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Best Railfanning Spots

Updated on October 16, 2016

What is Railfanning?

A railfan is a person who likes trains, taking pictures of trains, mostly, but also someone who is a modeler, a historian,an educator. They know the history of the line, or they are willing to learn. They know what is interesting, and what is mundane. A railroad photograph captures a moment in time, one, that will not be repeated. But most of all they are having fun.This hub gives information on a few places I have found to be wonderful places in traffic lighting and space to move around.

CP La Grange

Scanner Frequencies

BNSF 160.100

IHB 160.980 and 161.070

La Grange Illinois

CP La Grange is a location on the Indiana Harbor Belt (IHB) where the Burlington Northern Santa Fe's triple track crosses over the Harbor Belt. The traffic density is pretty good. Even with the mergers that have taken place such as the UP eatting up the Chicago Northwestern, the BN/SF Merger, SOO LINE being taken over by CP and the WC being taken over by the CN, there is still plenty of rail traffic to keep you busy. With all the changes listed above the only traffic pattern change is the CN diverting its former WC traffic to another one of it's take overs in the Elgin Joliet and Eastern which is about 20 miles west of the Harbor Belt.


The traffic veries from day to day, but the frequency doesn't as much. Sundays is the slowest day of the week, but there are still quite few trains. Railroads operating their own transfers as well as the IHB handling others there is quite a colorful aray of power to photograph, The BNSF has changed a few patterns, and this is good news for the railfan, Eola Yard in Naperville has become the primary yard for non-intermodal traffic, which requires Transfers from Chicago to head out there crossing the Harbor Belt. There are Metra, Amtrak passenger trains. Metra is heavy weekday mornings and out bound weekday afternoons, Hourly throughout the day and on weekends Check out for further information. Amtrak has 8 trains per day, with four in each direction. The California Zephyr, Southwest Chief, Carl Sandburg and Illinois Zephyr are all daily trains. One Carl Sandburg and Illinois Zephyr in the morning and the balance in the afternoon. For more information go to Freight traffic is lightest during rush hours, but on occation the dispatcher might like to have some fun and throw a freight in with the commuter rush, but the normal pattern is heavier during other times besides the rush.

Photography Locations

There are a number of spots on the east and west side of the tracks as well as easy access to the north leg interchange track from the IHB to BNSF. On both sides of the IHB are nice open locations to take photos. The BNSF can be shot from here but they are best photographed from CP 13.55 which is at the end of Hillgrove Ave, or by the signal bridge.

There two stations in town ine at La Grange and another half a mile to the west at Stone Ave. There are advantages to both, but the La Grange Station is very tight, and if you aren't in the right spot it may feel a confined. In this location you should be on the opposite side of the tracks the train is on, if possible.

Stone Ave Station is a beautiful Station built in the late 1800s, it is my favorite station out of the two as there is a little more room to manuver.

Getting Here

From the South: Take La Grange Road (US 12,20,45 and yes they are the same road) north to the BNSF tracks in Downtown La Grange.

From the North: Take Take La Grange Road south to the BNSF tracks in Downtown La Grange. Note:North of 22nd St the name is Manheim Rd

Getting to CP La Grange is just a little tricky. Take Burlington Ave east , Take the last right before you get to the T intersection (Bluff Ave) go one block and take right. (Calendar) go one block to (Tilman) take left and follow tracks north under Ogden Ave and the BNSF overpass. .

Rochelle Illinois

Rochelle Illinois has long been the crossing of the UP(ex CNW) Chicago to Omaha mainline with the BNSF (ex BN) Chicago to Twin Cities mainline. Over 100 trains a day roll through Rochelle. After many years of railfans coming to this location for some real fast paced action, and as many complaints from the residents that live right at the crossing that they couldn't get out of their driveways, Rochelle came up with a novel idea, instead of shooooing the railfans away, they created Rochelle Railfan Park a safe fun area for railfans to sit and watch trains. But did they stop there? No way, they even help monitor the movements of trains by providing scanner feeds from both the BNSF and UP. There is a gift shop and a little whitcomb engine for the kiddies to investigate. The park is open everyday for visitors.

Rochelle Illinois Rail park

Rochelle Railroad Park:
124 North 9th Street, Rochelle, IL 61068, USA

get directions

One of trhe best places to watch and photograph Trains

Chicago Bound BNSF Stack Through Rochelle

DPU at Skykomish

Distributive Power Units or DPU on Eastbound Stack train at Skykomish WA
Distributive Power Units or DPU on Eastbound Stack train at Skykomish WA | Source

Cascade Tunnel West Portal Washington

Stevens Pass was discovered in 1888 by John F Stevens for the Great Northern Railway, which proved to be the lowest crossing of the continental divide. The GN built the current 7.79 mile tunnel in the 1920s change operation patterns as well as saving the railroad thousands of dollars in maintenance of snowsheds as well as the high cost of snow removal.After the Wellington disaster of 1910, where two trains were swept off the mountain, it was apparent that something had to be done. The Great Northern built the Cascade tunnel and when it opened was the longest tunnel in the world, it wasn't until the 34 mile Swiss Gotthald Tunnel opened in 2010 that the Cascade Tunnel was surpassed, it is still the longest tunnel in the Western Hemisphere.


BNSF freights and Amtraks Empire Builder operate over the line. Due to the restriction of the tunnel ventalation system there is on average only 2 trains per hour. Early in the week is primarily eastbound and later in the week is wastbound traffic.

Scanner Frequency: 160.100

West Portal Cascade Tunnel

Getting There

From the West: Take Route 2, 10 miles past Sykomish to Old Cascade Highway, take a left, and follow the road a half mile to a dirt road to the tracks.

From the East: Take Route 2 East 6.7 miles past the Stevens Pass Ski resort to Old Cascade Highway, take right, and follow the road a half mile to a dirt road to the tracks.

Please note that Old Cascade Highway is not maintained and has many potholes. Also the dirt road is rough so parking along Old Cascade Highway and walking is recommended.

This location is off the beaten path so plan ahead, the nearest services are in Goldbar on the west side and Levenworth on the east. Take a sandwich and some cokes, and enjoy.

Essex MT

Essex Mt is a little hamlet on the West side of Marias Pass. The Izaak Walton Inn was built by the Great Northern Railway in 1939 to house helper crews. It was sold to private owners and turned into an inn. The area is known for skiing and hiking but it is a Mecca, a must visit for the Railfan. The Inn has a railroad theme and has seven cabooses and even a locomotive that was turned into a room.

Izaak Walton Inn & Restaurant

290 Izaak Walton Inn Road

Essex, MT 59442

Phone: 877-447-3509

Essex Montana

Izaak Walton Inn Essex MT
Izaak Walton Inn Essex MT
GN 441 Locomotive room
GN 441 Locomotive room
Helpers  in Essex
Helpers in Essex
Eastbound Empire Builder passing Izaak Walton Inn
Eastbound Empire Builder passing Izaak Walton Inn

© 2013 Clayton Hartford


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