Here is my list of 7 great railfanning spots that each see about 40 trains daily, and is sure to satisfy any rail enthusiast.
- Folkston, GA
Welcome to the Folkston Funnel! This location sees 60+ trains daily, as it carries most of the CSX and Amtrak trains into Florida. In Folkston, the CSX Jessup Sub, and Nahunta Sub converge, leading to a substantial amount of rail traffic. Folkston has made a name for itself in the railfan community and is dubbed a “train watchers paradise”. The town of Folkston has built a railfan platform next to the tracks, with benches, tables, Wi-Fi and a scanner to listen to train movements. Stay in the Chessie System caboose beside the tracks to have a true railroad experience, like the railroaders of years past. To the south of Folkston, the tracks lead to Jacksonville, Florida, to the north they lead to Waycross, GA, via the Jessup Sub, and to Savannah, GA, via the Nahunta Sub. Various CSX trains, as well as the Amtrak Silver Services, and the Auto train will be seen. While in town, check out all that Folkston has to offer, with its small-town charm and main street with tiny family owned shops. In April, the town hosts the “Folkston Rail Watch”, which draws railfans from all over the world. You can also check out Folkston on Virtual Railfan, which provides viewers with a live camera of train movements.
- Altoona, PA Horseshoe Curve
Horseshoe Curve, considered an engineering marvel when built, provided the Pennsylvania Railroad with a passageway through the terrain of the Allegheny Mountains. Because of this, Horseshoe Curve is a national historic landmark. Today, the location is known to be a must see for rail enthusiasts from all over the world. This location is especially sought after during the fall, for the beautiful foliage that adorns the landscape alongside the tracks.
Here, you will be greeted by the sight of a PRR GP9 locomotive that adorns the curve trackside. A scanner is also in place for listening to train movements throughout the line. At this location, railfans will see train movements on the Norfolk Southern Pittsburgh line, one of the railroads busiest rail lines, traverse their way through the Alleghenies. While in the area, check out the Altoona Shops, where maintenance is done on NS’s diesel fleet, in fact, the quality of work done here is well known, so other railroads send their equipment to Altoona.
While there, also check out the Railroader’s Memorial Museum, which is home to the official locomotive of the state of Pennsylvania, PRR K4s 4-6-2 Pacific #1361. Currently, there are fundraising efforts and restoration being done to the locomotive. All work is being done in a new roundhouse built specially for this project. This roundhouse, called the “Harry Bennett Memorial Roundhouse” was built in the honor of Bennett, who was a foreman at the Juniata Shops, and oversaw the work being done during construction of K4s #1361. Be sure to check this out when visiting Altoona and consider a donation to this worthy cause.
Another cool railroad attraction in Altoona is the railwalk. The Altoona railwalk is located in downtown Altoona and runs parallel to the tracks. There is lighting at this location for nighttime photos. At the rail walk, you are sure to strike up a conversation with fellow railfans, as this location is very popular.
- Barstow, CA
Barstow is located along the Cajon Pass route, and is the eastern terminus of the pass, also located here is BNSF’s diesel maintenance facilities, and the beginning of BNSF’s Needles Subdivision. The Cajon Pass is the route built by the California Southern Railway, as a route through the San Bernardino, and San Gabriel Mountains. This route is popular with railfans because of the easy access to the rail line, as well as the mountainous scenery that surrounds the line. On this route, BNSF, UP, as well as Amtrak’s Southwest Chief operate this line, the BNSF and UP share trackage rights on this line, as they are both the successors of the ATSF. Due to the mountainous terrain, it is common to see trains on this line have mid-train helpers or Distributed Power Units (DPUs) on the rear. Barstow is usually active in the mornings-afternoons, if you are looking to catch the Southwest Chief, it passes Westbound around daybreak, and eastbound at night. This location is also available at Virtual Railfan, and provides a 360 degree camera of the location.
- Philadelphia, PA
The area within and around Philadelphia’s 30th street station is packed with rail traffic. First, you have 30th street’s two levels of platforms, the lower level being for Amtrak and NJ Transit trains, and the upper level, utilized by SEPTA. Next to the station, the CSX High Line is visible, which carries CSX trains above 30th street station, and surrounding areas. Down the street from the station is the CSX Trenton Line’s CP Vine, where trains traverse the Schuylkill River, and run parallel to a walking path.
While near the station, Amtrak service including Regional, Keystone, and Acela trains are running frequently. In addition, Amtrak long distance services including the Silver Services to Florida, and the Crescent to New Orleans can be seen once a day in each direction. NJ Transit’s Atlantic City Line pulls into 30th street 24 times a day as well, taking people to and from the seaside town. On the top level, SEPTA trains from various rail lines converge, creating ample traffic on both levels of the station. With the continued improvements on the station and the surrounding areas, 30th street will continue to be a popular railfan destination.
- Ashland, VA
Ashland is a quaint small town located in the heart of Virginia, and is home to a dense amount of rail traffic. The CSX RF&P route runs right through the center of town, in addition to CSX trains, Amtrak trains including the Regional, Silver Service, and Auto Train pass through town as well. While in town, check out the many small family owned shops and the charm that they bring to the town. Check out the depot that houses a small museum and a welcome center. For more information on the city of Ashland, visit their website: https://www.town.ashland.va.us/
- Rochelle, IL
Rochelle is home to a diamond that allows the UP and BNSF main lines to cross each other. This allows up to 80 trains daily, and is a must for any rail enthusiast. This location includes the Rochelle Rail Park and a gift shop. The Rochelle Rail Park is the first park built in the U.S. for the sole purpose of watching rail operations, and is a sought after location for railfans. The park includes scanner audio to listen to the railroad activity of the two busy mainlines. It also includes Wi-Fi and an ATCS monitor that monitors rail traffic on the UP Geneva Sub.
- BNSF Racetrack
The BNSF racetrack is the main line that runs from Chicago’s Union Station to the town of Aurora, IL, and is utilized by BNSF, Amtrak, and Metra. This former Burlington Northern Line runs through the suburbs of western Chicago, with trains reaching speeds of 70mph. This location allows railfans to enjoy 100+ trains daily during the week, with less on the weekends and at non-peak times. A popular destination for railfans along this route is to take Metra into Chicago Union Station, as Metra usually has reduced fares during the weekend. There are many restaurants, hotels, and other attractions along the 37 mile route, making this a popular destination for rail enthusiasts.
Stuff I Bring Railfanning:
Camera I use: (Amazon Link)
My Tripod: Amazon Link
Scanner to monitor train movements: Amazon Link