Toledo – the busy, half-abandoned station

Just about twelve years ago I hopped on a plane bound for Brazil to spend a year as a foreign exchange student. I lived in smaller city named Toledo – in the south-west of the country, not too far from the borders of Argentina and Paraguay, and the famed Iguaçu Falls. It was a nice place – think quaint Appalachian mining town with a little of White Plains mixed in – but hardly a city that would get significant numbers of tourists. While I lived there I had a host brother that was some years older than me, and he recounted his first visit to the United States. As is customary in many South American cultures, the 15th birthday is a big deal, and a lot of upper middle class folks reward their children with a big trip. Most tend to choose interesting places like Disney World, or New York. My host brother had a different idea – he wanted to go to another city called Toledo.

Toledo, Ohio is likewise a city I can’t imagine gets immense amounts of tourists (though apparently there are some modern rail hobos), but it certainly is a nice enough place. I’m not too sure what my host brother actually did here when he was fifteen – perhaps took a trip to the zoo – but it really doesn’t have the allure of say, Disney. Once upon a time, however, Toledo did get quite a few visitors, and many of them by train. The state of Toledo’s rail station today is really a visual reminder of not just the fall of passenger rail travel, but of the steady 40+ year decline of Toledo’s population.

Toledo's former station
In embracing modernity, the above 1800s Toledo station was replaced with the current brick and glass box. People hated this building so much that they cheered when it caught fire and burnt down. I think they’re crazy.

Toledo
The replacement – Central Union Terminal postcard, and tickets from Toledo from 1950.

Central Union Terminal, opened in 1950, is claimed by Wikipedia editors to be the last “great” railroad station built by the New York Central. A modern structure made of brick and glass, it certainly doesn’t have the same charm as many of the Central’s older stations. When opened, the station had about 55 daily departures – compare that with today’s paltry 4 departures. The island platforms that connected to the main station, once filled with people, are relatively dormant today. The passageways leading from these platforms to the station proper have long been shuttered, and are fastened shut with rusted chain for good measure. Some lonely platform canopies protect ripped out platforms, and others just stand over rusted rails. Toledo may be Ohio’s busiest railroad station, but from some angles it looks quite abandoned.

Event space in the old terminal
The old passageway to the platforms can now hold quite a few chairs… note the doors on either side that led to the island train platforms below. More photos of the event space in the station can be found here.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Plaza, as it is called now, is served by Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited, and Capitol Limited. With trains arriving at the station during hours many are asleep (11:39 PM, 2:50 AM, 5:22 AM and 6:15 AM), the station functions on opposite schedule – the waiting room is open most night hours, and closed during the day. Though the waiting rooms for the trains were once in a more attractive spot on the third floor, during renovations the waiting area was relegated to the bottom floor. The former waiting area on the third floor is now an event space able to hold 650 people… so in reality, this station is pretty cool – if you’re looking to host a wedding reception.

 
  
  
  
 
  
   
 
  
   
  
 
   
 

If half-abandoned rail platforms aren’t your thing, there’s at least a bunch of freight traffic through Toledo that you can check out. I even caught my first Norfolk Southern heritage unit… awww. In case you’re curious, the folks watching the train in the first photo were the aforementioned “hobos.”

 
 
  
 

central union plaza toledo oh


11 thoughts on “Toledo – the busy, half-abandoned station

  1. Toledo has been known for 2 things,as the home of Triple A baseball team,
    the “Mudhens”(remember Klinger from MASH) and the home of Willys Jeep factory,
    now part of the Chrysler brand.

  2. That “Amtrak: Toledo, Ohio” sign reminds us of how much “character” was lost by the near-ubiquitous adoption of Helvetica.

  3. I was in Toledo station last year. My wife and I traveled by train to Ohio for a son’s graduation from Bowling Green State U. The station is luxurious compared to where we get on and off trains: Fredericksburg, Virginia, which has no waiting room but several “No Trespassing” signs.

  4. The problems with 1950s-era architecture:
    - it’s new enough that it’s full of plastic, mass-produced, and lacks all the hand-carved etc. stuff from older architecture;
    - but it’s old enough that it isn’t wheelchair accessible (at all!), is grossly energy-inefficient, and is often made from inferior materials which wore out much quicker than the people of the 1950s thought they would.

    In short, all of the downsides of old & new buildings, none of the upsides of either.

  5. I went to college near Toledo and used to take the train there. To get from the train to the station you walked through one of the doors and went up stairs. From there you walked through a concourse to the main station. Outside was a turnaround where you would meet your ride or grab a taxi. They’ve significantly downsized it since Amtrak took out the Toledo-Detroit service years ago. Now it’s only served by the Lake Shore Limited and the Capitol Limited, and those come at ungodly hours of the night.

  6. Hmmm…. there seems to be some room (as in track space) to create a hotel there. Sleeper cars can be put in the empty tracks, quite possibly the vintage sleepers (making it a tourist destination).

    However, there will need to be some reconstruction needed — rails need to be laid back down, a dedicated hotel-track crossover (depending on how all the trains interact at the station, it could take four tracks, leaving five for the hotel), and maybe an elevated platform for handicapped patrons to get in their cars.

    Still, there’s opportunity.

  7. from 1975 to 1980, central union terminal was my “home” station. in those days i traveled
    regularly (maybe six times a year) between ohio and manhattan and once or twice a year
    to chicago. during most of that time, toledo’s only train was the lake shore limited – but
    also during that time, the old, original waiting room and concourse was used. one
    came over the covered bridge, bought a ticket at the original counter and entered either
    stairs or a ramp to get down to the tracks. i loved it!! things i remember were large,
    functional bathrooms, “modern” elevators (circa 1950) to get down to the tracks if needed,
    and a very good heating system — steam — which seemed to work perfectly. i also recall
    that, though the building was not air conditioned, the station personel – or the penn central
    and later conrail employees who worked there – could rig up the windows so that hot air
    passed out toward the roof. it was always comfortable in that building. but what i liked
    most about it was that it hadn’t really been touched … it was much as it was the day it
    opened — which was only 25 years before i first went there. you got a real sense of place — and it was “kept up” pretty good: everything was freshly painted, all the lights
    worked and the platforms were in reasonably good repair. of course, there were no
    services in the station, other than ticketing and baggage – and pay telephones. the
    building originally had a restaurant, a snack bar, a barber and a news stand. all these
    were gone by 1975, but their footprints were still easily recognizable. and lo and behold,
    a lady eventually did reopen the snack bar! the station also had very good ticket agents;
    they were fast and friendly, knew what they were doing and handled the ever increasing
    patronage very, very well. fond memories, indeed!

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