Railfanning Hot Spot
Russell, Kentucky
(including Ashland and Catlettsburg, Kentucky and Ironton, Ohio)
by William Eric McFadden


Russell, Kentucky, is just north-west of Ashland, Kentucky, across the Ohio River from Ironton, Ohio. Russell is the home of a large CSX yard--once, it is claimed, the largest privately-owned yard in the world--which is located between US23 and the Ohio River. At the east end of the yard there is an active switch tower, a retired C&O depot, and a restored C&O bay-window caboose. The throat tracks into the yard cross a bridge over a road.

I've parked my car in the CSX employee parking lot near the east end of the yard and watched the yard activities. Visible from this location is much of the yard as well as a diesel fueling spur. I am careful when parking on the CSX parking lot to stay well away from the tracks and stay in the parking lot proper. The entrance to this end of the yard from US23 is at the junction of US23 and KY207. This end of the yard also has a major locomotive service shop with operating turntable. The western end of the yard has car shops, but I've not visited these.

Between Russell and Ashland, just west of the "Downtown Russell" bridge is a spot where CSX performs crew transfers. Locomotives and trains often sit here for long periods. Don't stop on US23--it's too fast and the berms are too narrow. Instead, turn down KY244 and park at the pull off on KY244, just a few feet from the locomotives.

Along the river from Russell past Ashland to Catlettsburg KY between US23 and the Ohio River are a many large and small industries that are served by CSX. One of these is A+K Steel; CSX provides coal and Coke Express cars, and A+K Steel also has its own fleet of first-generation diesels for shunting cars. A+K Steel has a tower across the highway from the Ashland Mall, and the activities of these early diesels can be easily viewed without trespassing on railroad or A+K Steel property.

The former C&O Freight Depot in Ashland is currently being renovated to serve as an Amtrak station. Ashland is on the route of Amtraks's The Cardinal. Amtrak currently has a depot in Catlettsburg, which is visited by the Cardinal several times a week. The Cardinal is made up of the new SuperLiner cars.

Across the river, in Ironton, a set of NS tracks passes between US52 and the Ohio River. This track extends to the NS yard in Portsmouth, Ohio, a few miles up (north-west) the river. The old Ironton N&W depot remains, and is now an Italian restaurant. On the other side of the flood-control wall from the depot is a caboose on display. The south-east end of Ironton has a small NS yard. The NS freights move both directions through Ironton at high speed.

I took a one-week vacation in August to this end of Kentucky and visited the Russell/Ashland/Catlettsburg area several times for a few hours at time, and each time saw several trains an hour.


Map of Russell and Ironton
Map of Russell and Ironton
Map copyright 1997 GeoSystems Global Group
Map of Russell
Map of Russell
Map copyright 1997 GeoSystems Global Group

UPDATE! (3/19/98) From Trains magazine:

Amtrak's triweekly Superliner-equipped Cardinal, linking Chicago and Washington, D.C., via Cincinnati, effective March 11 changed its easternmost Kentucky stop from the Tri-State Station in Catlettsburg, Ky., to Ashland, Ky., 3 miles west. The Cardinal also stops in Huntington, W.Va., 10 miles east of Catlettsburg.

The "new" Ashland facility, at 15th Street on the Ohio Riverfront, is the former Chesapeake & Ohio freight station, built in 1906 and now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Owned by the city, it serves as an intermodal facility as the terminal for Greyhound Lines and the local Ashland bus system. It was rehabilitated using $525,000 in federal ISTEA money. Tri-State, now closed, was a new depot built in 1975; during 1971-75, Amtrak stopped at the old Ashland C&O passenger station, on an old track alignment in town now gone.

Locomotive model information from Andrew Toppan's Railroad Roster page

Maps courtesy of MapQuest Interactive Atlas.