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Passenger trains at your hotel window

By Bob Johnston | June 2, 2021

Great places to stay where you can keep an eye on all the railroad action

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Las Vegas, N.M., station sign with Spanish-style hotel in background
Las Vegas, N.M., station sign with Spanish-style hotel in background
La Castaneda in Las Vegas, N.M., reopened in stages in 2018 and 2019 after being closed for decades. (Bob Johnston)

IRVINE, Calif. — The structure used to be a grain elevator served by Santa Fe locals. After the concrete silos outlived their original function, the complex next to the tracks at Irvine’s Sand Canyon Road was converted into a La Quinta Inn and Suites, a great place to watch passenger trains during a stay.

There are many U.S. locations to view busy freight routes from hotels, motels, and more recently, Airbnb sites. The Izaak Walton Inn on BNSF Railway’s “High Line” at Essex, Mont., and the Station Inn at Cresson, Pa., near Horse Shoe Curve, promote their strategic train-watching locations. Each sees daily Amtrak trains: the Empire Builder and Pennsylvanian, respectively.

If passenger trains are your emphasis, there are other standout places to stay. This list is far from exhaustive, but should start the conversation.

La Quinta Inn and Suites, Irvine, Calif.
Pacific Surfliner
s, Metrolink

Blue and silver locomotive moves away from viewpoint above tracks
(Bob Johnston)

When Amtrak Pacific Surfliners and two Metrolink lines were running full schedules, passenger action outside your third- or fourth-floor window could be intense: 13 Amtrak and Metrolink trains between 6:20 a.m. and 8:15 a.m. on one visit on Aug. 29, 2013, including this San Diego-bound Surfliner. The rooms have an odd shape because they are in the former elevator’s silos. Because you can’t see down the track and trains don’t always sound horns for the nearby highway crossing, they appear with little warning. Historically, rooms next to the right-of-way have sold at a discount, but a hotel host recently told Trains.com price reductions are not being offered during the pandemic as a result of staggered room-cleaning protocols. However, trackside rooms can be requested.

Residence Inn, Portland, Ore.
Amtrak Cascades, Coast Starlight, Empire Builder

High-angle view of two trains at station
(Henry Posner III)

“Studio King” rooms ending in 41 to 52 on floors 3 through 6 have a view of Portland Union Station. Rail Development Corp. Chairman Henry Posner III stayed in room 641 in January 2020, and captured the Portland, Ore., section of the Empire Builder departing for Chicago as an Amtrak Cascades trainset waits on an adjacent track. The best way to ensure a room with a view is to call the hotel after making a reservation and have front-desk personnel put a room number preference in their system.

Henry Clay Inn, Ashland, Va.
Virginia Northeast Regionals, Auto Train, Palmetto, Silver Star, Silver Meteor

Train at station platform
(Bob Johnston)
Pasenger locomotive visible across street from hotel window
(Bob Johnston)

Although you can see dozens of passenger and freight trains from some rooms, the true charm of this small property is its location directly across from the former Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac depot, which the southbound Carolinian glides past on Aug. 16, 2008. CSX’s double-track main runs down the middle of tree-lined Center Street, which becomes Railroad Avenue next to the station and inn. Most Northeast Regional trains stop at Ashland, so staying here is convenient, and the hotel restaurant has a view of the trains. The Inn has 13 rooms, though only four were being offered as of early June. The innkeeper says she expects all rooms will be available this summer.

 

Hilton, Alexandria, Va.
Virginia Northeast Regionals, Auto Train, Palmetto, Silver Star, Silver Meteor, Crescent, Virginia Railway Express, D.C. Metro

One train stopped at station at night while another passes in a blur of light
(Bob Johnston)

Except for Auto Train, the same Amtrak trains as Ashland are also visible here in Alexandria’s Old Town district. But since it is located just north and east of the station platforms, it also provides views of the Crescent; commuter operations on VRE’s Manassas and Fredericksburg lines; and Washington Metro Yellow and Blue line trains. Even-numbered rooms ending in 18 through 26 on floors 5, 6, and 7 provide track views. Here, on Jan. 16, 2013, the southbound Silver Meteor is at the station while a Metro train passes in the foreground.

Train visible on track below as viewed from hotel room window
(Bob Johnston)

Hilton Garden Inn, Jackson, Miss.
City of New Orleans

For decades, the massive King Edward Hotel towered above Jackson Union Station as an empty hulk. Passengers out for a stroll on the platform during the City of New Orleans’ extended station stop would wonder aloud if the structure would ever see life again. As it turned out, the National Register of Historic Places-listed building — completed in 1923 and once home of the studios where historic Okeh Records blues recordings were made — was eventually transformed into apartments and a Garden Inn. The hotel has many rooms that overlook the station and a yard shared by Canadian National and Kansas City Southern. Their proposed merger could lead to more activity than on March 5, 2012, during this stop by the southbound City.

Hampton Inn, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Brightline

Passenger train and modern-design white station as viewed from across a field
(Bob Johnston)

A building boom around Brightline’s station inevitably will block views from the downtown Hampton Inn, but for now, it is a good place to see comings and goings when Brightline service resumes later this year. On Feb. 6, 2020, Room 904 is high enough to see a morning train about to depart for West Palm Beach. As with many hotels, check with the front desk or a manager after confirming a reservation to ensure the right room.

La Posada, Winslow, Ariz.
Southwest Chief

Bilevel passenter cars viewed across grounds of hotel
(Bob Johnston)

The eastbound Chief stops on May 16, 2012, in front of the grounds visible from a room at La Posada, which also serves as Amtrak’s Winslow station. BNSF Railway freights pass day and night, but the former Harvey House’s laid-back atmosphere is a serene counterpoint. Travelers can sit on benches at the platform or retreat to the dining room, which offers authentic Southwest-accented fare on patterned dishes designed by Mary Colter once used in Santa Fe dining cars.

La Castaneda, Las Vegas, N.M.
Southwest Chief

Spanish-style hotel building next to station platform
(Bob Johnston)

Like Jackson’s King Edward Hotel, the Harvey House La Castaneda sat dormant for years after closing in 1948. Following a five-year rehabilitation by owners Allen Affeldt and Tina Mion, who earlier brought La Posada back to life, the Spanish-styled structure was modernized by converting groups of three small rooms into two, with the middle room becoming two private bathrooms. Rooms are fully booked into July 2021 for the cast and crew of the upcoming Amazon TV series “Outer Range.” The Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief is the only train you’ll see or hear, but with the resumption of daily operation, a one-night stopover is again possible — once space opens up.

12 thoughts on “Passenger trains at your hotel window

  1. Add Holiday Inn by the Sea in San Diego and ask for a room facing the train station. Also, The Crown Center in Kansas City . The north side faces Union Station and the joint trackage area through downtown

  2. How about the Holiday Inn Express adjacent to the Metra Station in Aurora, IL? Trackside rooms from the 2nd floor up permit viewing Metra’s coming and going as well as Amtrak’s ‘California Zephyr’, ‘Southwest Chief’ and the Quincey trains.

  3. One inn you will never hear about is the funky 1905-built Lyle Lyle, literally a stone’s throw from the old Spokane, Portland & Seattle (BNSF) line on the Washington side of the Columbia River. The trains sound like they will crash through the old building at any moment. A bridge to a spit of land next to the inn allows for great overhead views of the many freights and twice-daily Empire Builder. As a bonus, one can view the UP line’s parade of trains on the south shore of the wide Columbia River.

  4. Radisson Inn – at the Lackawanna Train Station in Scranton Pa, if you get the correct side, you may see some tourist trains, including some pulled by Baldwin #26. But no idea if what they will be doing in 2021, though my wife and I have enjoyed this view in the past.

  5. Don’t forget the back side rooms at the Courtyard by Marriott Washington DC. You see the tracks into Union Station and one line of the Metro. All most constant action. Amtrak. Virginia and Maryland commuter trains.

  6. Kingsley Inn, Ft. Madison, IA, on the former Santa Fe mainline and home of one of the Virtual Railfan cameras.

  7. Oceanside, California has several hotels/resorts that overlook the former AT&SF Surf Line including Spring Hill Suites, Holiday Inn and two Wyndham resorts. Oceanside Transit Center is within a few blocks of Wyndham Oceanside by the Pier. This station gives us access to Amtrak California’s Pacific Surf Liner; Metro-link service to Orange County and Los Angeles; North Coast Transit District’s Coaster to San Diego and Sprinter DMUs to Escondido. Daily-weekly-monthly passes (half-price for seniors) include bus transit and the San Diego trolley services.

  8. Add to the list the Hotel Intercontinental in downtown St Paul MN with great views of St Paul Union Depot (SPUD) and the movements of the East- and West-bound Empire Builders. Also lots of freight traffic.

  9. The article says “Amtrak and Metrolink” for the Irvine La Quinta. But there are also several freights in the evening and night hours.
    I was fortunate to have stayed there every week on business for two years before the tracks were realigned a bit away from the silo rooms when the nearby grade crossing was eliminated. In those days, the tracks were just a few feet from the silo building walls. When the night freights rumbled by, the whole silo shook. And when the north-bound freights sounded their horns right outside your window for the old grade crossing, it lifted you right out of bed. Cool stuff.

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