Railfanning the outskirts of Detroit

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  • Member since
    February 2015
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Railfanning the outskirts of Detroit
Posted by CBT on Thursday, January 12, 2017 10:37 AM

Hi, my parents said they would take me railfanning after my midterms, and it's about that time. So, I was wondering the best places to railfan on the outskirts of Detroit. My dad doesent like taking me too far into Detroit, but laces that are still in Detroit are still welcome. I would really love to see the CN, since I haven't seen them in a while. Thanks, 


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Posted by MidlandMike on Thursday, January 12, 2017 10:41 PM

I don't know how far you consider "outskirts", but Durand, which is about 60+miles NW of Detrot, is a great place to see CN.  It's at the junction of the main line and the Detroit line.  Great Lakes Central (ex-AA) also makes an appearance.  It has an Amtrak station hard by the diamond crossing, and the station is also a museum.  It often has a gathering of railfans.

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Posted by Dr D on Friday, January 13, 2017 2:19 AM


I have spent my lifetime as a railfan in Detroit - here are a few highlights:


The new AMTRAK station in Dearborn, MI.  This brand new station is also an entrance to the Henry Ford Museum.  Visible from the Amtrak station platform is the last Detroit Mackinac steam locomotive and a few period freight cars.  Inside the station itself is a 2 foot narrow gauge steam engine.

Across the AMTRAK Station tracks - which are themselves the Michigan Central main line from Detroit to Chicago - are a wooden water tank, wooden coaling tower and roundhouse of the Henry Ford Museum.  Inside the roundhouse is one of the last remaining Michigan Central high speed passenger engines 4-4-2 in original condition.  It ran from Detroit to Chicago on the mainline just outside the windows in the 1890's.

Inside the main part of the museum are the Henry Ford railroad collection - one of the largest steam locomotives ever built the Chesapeake & Ohio "Allegheney" 2-6-6-6 in absolutely mint condition.  Also in the musuem is an original American 4-4-0 with period passenger coaches plus Henry Fords personal custom pullman car which enabled him to travel the United States with out being accosted by the general public etc.


Durand, - as has been mentioned in another post - is north of Detroit and is a rail junction.  The CN main line runs from Detroit north-west to Durand then on to Chicago.  At Durand, MI the main line from Port Huron, MI tunnel meets the Detroit mainline on its juncture and journey to Chicago, ILL.  There is a Grand Trunk steam engine - GTW 5632 Pacific 4-6-2 on display in Durand and a huge HO train layout in the AMTRAK station there if it still exists.

- Also remember if you get to Durand, - that Owosso, MI is just north of this.  The Pere Marquette main line ran through Owosso and there was an old railroad shop and yard there.  Today it is the home of MSTRP - Michigan State Trust for Railroad Preservation.  The home of Pere Marquette steam locomotve PM 1225 a Berkshire 2-8-4 engine.  This engine was part of the Michigan State University campus and was restored by the university rail club and given the Pere Marquette rail yard site by the State of Michgan Government as an operational headquarters.  On certain days you can get in to see the engine and on some days it will run excursions.  I would not go there with out checking or you may just get to see an office.


In downtown Detroit the Michigan Central Station still stands along the Detroit River and next to the Detroit railroad tunnel which used to carry passengers between New York and Chicago.  This tunnel built in 1904 can be seen from the street - however - it is now guarded by the Federal Government Department of Homeland Security who have it wired with cameras and barbwire etc - nice view from a distance.  Great Mexican restaurant there also.


West of Detroit out near the Metropolitan Airport on the remaining main line of the Norfolk Southern - which was the Wabash Railroad is the route of the famed Wabash Cannonball Express.  It ran from Detroit to Fort Wayne and on to St. Louis, MO.  At any rate there is a interlocking tower out near the city of Romulus - near the airport which is where the CSX and NS main lines cross and is a great place to watch the heavy rail traffic coming and going from Detroit - auto shipments, chemicals etc.


In Windsor, Canada if you cross the Detroit River and go through the international Border Customs Inspection - bring your passport - you will find the whole world of Canadian Railroading.  The Detroit River railroad tunnel of the New York Central has been purchased by Canadian Pacific Railroad so they have a huge yard there near the Detroit River.

In downtown Windsor, Canada near the gambling casinos is the only remnant of the former rail station - a Canadian National steam locomotive 4-6-2 Pacific labeled "Spirit of Windsor."  Also North along the Detroit River is the one of the remaining Canadian Whiskey distilleries from the era of American Prohabition - Hiram Walker & Sons makers of Canadian Club Whiskey.  Adjoining the distillery - which is open to the public - is the VIA Rail Station which is the major passserger station for this part of Canada.


Aside from these sites I have given you - remember that the rail network in Detroit is like the spokes of a great wheel. 

- From downtown Detroit going north in a 1 o'clock direction is the Canadian National line to Port Huron. 

- Going north in a 12 o'clock direction is the former New York Central mainline to northern Michigan - now Norfolk Southern - north to Clio, MI. 

- Going north west in the 10 o'clock direction is the main line of the Canadian National as mentioned to Pontiac and Durand, MI.

- Going west in the 9 o'clock direction is the former Pere Marquette / Chesapeake & Ohio now CSX to Howell, and East Lansing, MI.

- Going south west in the 8 o'clock direction is the former Wabash main line now Norfolk & Southern past the aforementioned Detroit Metro Airport this line was at one time the Detroit Toledo & Ironton railroad which was Henry Fords personal line past his auto plant.  He tried to electrify it and the former cantinary can still be seen.

- Going south 6 o'clock down the Detroit River to Toledo, OH - is the former Pennsylvania Railroad line of the Detroit Arrow - Baltimore & Ohio railroad - also a New York Central line - there were many lines and much of this trackage has been consolidated and is difficult to find amid the heavy industrial oil refinery railroad trackage.


This is a rough aproximation of the rail lines - although there are many many additional tracks used for industrial switching all over the city. 

- For example there was a rail line around the entire "old city" as a circular belt line railroad which used to be the Detroit Terminal Railroad - "Detroit belt line" I believe.  This is still in place to serve coal electric generation -  most of it still exists.

- There also used to be a "downtown circular belt line" in the inner city -  that still exists - near the former General Motors World Headquarters - near the "golden tower of the Fisher Building" - this is where the original Cadillac plant stood - at that location there is a small downtown AMTRAK station.

- Anyway the City of Detroit has seen fit to build a huge Federally funded trash incinerator here - which blows the smoke over into Canada.  There is a huge trash dump right downtown at this location near this belt line - sure you can find it by the smell!  Detroit urban renewal at work.  If you go into Detroit be prepared for destruction of many neighborhoods - like a war zone - law enforcement is problimatic.  If you ask the AMTRAK station agent in Detroit if it is safe to leave your car in the parking lot?  You will be told it is unsafe and sure to be stolen!  This is no joke.


Hope this helps with the Motor City.  The Ford Motor Company in Dearborn, MI is the "big show" and you can tour the Ford Assembly Plant in Dearborn - near the museum - Henry Ford built this on the Rouge River - with his own private railroad.  Put iron ore from lake ships in one end - get Ford cars out the other end!  Still worth going to see - and with much heavy rail traffic.  Dearborn, MI is the largest Arabic community in the US and there are many great restaurants to eat lamb and humus - be sure to try the mid eastern coffee.  And under no circumstances flirt with the women - just like Arabia!

Hope this helps!

- Doc

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Posted by CBT on Friday, January 13, 2017 6:42 AM
Thats a lot of good information!! Thank you so much, Chris

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