Todd's Railfan Guide to

In General
Nearby Towns
Getting Here



In General

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.

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 and Walmart.

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.


Acknowledgements: Denver Todd, Nate Danenberg, Jason Mancuso, PPWIII, Google Maps, Bing Maps.  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!

Aerial shots were taken from either Google Maps or www.bing.com/maps as noted, once in a great while maybe MapQuest.  The screen captures are made with Snagit, a Techsmith product... a great tool if you have never used it! 

Nearby Towns with Interesting Stuff

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 train in 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 White Creek 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 Here

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 grub too)

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 I-96.

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.


The above map is here as a PDF


  the Former 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.




GPS Coordinates: 42.956382, -85.678608

Above:  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?

  Kalamazoo, Allegan & Grand Rapids RR

GPS Coordinates: 42.962772, -85.682257

What I thought was a depot was the baggage room for the Kalamazoo, Allegan & Grand Rapids RR, which was part of the Lakeshore & Michigan Southern RR.  The depot faced Fulton St.
Thanks to Jason Mancuso for providing me with the correct information about the history on this building.
The blog below comes from https://www.flickr.com/photos/18412933@N07/9179539324
Thanks to PPWIII for providing the historical pictures,
They came from https://www.flickr.com/photos/18412933@N07/9179539324 and https://www.flickr.com/photos/18412933@N07/9633496435 , but are shown here too in case they disappear.

  Bing Maps

  Bing Maps

  CSX's Wyoming Yard

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.

  ex Norfolk Southern Yard, now Grand Elk RR

GPS Coordinates: 42.933082, -85.679519 (center of the yard)

A couple of pictures of the Grand Elk, most recently ex Norfolk Southern, ex Conrail yard.


  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 Amtrak station.

A CSX freight heading south off the right leg of the above 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.





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

  Interlocking Signals

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 Danenberg.

  EB/WB CSX Intermediate Color Light Signals

  Picture courtesy Nate Danenberg.

  Interlocking Signals

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!


  CSX Bridge Over Patterson Ave SE

Already Seen Above, But What the Heck?  :-)

  CSX Bridge Over 28th St SE

  CSX Bridge Over the Grand River

  GR&E Bridge Over the Grand River



Historical USGS Maps

Courtesy of the University of Texas Library, click here for 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 expert. 

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!  

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 is here

Beware: If used as a source, ANYTHING from Wikipedia must be treated as being possibly being inaccurate, wrong, or not true.


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NEW 06/20/2009
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