go down one side of the valley, cross the river, and then climb the other side of the valley. Trains hate that.

Freight trains tend not to handle steep inclines or declines very well. So it behooves* railroads to run their rail lines along the most level route possible. Getting past the Cuyahoga River valley presents two options: lay your track along Lake Erie’s shore where it’s low and level and perpendicular to the river valley (i.e. the tracks running south of the Shoreway, which essentially follow Cleveland’s original shoreline); or build a trestle across the valley. The Cleveland Short Line found where the Cuyahoga River Valley walls come relatively close together and had a trestle built there. It remains as one of the defining features of the Ohio & Erie Canal Reservation.

(*Hooves. Iron horse. Yep. Went there.)

Photo taken March 3, 2009. Note the shadow line that extends from the trestle down to the lower right of the photo. I wish I could say that was planned, but it was like that when I got there and I decided to keep it. [DK]

For a free Ohio Rail Map:
For the CSX System Map:

For a free view of the CSX trestle mentioned above, visit CanalWay Center in Ohio & Erie Canal Reservation. Phone: 216-206-1000

Doug Kusak - Cultural History Interpreter
CanalWay Center


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