Grand Rapids is an interesting town to railfan, and I
always enjoyed my business trips here. CSX has a large presence in
Grand Rapids. Norfolk Southern formally did, but now leases their line
from here down to Elkhart Indiana to the Grand Elk
RR, giving us a new shortline to photograph. The other
shortline in town is the Grand Rapids and Eastern.
To round out the action in town, you have an Amtrak commuter train that
heads into Chicago every morning and returns in the evening.
The Amtrak commuter train which leaves for Chicago in
the AM can be shot at many locations in and around the station, as well as
along Chicago Dr SW, and further south. If they are keeping the train
overnight at the GR&E, then you can also get Amtrak pictures in parts of
Grand Rapids that probably haven't seen passenger trains since the 50's
(that's my guess).
As always, I don't normally venture into the yards
unless I have an escort or someone else that knows the territory and is
friendly with the RR folks.
Apparently, the end of Freeman Ave is popular
with local railfans, and gives you a fairly good vantage point for shooting
stuff at Wyoming. I saw some of my first "2 digit" CSX engines along that
that road, way back in 98.
One of the most interesting sites (IMO) is
the Chessie System overpass on Paterson Ave SW, although catching a train
going over it can be a time consuming process. Morning sun is best
from the south side of the bridge, altho there aren't really any places
"right there".... you'll have to walk a ways. Trains coming into Grand
Rapids often stop here for signal just off to the left of the picture,
making it a little easier to snap one off. I don't know if they still
visit, but I often saw CPR engines on stuff coming into town this way.
Jim adds this: Where the GR&E meets the CSX (It is known as Fuller Junction),
running north from that junction is Marquette Rail (a G&W company) which runs
on the old C&O up to Ludington, and Manistee via Baldwin.
The Coopersville and Marne, in addition to being an excursion railway, runs
west from the CSX/GRE/MQT junction and has one freight customer that
gets a few cars a month.
The GRE runs most weekdays to the Amway complex in Ada, and King which is a
grain mill in Lowell.
And a note about Kalamazoo..... The BO tower is no longer staffed.
If you are driving between Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids, stop in Plainwell
at The Old Mill Brewpub and Grill. It is on the east side of town right
next (and I mean right next) to the Grand Elk KAL to GRR line. Back in
the day when there was still PRR (ex GR&I) and NYC (ex LS&MS) there
was a diamond there. When Penn Central took over they abandoned most
of the line from Parchment to Plainwell, and from Otsego to Allegan.
Because the paper mill in Otsego still got service, they turned the
diamond into a pair of switches. The Old Mill is open daily except
Sunday. Chances of catching a train are hit or miss. If there is
one, the northbound almost always works Otsego and leaves the cars
it picks up on the spur to Otsego. The switch to the Otsego spur
is right by the restaurant as well. The GDLK does use HOT/EOT
equipment, so if you're listening, you'll know if they're around.
Their road frequency is 160.335. It is usually the engineer and
conductor talking to each other. On occasion they use the radio
to call Watco dispatch on the PBX. The radio tower is just south
of M-89 across from The Old Mill.
As for places to stay and eat, 28th St off i96 exit 43
has just about anything you want, including your choice of at least 11
hotels. I'm sure there are other places too off other exits, but I
never had the time to search them out. The big chain stores are Target
Here are the local radio freqs I found in a blog, so I
can't attest to their accuracy, altho the .230 and .320 freqs are used
system wide on CSX. The 160.800 freq was a channel used by the Pennsy
before the Penn Central days, as the Northern Central going by my house in
Towson MD used it.
Thanks to them for going out and taking the up close and personal pictures for
the Grand Rapids railfan guide. Their invaluable help makes this a better
and more complete guide for everyone!
About 15 miles northwest of Grand Rapids is an
excursion railroad known as the Coopersville &
Marne Railway. This year they are celebrating their 25th
anniversary. More info below.
Kalamazoo to the south still has an operating tower, an
Amtrak station and track that is exclusively Amtrak, and a couple of
diamonds. For those of you into busses, the main yard and depot is
right next to the Amtrak station.
Along the east-west corridor from Kalamazoo on I-94 is
Battle Creek, Albion, and Jackson. The track that parallels I-94 is an
Amtrak line, so don't go looking for anything but. Jackson hosted the
Amtrak 40th Birthday
October of 2011.
Lansing, Michigan's state capitol, is about 60 miles
east of Grand Rapids, and has quite a few yards, an Amtrak station, and CSX,
NS, and CPR action.
North of Grand Rapids, bout 80 miles or so, you have
Cadillac..... now, by rail standards, a sleepy little town, but
nevertheless, a worthy stopping point if you're in the area.
If you are into things like Live Steam and/or Live Diesel, 7 1/2 inch gauge
style, the second largest railroad in the U.S.A. (and the largest private
one!) is ~15 miles north of Grand Rapids off US131 in Cedar Springs: The
RR. Russ Eldrich has around six (actual) miles of rail on
the ground. To take it all in takes about a 45 minute train ride thru
some of the prettiest scenery and lakes!
To the south in Indiana, within fairly easy driving
range, you have Michigan City, Elkhart, and South Bend.
Getting to Grand Rapids is easy from almost anywhere.
From the Chicago and western Indiana areas, take I-94
east and when you get to the Benton Harbor MI, take I-196 up into Grand
Rapids. BTW, if anyone remembers Heathkit,
Benton Harbor used to be their home.
From the mid section of Indiana, US131 takes you right
into Grand Rapids, passing thru Kalamazoo, which is also a very good town
spot to stop in, with a working tower.
From western Indiana and Ft Wayne, take I-69 north to
Lansing, then head west on I-96. This will take you close to Battle
Creek, which I also recommend, and of course, Lansing.
From northern Ohio, it's I-75 north to Toledo, of which
I would swing around the west side of to catch US23 heading north to hit
I-96. Of course, by going this way, you have to stop in Toledo and Ann
arbor (not only to get pictures of the depot there, but to also grab some
Coming in from the east as in Detroit, or a little
north of there, it's I-96 all the way into Grand Rapids. If you're
coming from Flint or further north, take I-69 to Lansing, then head west on
From even further east, such as Pennsylvania or any
other east coast state from PA on up, come across the Ohio Turnpike, I-80/90
to Toledo, then take US23 north following the directions for northern Ohio.
From the northern section of Michigan, west side of
central, I would work your way over to US131 and come down it.
This is the former Amtrak station, which is just north of the CSX
wye. Amtrak, according to one source of info found on the web, now
ties their Chicago commuter train up overnight at the Grand Rapids and
Eastern facility because it is safer than leaving it here. Access is
easy from most anywhere because of the interchange off 131 at Wealthy St.
the Grand Rapids and Eastern RR
GPS Coordinates: 42.997378, -85.685245
This is the HQ for the Grand Rapids and Eastern, along with the interchange
with CSX, and a diamond with them. In all of my visits to Grand
Rapids, pictures of them operating always eluded me... Anyone have any
pictures they want to share with the rest of the world?
A couple of screen shots from Google Maps, seems like they had better luck
in catching their engine than I ever did :-) Gone is the blue GRE
And just think, I didn't live too far from where this empire started in New
York as a kid in Batavia NY!
GPS Coordinates: 42.943103, -85.704989 (center of the maintenance part)
A couple of shots of CSX's Wyoming Yard and the car repair facility.
Grand Elk RR Yard
GPS Coordinates: 42.933082, -85.679519 (center of the yard)
A couple of pictures of the Grand Elk yard. Most recently an ex Norfolk Southern yard, and before that, Conrail.
Large Scale Model Railroad
GPS Coordinate: 42.895448, -85.546376
Adjacent to the Chessie System overpass is this private
small scale railroad. Don't know much about it other than during the
years I visited Grand Rapids (1998-2002), the loop was in progress.
This is also why my maps contain the notice that the info hasn't been field
checked for ten years.
Chessie System Bridge
GPS Coordinates: 42.895448, -85.546376
CSX overpass just north of the airport on Patterson... they went to a lot of
trouble to "make" the Chessie System logo, so I guess they decided to keep
it around! That's good for us. Inbound freights will often stop
here waiting for a clear signal. The really good picture of the bridge
is by Nate Danenberg, I could never seem to catch it on a good clear day
like this. The other two are from Google Maps.
GPS Coordinates: 42.954881, -85.677372
The CSX wye, just south of the OLD Amtrak station.
A CSX freight heading south off the right leg of the wye.
Current (New) Amtrak Station
GPS Coordinates: 42.955552, -85.672586
This is Amtrak's new station for Grand Rapids. It opened in October of 2014, and is
named the Vernon J. Ehlers Station. It is
located at the terminus of the Pere Marquette line that connects Chicago's Union
Station with Grand Rapids. It is located on Century Avenue under the US131/
Wealthy St overpass, immediately south of the Rapid's Central Bus Station.
Photos of the new station are by Denver Todd.
Take the Wealthy Ave exit from US131, make sure you stay to the left if you
are heading north on 131.
Take a left onto Grandville Ave, then a left onto Logan St, and finally a
left onto Century Ave SW.
If anyone lives in or around Grand
Rapids, I could really use a few pictures of the signals on my map, and any
others you come across.... many thanks
The tracks coming into Grand Rapids from the east are
double-tracked. This is where they go down to one for it's ride west
to Kalamazoo Ave SE.
All of the aerial views are from Bing Maps.
Picture courtesy Nate
EB/WB CSX Intermediate Color Light Signals
Picture courtesy Nate Danenberg.
These signals are at the western end of the single
track stretch starting at Patterson Ave SE, and for the interlocking of
going from a single track to double track. The picture at the bottom
of this set comes from zooming in on Google Streetview - good thing they
have used higher resolution cameras! The two newest and clear pictures
are courtesy Nate Danenberg. Thanks!
Courtesy of the University of Texas Library, click
their index page. This is a screen capture using Snagit of their 1912
Grand Rapids quadrangle.
I love trains, and I love signals. I am not an
Since the main focus of my two websites is railroad signals, the railfan guides
are oriented towards the signal fan being able to locate them. For those
of you into the modeling aspect of our hobby, my
indexa page has a list of
almost everything railroad oriented I can think of to provide you with at least a few pictures to
help you detail your pike.
If this is a railfan page, every effort has been made
to make sure that the information contained on this map and in this railfan
guide is correct. Once in a while, an error may creep in!
My philosophy: Pictures and maps are worth a
thousand words, especially for railfanning.
Pictures and additional information is always needed if anyone feels
inclined to take 'em, send 'em, and share 'em, or if you have
something to add or correct.... credit is always given! BE NICE!!! Contact info
Aerial shots were taken from either Google or Bing Maps or as noted, once in a
great while maybe MapQuest. I have to add tho, that Bing has pretty
much made themselves useless with the tricks they have pulled with
making Birds Eye view almost totally unusable if it is even available
(when they used to be better than Google), and their streetview is made
useless by their navigation arrows - maybe it is done on purpose, but I
hardly ever use Bing anymore :-). And this is not to say that
Google has done any justice to their aerial views either, whatever they
have done to make them 3D like, has made their images trash too!!! Screen captures are made with Snagit,
a Techsmith product... a great tool if you have never used it!
Beware: If used as a source, ANYTHING from Wikipedia must be treated as
being possibly being inaccurate, wrong, or not true.