• Best Trainwatching Spots in the Midwest

  • Pertaining to all railroading subjects, past and present, in the American Midwest, including Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and Kansas. For questions specific to a railroad company, please seek the appropriate forum.
Pertaining to all railroading subjects, past and present, in the American Midwest, including Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and Kansas. For questions specific to a railroad company, please seek the appropriate forum.

Moderator: railohio

  by zwsplac
Summers coming up, so why don't we throw out some of the best places to trainwatch in the Midwest.

I've got 4, all from the state of Kansas

Ellinor Jct.-West of Emporia
Topeka-Union Pacific Station
Marysville-City Park (Trainwatch here while you can before the bypass is built)
  by ohle
Shots from the Kallmeyer's river bluff overlooking the river and two UP main lines are fantastic...


Shots around KCUS in Kansas City are also good, especially the north side of the tracks.

  by livesteamer
WB Jct on the BNSF (near Carrollton, MO) --BNSF and NS traffic.

Marty Harrison

  by route_rock
Quad Cities area if you like regionals.Galesburg for the BNSF,Dubuque Ia for IC&E,CN,and BNSF.Plus Clinton Iowa out west on 30 past Dewitt IA if you want to chase a UP Westbound.Muscatine Iowa on occasion.But to nutshell it,anywhere there is a train rolling by is a good and favorite place for me.

  by Joe
Rochelle, Illinois...The Rochelle RR Park is right where the BNSF and UP cross in town. LOTS of UP trains, a little bit less BNSF trains. Also the BNSF line out of Chicago to Aurora.

  by matt
Quad Cities, especially LeClaire Park in Downtown Davenport has always been a favorite of mine. On one side you have the Mississippi with the cool barge parade and on the other, the tracks and some very neat old backdrops, including the former passenger station that I was fortunate to tour a few years back. 2 Miss. bridge crossings in view of the park would probably provide good photo ops with a decent zoom in lens.

For anyone in this area, I have a question. The last time I visited was about a year before I&M Rail Link was taken over and the trackage from Nahant Yard to the North? to Leclaire Park was just aweful for a main line.
If this trackage is now owned by the IC&E, has it been attended to?

BTW, Fostoria, OH and it's 115 daily trains passing within 1/4 of a mile of one another on 3 lines is the best spot in the midwest!!!

  by AmtrakFan
My Picks are Joliet, Naperville, Rochelle and Galesurg.

  by Gilbert B Norman
Considering that within .02 mi of my home, there are 145 train movements a day over the BNSF Aurora Sub (the "racetrack" in railfanese), I guess I'm a bit "spoiled".

However, away from the real action (it can get so "heavy" that you can miss a train account another blocking your view of such), I have always liked watching the UP cross the Cedar River near Beverly, IA.

There is "plenty of action"; six trains is "par for the course" for a one hour viewing session. Further, the site is quite scenic overlooking the Cedar River.

Lastly, of great importance, you will be on property of "other than railroad ownership"; but be mindful that your other cohorts about will be fishermen. Hold the scanner and people chatter down - they could care less about the trains - in fact they disturb the fish.

To get there, exit US 30 at "C" Street, proceed North to the UP tracks, do not X them, but rather head East through a tunnel beneath the Rock Island (abandoned; being developed as a nature trail), stick to the River; you "can't miss the photo stop I'm noting.
  by 2nd trick op
During the years 1979-1991, a steady job with plenty of overtime and lack of too many personal commitments allowed me to invest two weeks each summer in some serious exploring, courtesy of Greyhound's Ameripasses (Amtrak got some business where it fit, too). I'd pack one suitcase and hit the road, shipping some additions to my rail library home and reminding myself that the real America was a lot different from Luzerne County, Pennsylvania.

My journey in August of 1991 took me west to Denver, up to Billings via Casper and Sheridan, west to Seattle, down to Los Angeles via I-5, then home via El Paso and a TNM&O connection through Roswell, NM. But I set a little time aside in Des Moines for a side trip via Jefferson to Iowa Falls.

I'd first been made aware of Mills Tower's existence through TRAINS' all-Iowa issue in the spring of 1986, and a back issue acquainted me with the late Phil Hastings' ride on IC's "meat train" CC-6 some 27 years before. Those colorful Rath reefers were, of course, long gone, but I decided to invest a few hours and see what was left.

The town of Iowa Falls is nestled around a gorge in which its namesake has sustained a small-scale hydroelectric plant for over a century. Arriving in town, I made my way north to the former IC, by then Chicago Central and Pacific, then followed the line east to the crossing with the former Rock Island "spine line" (now a Union Pacific property) at Mills Tower.

Although badly in need of a coat of paint at the time, the tower was a delight in every other way. A friendly op familiarized me with the GRS over-&-under pistol-grip interlocking machine, its hardwood levers worn smooth by ninety years of use, but surely "state of the art" and probably an experiment encouraged by the availability of reliable hydropower in 1902.

The lower-quadrant train-order signal had been taken out of service by the time of my visit, but a king-size crowbar and maul used for spiking switches were perfectly preserved. The board had, of course, been considerbly downsized after the removal of a Rock Island branch some years before. I was not to encounter any CC&P moves that evening, but the UP was kept plenty busy, reportedly averaging about 20 freights per day.

About 9:30, I made may way back into town to catch the Jefferson back to Des Moines, forced to sit in the entry stairwell by a full bus. I can recall a pleasant conversation with the driver on Iowans' predisposition to build to last.

As evidenced by the link below:


"Happiness is never experienced, only remembered." (Oscar Levant)

  by route_rock
Matt in response to your question. IC&E has been on a tear to upgrade all the IMRL stuff that needed it.They got basicly everything that was once IMRL including some engines (most are deadlined or sold) they had to do a lot of repairs sometimes repeatedly in areas where the track was "soft"but they are keeping up as of now. Yes that is a great spot too btw. I like looking east along the river a IC&E to my left a barge plus any other boats to the right, and an IAIS rolling across the Government bridge!Better still looking over my shoulder and under the Centennial bridge and seeing a BNSF on the Crescent Bridge.That has only happend one time! and it was an SOO to the left and a DRI line on the Crescent.

  by nate
If you just want to see a lot of UP freight trains, anywhere in central Iowa along the main line is great. I live in Ames, and there is usually a train every 20 minutes. Its fun to drive to Boone or further west and parallel the track either on gravels or on highway 30 and watch them all go by.
  by Tony T.
As has been mentioned, Rochelle is a easy pick. I've grown rather fond of Mendota as well, short drive south on I39 and lot's of midday Amtrak. The station and surrounding area is very railfan friendly (not to mention the local power hangs out there daily). The station sets in the middle of a S-curve and makes for interesting viewing.

Many good spots to observe east on the main, the small town of Earlville also provides a good vantage point (cross overs and a diamond for the old C&NW branch going south from Dekalb).


(come to think of it, I've not been to Streator for awhile to visit the old SF main...)
  by Komachi
I've had to think about this for a while, and I'll say that Winona, MN is a decent place to go and watch trains. UP operates the old C&NW yard (if I remember correctly, they come in on trackage rights on the CP until they reach "Tower CK," where the [ex] C&NW tracks branch off to the yard) near the Mississippi River, and the DM&E interchanges with the UP and services it's locomotives on that end of town. On the other side of town is Soo Line/CP Rail operations. CP/Soo freights roll through town, Amtrak's Empire Builder comes through twice a day (one east bound one west bound) on CP tracks, and both IC&E (former IMRL) and BNSF run through freights (I was held up for many a college class waiting for a BNSF coal drag to roll through town) on CP trackage rights. It's been 7 years since I last lived in Winona so I can't attest to what train frequency is these days.

The old GB&W facility is more or less still there, although I don't know how accessable it is post 9/11. The yard is there and used for car storage (can't remember if it's UP or CP that still uses it) although the enginehouse has been modified. Here's a link to some photos and info. from the Green Bay and Western East-West Short Route webpage...


For those of you who have non-railfan spouces and other family members who come with you during your railfanning excoursions, Winona is an old, Mississippi River town, and has many old Victorian era homes that they can walk along and gawk at, and some decent shops that they can go scope out (especially if they enjoy "antiquing"). There's also the Winona County Historical Society at the old armory (on Johnson street, near the 3rd street intersection), Watkins factory/headquarters/museum, WC Wilkie (a reproduction of a Mississippi paddlewheeler) at Levee park and the Polish museum down on 3rd and Liberty (or thereabouts... it's close to the Watkins headquarters) as well as other significant buildings as well (like a "Prarie school" bank on 3rd street designed by Purcell and Cutts, two of Frank Lloyd Wright's apprenticies when he was in his Oak Park studio).

There's also a bar/grill down on 2nd and Johnson (I belive) called Charlie's D&D that's a short stroll from the tracks that has some good eats. It was one of my "haunts" during college, just tell Pat that the "crazy white haired guy who was in Japan" sent ya, he'll know who you're talking about. (No, I have not been paid for my endorsement, I'm speaking from personal experience.)

For those of you who are also model railroaders, go down by the river and go to the Ace Hardware. Ask for Jeff Schrod (Shh-rahd), he's the guy who runs the hobby shop there (at least, he was still there a few years ago, things may have changed since then, although Yahoo maps/business directory says the hobby shop is still there).

  by AmtrakFan
The reason I like Naperville is because of Amtrak.