Top train-watching destinations for 2018

Posted by Brian Schmidt
on Friday, December 01, 2017

There are, without exaggeration, thousands of places across this continent to stop and watch a train. From a lonely grade crossing in Iowa to a jam-packed subway platform in Queens. (Our newest special issue "Hot Spots" details 75 of the best.) While I can't claim to have seen them all (there are a LOT of grade crossings in Iowa!), I believe that I have seen enough to make a few recommendations for our discerning readers:

Northwest Ohio

This is where I'm from, so of course I'm a little biased here. Ever heard of Deshler? Or Marion? Or Fostoria? They're all here, along with Toledo and Lima (of Locomotive Works fame), too. Lots of trains in a laid-back Midwest setting. Stop by one of the railfan parks or preserved depots, or just pick a grade crossing in the country. You'll see CSX and Norfolk Southern, run-through power, and short lines, too.


Whats better than a busy Union Pacific main line? How about a little BNSF action, too? Yes, this is the original UP, from before the MoPac boys took it over. This is our nation's history. Just a short drive west puts you on Sherman Hill. And when the action dies down, stop downtown to check out the former UP station and peer into the steam shop backlot!

Cajon Pass

If Cheyenne is national history, then Cajon is railfan history. Follow the footsteps of Steinheimer, Walker, and others in Southern California's premier railfan destination. Watch trains grind upgrade to Summit while you play in hundreds of acres of public land. BNSF and UP both use the pass to drop into the LA Basin, so traffic is near-constant throughout the day.

Northeast Corridor

All aboard! North America's premier passenger train corridor comes alive for train-hungry visitors. You'll see Amtrak, for sure, and various commuter rail operators throughout the length of the line – MBTA, Shoreline East, Metro-North, NJ Transit, SEPTA, and MARC! Enjoy an afternoon at BWI Thurgood Marshal Airport before your flight home, or venture to Princeton Junction and rub elbows with the Ivy League set. There's something for everyone along America's Railroad!


If you came to Colorado to get high, you're in luck! The Manitou & Pike's Peak Railway is the highest railroad in the U.S.! If extreme mountain climbing isn't your thing, you can take a more subdued run at the hill on the famous Durango & Silverton and Cumbres & Toltec narrow gauge operations. Denver now has a full rail transit system for you to explore, too. Be sure to look for Trains Magazine's tours to the Centennial State, too!

Iron Range

Make your home away from home on Minnesota's Iron Range! BNSF and Canadian National team up to bring you the automobiles, appliances, and bridges of the future. (Some assembly required.) The nearby Lake Superior Railroad Museum in Duluth is also a fine way to spend a day when the weather on the range turns.

Rochelle, Ill.

Maybe it's a tad cliché now to include Rochelle in another hot spots list, but it's still worth the trip. The BNSF and UP crossing still sees close to 100 trains a day and the Rochelle Railroad Park is one of the best places to socialize with other railfans. If you can't make the trek, the Trains Magazine-sponsored Rochelle webcam will bring you all the action from sunrise to sunset.

BONUS: York, England

I didn't say that they'd ALL be in North America! If you ever cross the pond, spend a day at York – home of the world-class National Railway Museum. The busy main line curves through the city's main passenger station and hosts countless liveries of the nation's many operating companies. I know that it was my first time with Virgin Trains!

The "Hot Spots" special issue will be available in early 2018, in print and digital editions.

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