Train watching in Chicago -- by water

Posted by Jim Wrinn
on Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Our 100-page Chicago special magazine is available now, and that got me thinking about an extraordinary opportunity to go train watching in the Windy City that you might not have thought of. It’s not the observation deck of the Willis Tower in Chicago. It’s not from the famous L (although the Orange Line is one of my favorites). It’s a boat. Yes, you can go train watching by boat in downtown Chicago.

I tried it on a beautiful sunny and warm September Sunday morning last fall. My wife and I took an architectural tour on board a Chicago Line Cruises boat. Several companies offer such a tour, and I suspect you could get a similar experience from any of them. I counted not one but four opportunities to set sail and satisfy my curiosity about this magnificent city and its railroads.

From a pier not too far from Lake Michigan, we cruised the Chicago River. The first sight of interest to train watchers: Great views of the L rumbling along overhead. The trains cross in two spots, and given their frequency, you’re bound to see something pass.

The second place you can utilize a tour boat to train watch is Union Station. The river side of the station is open, so I could look right in and see both Amtrak and Metra trains. I could see Superliner coaches, P42 diesels, and Metra MP36 units deep in the dark confines of this great American station.

The third place is Amtrak’s coach yard, just east of Union Station. Here, I got lucky as the timing last September meant cars from the American Association of Private Rail Car Owners annual convention train had come into town. These office, observation, and dome cars were plainly visible.

Lastly, the tour we took gave us a great view of the Kinzie Street railroad bridge, the abandoned Chicago & North Western drawbridge that is now a designated city landmark. The bridge has been without traffic since 2001, and it’s locked in its upright position, probably never to see another move. But it is still cool.

So, after you get a copy of our special magazine and accompanying DVD, check out train watching from the water, Chicago style. Remember, you can find contemporary railroading and railroad history just about anywhere if you look hard enough. Even on a boat tour in the downtown of one of the world’s greatest cities.




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