Overview of Brewster Shops Tour

Overview of Brewster Shops Tours
September 27th, 2014

Giles Kennedy
Chief Editor and Founder
The Ohio Railroader

History of the Wheeling and Lake Erie

(Direct from W&LE’s History Section Website)


The history of the Wheeling & Lake Erie Railway Company (W&LE) began in 1871 with the need for a rail connection between the Wheeling, West Virginia coal fields and Lake Erie port cities and facilities. Initial enthusiasm was offset by capital constraints and financial difficulties which slowed the progression of the line until 1877 when interest began again in earnest to move southeastern Ohio coal to Lake Erie and iron ore from the Lake to steel plants in southeast Ohio. In 1913 the main offices were moved to Brewster, Ohio, where they remain today.

After World War II, W&LE has had various owners — first the Nickel Plate leased the line, then the Norfolk & Western took control, and finally, the Norfolk & Western and Southern Railway merged to become Norfolk Southern (NS). The W&LE was dissolved as a corporate entity in 1989. A spin off sale in 1990 by the NS to a group of investors renewed the old corporate name. The new rail system was now made up of a combination of the former W&LE, the Pittsburgh & West Virginia (PWV) and the Akron, Canton & Youngstown (ACY) lines. The 576 miles of track, combined with trackage rights acquired from NS, encompassed 840 miles.

After the 1990 sale there were initial financial struggles, including a debt restructuring in 1994. But after the restructuring, the success of the new W&LE became apparent. In 1994 the Company also grew with the acquisition of the former Akron and Barberton Belt Railroad and part of the local Conrail “Cluster” railroad in the greater Akron, Ohio, area. The renamed company, Akron Barberton Cluster Railway, handles in excess of 10,000 carloads per year for about 25 customers, primarily consisting of traffic in aggregates, chemicals, grain, plastic products, and scrap iron.

W&LE now handles over 110,000 carloads per year and operates in Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Maryland. The company is private, 100% internally owned, and currently has approximately 400 employees. W&LE is the largest Ohio-based railroad and is among the largest regional railroads in the country.

The company has over 120 customers and a continually growing customer base. W&LE interchanges in numerous locations with three major Class I Railroads (Canadian National, CSX Transportation, and Norfolk Southern), as well as 14 regionals and shortlines. One of the results of the breakup/merger of Conrail was that the Surface Transportation Board granted trackage rights to W&LE over approximately 56 miles of track providing interchange access in Toledo, Ohio, including Canadian National Railway and the Ann Arbor Railroad. It also gained additional trackage rights of approximately 53 miles over CSXT with access to Lima, Ohio, with the interchange to the Indiana and Ohio Railway.
Multiple Class I connections have enabled the W&LE customers to benefit from competitive rail rates and service. Many of the major commodities handled (such as coal and steel) remain the same as in the early days but new customers bring both greater diversification and traffic. W&LE currently handles steel and raw materials to and from five different mills, aggregates from three different quarries, chemicals, industrial minerals, including frac sand, plastic products, grain, food products, lumber, paper, and petroleum products including Marcellus and Utica LPGs and NGLs.
W&LE mainline tracks are rated for 286,000 pounds gross weight on rail and mainline track speed is now up to 40 miles per hour for the majority of the mainline as a result of the installation of over 170,000 new ties, and continuous welded rail, as well as improvements made to many bridges and tunnels. In 2004 Railway Age Magazine selected W&LE as Regional Railroad of the Year.

An asset that has proved productive for the new W&LE is the Brewster shop complex. As far back as 1910 the W&LE built 0-8-0 steam engines in the Brewster locomotive shop and the upgraded shop continues to be a valuable asset of the W&LE, offering locomotive and car rebuilds, repairs, as well as fabrication services to other railroads.

This extensive facility can accommodate the repair of 50 cars under roof and 50 additional cars outside with a storage yard area for 1000 cars.
W&LE has committed many hours to assist in developing community awareness of railroad/highway safety through Operation Lifesaver and has received four national safety awards in the last seven years for employee safety.

W&LE has a promising future with the growing and varied traffic base of bulk commodities, heavy on-line traffic and interline potential. It has a strategic location in the Marcellus and Utica Shale natural gas and oil production areas in Ohio and Pennsylvania which gives W&LE a strong foundation on which to continue building. W&LE has become a successful regional railroad and will continue to grow and improve with its dedication to safety, customer service, and efficiency.”

How about the story of the start of American Steam Railroad?..Again straight from their website and the words of founder, president and CEO Steven Harvey…..

“In the early 1800’s, a new sound echoed across America. It was the steam whistle, flying along atop a steam locomotive, and with these incredible machines came a great step forward in American technology. From tiny contraptions wheezing along at little more than a brisk walk’s pace to huge modern machines blasting through town at over 100 miles per hour, the steam locomotive’s 150 years of service completely revitalized our country’s travel and commerce.
As it so often happens, however, technology continued to progress, and by the middle of the 20thcentury the steam locomotive was replaced by more efficient machinery. The diesel and electric locomotives that continue to power our country’s rail system may be more economically desirable, but they’ll never match the steam locomotive for character and sheer “wow” factor.
“As our world continues to make great advances forward in technology, we at the American Steam Railroad think it’s important to take a look back at how we arrived here.”

“While the steam locomotive can be cantankerous, uncooperative, and sometimes just plain mean, it also inspires and amazes people like no other machine can.”

“In 2005 a group of engineers, businessman and railroaders came together to start the American Steam Railroad Preservation Association. Our goal was not just to preserve and operate historic trains, but to make them relevant to today’s society. More than just a train trip, we hope to be able to provide an experience, and offer a glimpse of what travel was like on this country in the days where railroads were the country’s modern mode of transportation.”

“We continue to search out new ideas and opportunities in our efforts to bring steam railroading to the public. We cannot, however, do it alone. Therefore, we need your help! I urge you to consider becoming a member of our organization, and help us on our mission.”

“Rest assured that if you join us on this quest you’ll become one of an elite group of people responsible for making sure steam, vintage diesel, and historic passenger trains will keep running in the 21st century. This is my personal invitation to you: join us and help keep our railroad history alive for many years to come. It’s been an exciting trip thus far, and I assure you, the train is only leaving the station. We’ve got a long and wonderful trip to look forward to and we hope you’ll join us on this history making journey.”

Speaking of joining them; the fundraiser trip to Brewster was a rounding success.

Bob McGilray Jr. chronicled the day’s events.

The Boston native moved to Columbus, Ohio in the mid-80’s.
Retired from the U.S.Navy; he is an Iraq Veteran. Currently he is a
freelance photo-journalist and has contributed to Getty Images. He has authored several railroad book series. He also served as a columnist for several transportation magazines

When not chasing down trains or working on books; he spends time with his wife and family.

The series of pictures will be offered on our Facebook page as well as a separate album on our website. (www.ohiorailroader.com)

It appears from the images that the tour displayed the inner workings of the Wheeling and Lake Erie.

In spite of recent labor troubles last fall; the management and employees are extremely proud of their railroad.

Wheeling and Lake Erie not only works on their own equipment; but contracts work for other regional operators.

A humble facility, it was featured in a blockbuster film in 2010. The “Brewster Yard” of the fictional Allegheny and West Virginia System was indeed W&LE’s own hometown.

After touring the Brewster Shops; the American Steam Railroad tour group ended their journey. They dined at the famous Wandle House; next to the yard and mainline. It served many railroaders in the past getting a bite to eat before work. It still today serves W&LE crews, locals and rail fans passing through.

Unknown to the general public, the basement serves as classrooms and meeting areas for local BLET members.

I was in Brewster last fall. Whether rail fanning the area or on a organized tour, it is well worth the trip.

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