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17 railroad places you need to visit in the Central U.S. or Midwest

By | January 21, 2020

Trains editors list their top 17 railroad locations in the American Midwest to watch, ride, or celebrate railroads, railways, and trains

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An unusual, short, BNSF Railway train heads south on the Joint Line between Denver and Pueblo, Colo.
An unusual, short, BNSF Railway train heads south on the Joint Line between Denver and Pueblo, Colo.
An unusual, short, BNSF Railway train heads south on the Joint Line between Denver and Pueblo, Colo.
Trains Staff
A version of this article was originally published in the November 2015 issue of Trains.

1 NORTH PLATTE, NEB. The world’s largest yard merits a spike-shaped observation tower. It covers more than 2,800 acres of land.

2 THE RACETRACK The Chicago, Burlington & Quincy set the pace for commuter trains leaving Chicago; BNSF Railway and Metra action continue the tradition.

3 MASON CITY, IOWA Iowa Traction still moves covered grain hoppers with ancient, bright orange electrics. 

4 MICHIGAN CITY, IND. Street running for the South Shore, America’s last true interurban, from Chicago to South Bend, Ind. 

5 MANITOWOC, WIS. Coal-fired ex-Chesapeake & Ohio carferry still ping-pongs between here and Ludington, Mich. 

6 THE JOINT LINE Jointly operated main lines of BNSF and UP between Denver and Pueblo, Colo., in a model railroad-like setting with heavy tonnage.

A South Shore Line train trundles through city streets in Michigan City, Ind.
A South Shore Line train trundles through city streets in Michigan City, Ind.
TRAINS: Brian Schmidt
7 KANSAS CITY UNION STATION 1914 Jarvis Hunt classic that saw almost 700,000 passengers in 1945. 

8 GRAND ISLAND, NEB. Where UP’s incredibly busy transcon (a headlight every 5 minutes) passes under BNSF’s busy coal line.

9 UNION PACIFIC MUSEUM Only corporate-sponsored railroad museum, where the UP began in Council Bluffs, Iowa.

10 CHICAGO UNION STATION Classic giant American station with a great hall. Find the staircase from “The Untouchables.”

11 MARION, OHIO The restored AC Tower keeps watch over CSX and NS mainline action.

A real railroad car ferry still plies Lake Michigan's water between Wisconsin and Michigan.
A real railroad car ferry still plies Lake Michigan’s water between Wisconsin and Michigan.
TRAINS: Brian Schmidt
12 ROCHELLE, ILL. One of the first sanctioned train-watching parks in America, where BNSF and UP cross at grade and fans gather. See Trains Magazine’s live streaming railfan camera from Rochelle online.

13 PULLMAN, ILL. Most of the Landmark Pullman factory is gone but George M.’s utopian employees village remains. A study in corporate paternalism.

14 VAUGHAN, MISS. Site of the infamous April 30, 1900, wreck of John Luther “Casey” Jones. Former Illinois Central. There is also a museum nearby.

15 PINE JUNCTION, IND. Ghosts of the Pennsy and the New York Central duke it out in northern Indiana as NS and CSX rush to and from the Windy City. 

16 CRAWFORD HILL Busy BNSF helper district in amazingly hilly northwestern Nebraska. (Directs to a private Flickr photo page) 

17 CINCINNATI UNION TERMINAL A 1933 building, now also a museum, is largest half dome in the western hemisphere. And it still serves Amtrak!

12 thoughts on “17 railroad places you need to visit in the Central U.S. or Midwest

  1. While the UP museum may now be the only RR company institution, one should remember that the B&O had the first one which their descendant Chessie deeded to the city of Baltimore

  2. The Ludington, MI, to Manitowoc, WI, car ferry no longer carries rail cars and is disconnected from rail at each end of the line. The ferry is a link in US-10 across Lake Michigan for traffic by car, truck, bus, bike, and foot. There has been discussion about changing out the coal fired modus for renewable sources. It’s a great relaxing ride across the lake and saves having to do battle with Chicago traffic or the long stretch of Michigan’s scenic Upper Peninsula for east/west traffic.

  3. Grand Island, Nebraska train counts are WAY DOWN. Thanks to declines in coal traffic and UP’s hunger for PSR, you might see a headlight every half hour, not five minutes. BNSF still has some decent train counts on the line that flies over the UP. Still a good place to see perhaps 35 trains during daylight hours, a far cry from the mid 60’s numbers of only a few years ago. Any railfan will be dismayed in the drop off of trains on UP.

  4. I recommend the Badger (ferry) also and the breakfast buffet on the westbound morning trip isn’t bad.

    I would like to suggest Galesburg, IL as a train watching location and Boone and Scenic Valley as a great ride.

  5. Good list actually, not just the usual RR cliches. Mason City… those 100 year old electrics are like the last shortlines running with steam in the 1960s, or the last logging line using Shays. And the motors run and maintained as built. They are not just old shells around modern interior parts. Charles, the ferry does not carry railroad cars but overall it hasn’t changed much since the days it did.

  6. Hmmm, a listing of railfan faves without the word “DULUTH”? If none of you folks have ever been to the Twin Ports and Iron Range, you need to go.

  7. You might have mentioned that the Historic Pullman village is now a neighborhood of Chicago. A person trying to find Pullman IL on a contemporary map couldn’t find it. Also, there is no Pennsy history at Pine Jct. Indiana. It is all New York Central and C & O (or maybe even Pere Marquette).

  8. Since when is Vaughn MS a part of the Midwest? This one belongs on a list of railroad places to visit in the South.

  9. The track though Vaughn MS was taken out of service years ago. It used to be the mainline between Jackson and Memphis, but IC (prior to CN) upgraded their line north of Jackson through the delta and took the line through Vaughn out of service. There is not anything much to see. The Casey Jones museum that was at Vaughn closed. Water Valley, 124 miles north of Vaughn, opened a Casey Jones museum. A trip to Vaughn would not be worth the time unless you were already traveling on I-55 between Jackson MS and Memphis.

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