RAILFAN GUIDES of the U.S.
Todd's Railfan Guide to
Detroit is a great town for railfanning, and has a rich history to go along with it. To fully railfan Detroit and Windsor, you will have to spend about a week here. Don't forget your passport if you plan on crossing into Canada!
For more information on Michigan railroads, check out http://www.michiganrailroads.com/
Railroads that currently serve Detroit are: CSX, Norfolk Southern, Conrail, CN, CP Rail, and Amtrak. Detroit is one of three locales that still has a Conrail presence because of the share assets thing as part of the Conrail split-up between CSX & NS in 1999. Philly and northern NJ are the other two areas.
Railroads that used to serve
The Pennsylvania Railroad (-1968) → Penn Central
The New York Central RR (-1968) → Penn Central
Penn Central (1968-1976) → Conrail
The Detroit, Toledo, and Ironton RR (1905-1983) → GTW http://www.abandonedonline.net/railroads/detroit-toledo-and-ironton-railroad/
The Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Detroit RR (1926-1956) → Connecting RR (PRR)
The Detroit & Mackinaw Rwy Co (1894-1992) → Lake State http://www.railroadmichigan.com/detroitmackinac.html
The Chesapeake & Ohio Rwy (-1972) → Chessie System
The Baltimore & Ohio RR (1829-1972) → Chessie System
The Chessie System (1972-1987) → CSX
The Pere Marquette RR
The Wabash RR (-1964) → N&W Rwy
The Port Huron & Detroit RR
The Grand Trunk Western RR → CN
The Detroit Terminal RR (1905-1984) → Conrail
The Detroit and Shore Line RR (1898-1981) → GTW
The Detroit area has many yards because of the number of
railroads that use to either come through town or terminate here, they include:
CSX's Rougemere Yard
CP's Flatrock Yard, south of Detroit
CN's/GTW's Detroit Yard on the NW side of town
NS's Detroit Yard
Detroit's main station these days is in Dearborn.
In the downtown area, you also have the old Michigan Central Station, which has not been used since 1988 and is falling apart, but nevertheless, worthy of going by and getting some pictures of it (Shown below in it's heyday). More at: http://www.abandonedonline.net/railroads/michigan-central-station/
Over in Plymouth, near the diamond, you have Station 885, a converted station.
The Fort Street Union Station fell to the wrecking ball in 1974, and it was one of two historic depots left before it's demise. The last train to leave the station was the Wabash Cannonball on 4/30/1971.
When looking at the map of Detroit, I believe I counted eight (8) bridge crossings over water, 6 of them going over River Rouge. Three of the eight cross over to Zug Island, two of which are for both trains and vehicular traffic (the north and west bridges).
Between the Ambassador Bridge and the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel, you have the former Michigan Central Rwy Tunnel between the U.S. and Canada which opened in 1910. It is also known as the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel.
CP Rail wants to build a new tunnel, as can be seen from this press release dated June 18th, 2010. The Canadian end of the current tunnel is also shown below, taken from an article here.
A picture from the early 1900's on the American side.
The only tower I am aware of is Delray Tower, on the north side of town, just off of I-75 exit 44. It is still an active tower, and you need to keep an eye out for the CSX cops, because even though they can be friendly, they can still make you move off the grass if you park along the access road to the cement plant just to let you know that they are in control.
Other towers I know of that used to be around are:
The Sixth St Tower (controlled movements in & out of the Fort Street Union Station)
Most signals around the Detroit area are either colorlight signals or searchlight signals.
Detroit is in the middle of some of the best railfanning areas in the country, as seen below in the Getting Here section below. To railfan the area properly will take you several weeks. Even after years of coming to Michigan, I still have not "seen it all".
As always, if you have something to contribute, add or correct, please check here
Detroit has a number of highways leading into town.
To the north, it's all Michigan, on up into the U.P. (Upper Peninsula) after crossing the Mackinaw Bridge, which is about 3 hours or so to the north. Along the way, you will also hit the towns of Flint, Bridgeport and the Junction Valley RR, Saginaw, Bay City, and Grayling, all of which have something of interest to the railfan.
If you are coming from the west, say from the Chicago area, I-94 gets you here. I-94 brings you into Detroit from the SW. Along this route, you have quite a few great railfanning towns such as Gary IN, Michigan City IN, Benton Harbor, Kalamazoo, Battle Creek, Albion and Jackson, and Ann Arbor.
If you are headed to the upper part of Michigan without stopping in Detroit, I would recommend taking US23 to bypass Detroit, which comes up from the Toledo area, goes through Ann Arbor, and then re-joins I-75 in Flint.
If you coming in from Canada, or going over to Windsor for railfanning, you have two choices, either the Ambassador Bridge, or the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel. DO NOT FORGET YOUR PASSPORT. I know I'm not suppose to interject personal opinion, but one would think that since they are our closest ally, it would be a simple matter like it used to be, but no.
Considering the traffic volume, rush hours are not as bad as you would think. However, BEWARE of weekend traffic to to upper Michigan via I-75 on Fridays and coming back on Sundays, it just plain sucks. Take this into account in your travel plans.
I love trains, and I love signals. I am not an expert. My webpages reflect what I find on the topic of the page. This is something I have fun with while trying to help others. My webpages are an attempt at putting everything I can find of the subject in one convenient place. There are plenty of other good websites to help me in this effort, and they are listed in the links section on my indexa page, or as needed on individual pages. Please do not write to me about something that may be incorrect, and then hound the heck out of me if I do not respond to you in the manner you would like. I operate on the "Golden Rule Principle", and if you are not familiar with it, please acquaint yourself with how to treat people by reading Mathew 7:12 (among others, the principle exists in almost every religion). If you contact me (like some do, hi Paul) and try to make it a "non-fun" thing and start with the name calling, your name will go into my spambox list! :-)
Please Note: 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, especially if restaurants or gas stations open, close, or change names. Most of my maps are a result of personal observation after visiting these locations. I have always felt that a picture is worth a thousand words", and I feel annotated maps such as the ones I work up do the same justice for the railfan over a simple text description of the area. Since the main focus of my website is railroad signals, the railfan guides are oriented towards the signal fan being able to locate them. Since most of us railheads don't have just trains as a hobby, I have also tried to point out where other interesting sites of the area are.... things like fire stations, neat bridges, or other significant historical or geographical feature. While some may feel they shouldn't be included, these other things tend to make MY trips a lot more interesting.... stuff like where the C&O Canal has a bridge going over a river (the Monocacy Aqueduct) between Point of Rocks and Gaithersburg MD, it's way cool to realize this bridge to support a water "road" over a river was built in the 1830's!!!
My philosophy: Pictures and maps are worth a thousand
words, especially for railfanning. Text descriptions only get you so
far, especially if you get lost or disoriented. Take along good
maps.... a GPS is OK to get somewhere, but maps are still better if you get
lost! I belong to AAA, which allows you to get local maps for free
when you visit the local branches. ADC puts out a nice series of
county maps for the Washington DC area, but their state maps do not have the
railroads on them. If you can find em, I like the National Geographic
map book of the U.S..... good, clear, and concise graphics, and they do a
really good job of showing you where tourist type attractions are, although
they too lack the railroads. Other notes about specific areas will
show up on that page if known.
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 is here
Beware: If used as a source, ANYTHING from Wikipedia must be treated as being possibly being inaccurate, wrong, or not true.
Last Modified 03-Mar-2015