RAILFAN GUIDES of the U.S.
Todd and Denver Todd's Railfan Guide to
GPS Coordinates: 41.920409,-89.071805 (the Park)
124 N 9th St, Rochelle IL 815-562-7031 (Gift Shop) Hours (April 1 - October 31): Open every day 10am-5pm except for Tuesdays
Access by train/transit:
There are no Metra or Amtrak trains going to or stopping in Rochelle.
Rochelle IL is 75 miles west of Chicago, but can still be considered an important Chicago area hotspot, due to a couple of factors. First, Rochelle is the location of Union Pacific’s Global III intermodal yard (west of town), serving Chicago to the east, and international ports. Second, Rochelle is the location of one of the first 24 hour dedicated railfan parks; and still one of the best in the country.
(population, 9574) is in North Central Illinois. It is located just
northwest of the junction of I-88 and I-39. Rochelle calls itself "The
Hub City" and has a rail junction of the Union Pacific, (former CNW) double
track main and the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (former CB&Q) single main
with a passing siding.
At the rail junction, the City of Rochelle has built an exceptional railfan park. The park includes a large covered, raised pavilion with electricity, picnic tables, a charcoal grill, lighted paved parking, some historical displays, restrooms, and a gift/snack shop. That’s a lot of amenities in a place with lots of trains. One of the historical exhibits at the park is a Whitcomb Industrial Locomotive which was manufactured in Rochelle. Whitcomb locomotives were produced for over 40 years in Rochelle at what is today a pre-stressed concrete plant on east 5th Ave.
Over next to Main St, you have the former CNW depot, which it looks like UP uses for an MOW office.
Rochelle sees close to 100 trains in a 24 hour period. There are not many opportunities for scenic photos here. Pictures of the diamonds and “roster shots” are the norm. Still, for a variety of reasons this is probably one of the best railfanning spot in the country. The best reason is that there are always avid railfans at the park to socialize with.
Since Global III was built, Rochelle has aggressively sought new industry to locate there. A couple of regional distribution centers, an ethanol manufacturing facility, and a passenger/commuter railcar manufacturer have been established in Rochelle. Most of these are interesting places to explore, albeit from the safe distance of the road, as most are posted no trespassing.
On the east side of town, there are a number of grade crossings to get the high speed action of both the UP and BNSF.
For the BNSF, whose tracks parallel 1st Avenue, all of the crossings are at grade level, except for N 7th St, which goes over the railroad: N 9th St, Washington St, and Main St. The railroad finally curves and crosses 1st Ave, heading roughly SE. Here, S Caron Rd follows the tracks, and we are joined by a UP spur on the opposite side, putting Caron St in the middle of the two giants.
The story for the UP tracks is the same as for the BNSF, with the addition of N. Caron Rd.
There is a small creek flowing under the two roads on the east side, but only the BNSF has a bridge going over it that is easy to access for pictures.
On the west side of the diamond, the UP has only one crossing at 1st St before it reaches the yard. It's the same story for the BNSF at 15th St, and then another grade crossing about 2 miles away NW at Flagg Rd, where there is a small wye. S Central Rd also hits the NW leg of the wye. Just before the rail line hits the wye, there is an interlocking where the tracks go from double (going towards Chicago) and single (heading NW).
Sleep and Eats:
The Butterfly Restaurant is a great family type restaurant located north of downtown on the Lincoln Highway near Route 38. (N 41.9331, W 89.0663) The Butterfly is clean and friendly, has a wide and varied menu and open early morning 'til late at night. Other eating options are to be found just northeast of town on Route 38. This includes a Dairy Queen.
Lodging choices include the Comfort Inn & Suites (41.93551, -89.06808) and the Super 8 (41.93456, -89.04412) among others. In all honesty, The Baymont Inn, next to the Super 8, has gotten nothing but bad reviews from railfans for service and cleanliness. There is a Holiday Inn Express on rt 38, about a third of a mile off I-39, exit 99. East of the motels are a couple of good truck service plazas (41.9335, -89.0355) with good convenience stores at the I-39 interchange.
There is a WalMart on Route 38
(Lincoln Highway), east
of downtown and about a mile off I-39 (41.93581, -89.05301).
Other Railfan Items of Interest:
Illinois Railway Museum is located 50 mi NE of Rochelle in Union, IL
(N42.2271, W 88.5305) their website is
It is a very worthwhile place to visit - allow 2 or 3 hours.
The UP crossing of the Mississippi River is at Clinton IA - 65 mi West of Rochelle near US-30 (N 41.8364, W 90.1798). There is a small rail yard just East of Clinton in Fulton IL just N of US-30 (N 41.8406, W 90.1667), and, there is a larger rail yard and crew change point in West Clinton IA (N 41.8181, W 90.2188).
Mile Posts and Defect Detectors:
Rochelle UP mile post 74.8
Rochelle BNSF mile post 83.2
UP defect detector mile post 64.2 (Malta) (East)
UP defect detector mile post 78.8 (Flagg) (West)
BNSF defect detector mile post 71.3 (Lee) (East)
BNSF defect detector mile post 95.5 (Chana) (West)
Global III UP mile post 79.7 (West End)
Websites and other
additional information sources of interest for
Rochelle Railfan Park www.rochellerailroadpark.org/
Rochelle Tourism www.rochelletourism.com/
Illinois Railway Museum www.irm.org/
Informative magazine article: Railfan & Railroad Magazine, June 2003, story on the BNSF C&I Line.
Since I'm targeting this guide as an add-on to Chicago, these directions are how to get here from downtown Chicago.
Take I-290 heading west out of the downtown area. When you come to the complex juncture with I-290, I-294, and I-88, follow the signs for I-88 west. Unfortunately, it is a toll road. Stay on this till you hit Rochelle. Exit at IL 271/S 7th St. head north, this takes you very close to the railfan park.
1 Rochelle Railfan Park
N 41.9200, W 89.0713
Scanner Frequencies: UP: 161.040; BNSF: 161.100, 161.160, 161.385
Address: 124 North 9th Street, Rochelle IL, 61068
2 UP-BNSF Diamond
3 ex CNW Depot
GPS Coordinates: 41.921347,-89.065749
4 BNSF Wye
GPS Coordinates: 41.940691,-89.118969
Before hitting the SE leg of the wye, the BNSF tracks go from double-track to single-track. Might be a good place to catch trains wanting to head west waiting for an easterly going freight.
5 Pedestrian Crossing Gates
Looks like the CB&Q installed pedestrian crossing gates, whereas the CNW did not. This is at the North 9th Street grade crossing with the BNSF.
All of the signals in and around Rochelle are color light signals. The Union Pacific has there signal bridges placed closer to the diamonds, making them easy to frame up a shot with. BNSF's signal bridges fro the crossing are about 600 feet to the west, and about 800 to the west, presumably because of the curve heading into the crossing.
Detail Pictures are needed!!!
1 UP WB Diamond Protection
From the corner of 2nd Ave and N 11th St. From Google street view.
2 BNSF EB Diamond Protection
From the corner of 2nd Ave and N 14th St. From Google street view.
3 BNSF WB Diamond Protection
From the N 9th St grade crossing. Notice the pedestrian crossing gate! From Google street view.
Sometimes you get rewarded by being in the right place at the right time - I: UP's Olympic Torch Relay power set. Denver's son took this picture.
Sometimes you get rewarded by being in the right place at the right time - II: What are the odds of catching the same car, twice? (the first time it was caught in front of the B&O depot in Fostoria!)
Sometimes you get rewarded by being in the right place at the right time - III: Seems like Rochelle has been very kind to Denver. Here, he caught this rail grinder coming thru Rochelle one day back in 2001.
Picture by Jamie Quest of Rochelle, pix found via a Google search.
From the Rochelle Park Webpage
The story of railroads in
Rochelle begins in 1854 when the Air Line Railroad was completed between
Chicago and the town of Lane (Lane was the first name of Rochelle). The
railroad later became the Chicago and North Western and today is owned by
the Union Pacific (UP).
Sixteen years later the Chicago & Iowa Railroad was built through Rochelle in 1870 and it crossed over the Air Line Railroad between 11th Street and 12th Street. The railroad was later called the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy before becoming the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF). In January of 2005 another name change took place, and even though the holding company name remains the Burlington Northern Santa Fe, the introduction of the new rail subsidiary name and logo took place. The railroad is now identified as the BNSF. The present BNSF depot on Main Street was built in 1921 when it replaced the original 1890 Depot. For many years both railroads had daily passenger service to Chicago or the West Coast, but the last passenger service in Rochelle ended in 1971.
Today these two railroads daily haul millions of tons of merchandise on at least 80 to 90 trains a day through Rochelle in a 24 hour period. This has made Rochelle a "hot spot" for train watching, drawing visitors from every state in the nation and world wide. Because of the number of visitors Rochelle acquired the land in 1995 and constructed a park just for train watching. The park, which was dedicated August 30, 1998, includes a handicapped accessible observation pavilion with various vantage sites for the best visitor viewing and photography. Visitors can see locomotives from many different railroad companies pass through Rochelle. They include the Union Pacific and the BNSF. Other units from railroads of the Eastern United States, Mexico, and Canada also pass through from time to time. One will also see engines wearing their color schemes from past mergers, mixed within the power of a passing freight. The radio transmissions that you are listening to are actual railroad communications from the dispatcher to the train crews and track workers. We monitor both main lines through Rochelle for the UP and the BNSF. Dispatching originates for the UP in Omaha NE, and out of Fort Worth TX for the BNSF.
Last Modified 23-Dec-2013