Midwest Railfan Trip Suggestions

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auburnrails

New Member
Hey there,

I will be traveling alone to the midwest late next month for about 5 days of solo railfanning and am interested in any advice or feedback for my journey. My specific interests are seeing plenty of action at times, visiting scenic or interesting areas, and also catching some of the shortline/regional action. I'm not interested in finding old steam engines or museums or that sort of thing. I'm mostly a modern guy.

My itinerary is as follows:

Day 1

I fly into Des Moines in the morning and pick up my rental car.
I end my day in Independence, MO.

My goal today is to maybe check out the greater Des Moines area before meandering south. I'm a MILW fan so would like to maybe cross paths with the ex-MILW Kansas City line but also see any action along the way.

Day 2

I will have time to check out the greater KCMO area before heading west. I will end my day in Emporia.

My goal today will be to catch a lot of BNSF action as well as any regional/shortline stuff. KCS would be a bonus.

Day 3

I will depart Emporia and head north, ending my day in Omaha.

My goal today is to catch any Kansas action worth seeing, including possibly focusing on the UP Marysville sub for a bit, before maybe spending a bit of time around Omaha/Council Bluffs.

Day 4

I will depart Omaha with the goal of heading west. I will end my day in Grand Island. Obviously the big draw will be the heavy UP action as well as the crossing in Grand Island. I think NCRC also visits Grand Island so any input on them would be great.

Day 5

I will have the day to get from Grand Island to Omaha, but can spend that out in the fields, so to speak, or head to Omaha and do the urban thing. I can also check out the ex-RI IAIS line and perhaps some other stuff before dropping off my rental car at 5:30p in Omaha.

This is the third year that my wife has invited me to "check out" for a few days to get some personal time away from work after a crazy summer. I jokingly call it "Railfanpalooza". Two years ago I did Cajon Pass and then the desert east of Barstow. It was awesome. Last year I did northern New Mexico and a pinch of Northern Arizona. This year I elected to visit the midwest since I've only passed through these areas once about 30 years ago on a summer roadtrip.

Any feedback or help would be appreciated. Again, looking for easy-to-follow routes, good places to visit, city advice, etc. Oh, and any good places to eat that are unique to the area.

Thank you :)

-Dave
 
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Bill Anderson

Well-Known Member

auburnrails

New Member
Thanks Bill. I was thinking of starting off the morning by driving north to Boone and the Kate Shelley Bridge. I need to get a better grasp on travel times and distances, as going north before going south that day might make it a bit long. Definitely an interest for me though.

Thanks again!

-Dave
 

Bill Anderson

Well-Known Member
I suggest you spend your first night in Council Bluffs/Omaha, as you can easily get there from Boone in one day. Hopefully the Omaha Posse will respond to this thread. They may even give you a guided tour of Omaha.

From Omaha you can head south to Kansas City. There are some members in Kansas City who can advise you as to what to see there.

From Kansas City you can head up to Lincoln along UP's Kansas line and go all the way west to North Platte if you have the time.

If it is not too late to change your itinerary, from North Platte you could work your way west to Cheyenne and fly home out of Denver.

Why don't you add your location in your public profile or signature line? You should get credit for being a diehard railfan who makes these annual trips.
 
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auburnrails

New Member
Well, I really want to have some time in Kansas (the state) and Kansas City, so that's why I looped south. My airfare is unchangeable so I'm stuck with into DSM and out of OMA. I did see some posts by the Omaha Posse, and got some ideas on areas to visit/pass through from those. I particularly like the Nebraska Central shots.

Up until tonight I had a dual rental car reservation as it was too expensive to book DSM to OMA as a one-way rental for the period I was traveling. I was going to have to return one car to Des Moines the night before I leave and get a new one, as that saves me about $100. Tonight, though, I was able to rebook it as a single rental so I swapped my last night from Des Moines to Grand Island. I'm now a little less tied to my itinerary, though I am generally happy with the overall picture. I just don't know specifics of some of these locations - for example, short lines, good spots to view mainlines, etc.

I'll have to edit my profile, but I'll sign this post with my basic info. I've been very fortunate to have a wife that supports me getting away for this time. I actually really enjoy being alone, driving all over, seeing nothing but cornfields or desert, etc. I'm pretty simple that way. I also take pride in doing it on somewhat of a budget. My trip to New Mexico last year was four days, three nights, and covered hundreds of miles. I was able to do it all-in for about $600. This year will be more because I'm gone longer and the rental will be a bit higher. Hopefully I can keep it manageable though.

Thanks again Bill. :)

-Dave Riffle
Maple Valley, WA
 

Bill Anderson

Well-Known Member
With a handle of Auburnrails, I figured you might be from the Puget Sound region. We are practically neighbors if you live in Maple Valley. Hopefully the Omaha Posse and members in Kansas City will respond with tips for railfanning their home turf.
 

auburnrails

New Member
Ya, I'm just up the road from the BNSF crossing on 216th St. Grew up along the Milwaukee out by the Maplewood Golf Course. We lived in Auburn by the college for the past 20 years until buying our new home out here in Maple Valley over New Years. Liking being out further from the "city".

Thanks again, Bill. Appreciate all the feedback!

-Dave Riffle
Maple Valley, WA
 

CGW101c

CGW Fan
Hi. One of things I would do different is go from Emporia to Grand Island and then Omaha. This would allow you run up the Strong City sub and check out Concordia and then head up to the Marysville sub at Belvedere where there is small railfan park and to Hastings and Grand island along the UP. You would cross the old CB&Q Lincoln to Denver line in Hastings and then it is only a short trip to Gibbon Jct where the Marysville sub and the Overland route meet. Somewhere around 100 trains a day thru there. It is only 15 miles west of Grand Island. Then on day 4 you could meander back along HWY30 for the UP action back to Omaha. Columbus is 82 miles from Omaha along HWY 30 on the UP and there you find the Nebraska Central and a UP local. And Fremont is 40 minutes from Omaha. This where the UP splits to go to Missouri Valley IA or Omaha. Always action there. Or just zip to Omaha along I 80 in about 2 hours 15 min. If you went I 80 you could hit Lincoln and run up HWY 6 along the BNSF to Ashland where all the action is. The IAIS runs 2 trains a day one each way. Usually WB in the morning and EB after noon. The CN may or may not run 1 train north but does run a local to Omaha in the morning usually getting to North Omaha by noonish. You could easily do the whole Omaha area in one day. Back to Des Moines. I think iBoone is about an hour from Des Moines and 3 1/2 from Omaha. If you headed South from Des Moines you could follow the UP Spine Line and catch a lot of action around the area north east of KC. All of the major players kinda funnel into KC here. I 35 from Des Moines to KC is shorter than Des Moines to Omaha to KC.
 

Zoohogger

Whistle Pig
When you are in Omaha area, most of the yards are actually in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Amtrak Station in Omaha is located at 7th and Pacific St. ( just south of downtown) Here you will find the UP Station, A beautiful art deco station now the home of the Durham Western Heritage Museum. Burlington station is being renovated for use by local TV station KETV. Many good restaurants in the old market area. The iconic Omaha steak house, closing at the end of this year, is Piccolo's just north of Martha St. on 20th. From the Amtrak platform you can see UP trains, some BNSF, the CN local and Amtrk #6 in the early morning 6 ish, and #5 around 11:00 PM. A bit south on 13th street past L or hwy 92 is the turn in for BNSF Gibson Yard.
Crossing the river to Council Bluffs you will find UP(there are not keen having you drive in), a small BN yard and The IAIS on the south end of town and on the north end the CN/IC and UP ex CNW yard is together. On 9th Avenue near the UP yards is the Golden Spike Monument marking milepost 0. It's a tall, big, Golden Spike, hard to miss. There is a parking lot and overall not a bad place to sit and photograph UP trains.

I will put a plug in for the Zoo, but after Labor Day the steam engines only run on weekends. 1890 Kraus 0-6-2T and 1968 Crown 4-4-0 30 inch gauge. I think they have animals there, but I only know about the trains.

Following the ex-Rock Island, Iowa Interstate east from Council Bluffs is difficult. Leave that for another day.

Rick

Largest number of trains will be seen in Gibbon, Fremont, Lincoln, Ashland, and, well anywhere along HWY 30 between Gibbon and Fremont. Hwy 6 between Lincoln and Ashland is good for BN.
 

auburnrails

New Member
Hi. One of things I would do different is go from Emporia to Grand Island and then Omaha. This would allow you run up the Strong City sub and check out Concordia and then head up to the Marysville sub at Belvedere where there is small railfan park and to Hastings and Grand island along the UP. You would cross the old CB&Q Lincoln to Denver line in Hastings and then it is only a short trip to Gibbon Jct where the Marysville sub and the Overland route meet. Somewhere around 100 trains a day thru there. It is only 15 miles west of Grand Island. Then on day 4 you could meander back along HWY30 for the UP action back to Omaha. Columbus is 82 miles from Omaha along HWY 30 on the UP and there you find the Nebraska Central and a UP local. And Fremont is 40 minutes from Omaha. This where the UP splits to go to Missouri Valley IA or Omaha. Always action there. Or just zip to Omaha along I 80 in about 2 hours 15 min. If you went I 80 you could hit Lincoln and run up HWY 6 along the BNSF to Ashland where all the action is. The IAIS runs 2 trains a day one each way. Usually WB in the morning and EB after noon. The CN may or may not run 1 train north but does run a local to Omaha in the morning usually getting to North Omaha by noonish. You could easily do the whole Omaha area in one day. Back to Des Moines. I think iBoone is about an hour from Des Moines and 3 1/2 from Omaha. If you headed South from Des Moines you could follow the UP Spine Line and catch a lot of action around the area north east of KC. All of the major players kinda funnel into KC here. I 35 from Des Moines to KC is shorter than Des Moines to Omaha to KC.
Wow - thanks Tom!

Ok, so I'll swap my nights in Omaha and Grand Island. So Kansas City/Emporia/Grand Island/Omaha. Sounds good. I might swap Omaha out for Fremont just to allow me to stay more out of the city, then just drive in and spend my final day in Omaha. BTW, my days are Tuesday-Saturday, so the day I leave (Saturday) it will be good to end in Omaha.

What is Concordia?

Thanks again!

-Dave
 

auburnrails

New Member
When you are in Omaha area, most of the yards are actually in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Amtrak Station in Omaha is located at 7th and Pacific St. ( just south of downtown) Here you will find the UP Station, A beautiful art deco station now the home of the Durham Western Heritage Museum. Burlington station is being renovated for use by local TV station KETV. Many good restaurants in the old market area. The iconic Omaha steak house, closing at the end of this year, is Piccolo's just north of Martha St. on 20th. From the Amtrak platform you can see UP trains, some BNSF, the CN local and Amtrk #6 in the early morning 6 ish, and #5 around 11:00 PM. A bit south on 13th street past L or hwy 92 is the turn in for BNSF Gibson Yard.
Crossing the river to Council Bluffs you will find UP(there are not keen having you drive in), a small BN yard and The IAIS on the south end of town and on the north end the CN/IC and UP ex CNW yard is together. On 9th Avenue near the UP yards is the Golden Spike Monument marking milepost 0. It's a tall, big, Golden Spike, hard to miss. There is a parking lot and overall not a bad place to sit and photograph UP trains.

I will put a plug in for the Zoo, but after Labor Day the steam engines only run on weekends. 1890 Kraus 0-6-2T and 1968 Crown 4-4-0 30 inch gauge. I think they have animals there, but I only know about the trains.

Following the ex-Rock Island, Iowa Interstate east from Council Bluffs is difficult. Leave that for another day.

Rick

Largest number of trains will be seen in Gibbon, Fremont, Lincoln, Ashland, and, well anywhere along HWY 30 between Gibbon and Fremont. Hwy 6 between Lincoln and Ashland is good for BN.
Hey thanks Rick. Appreciate all the info.

I'd definitely like to cruise over to Council Bluffs. There's just something about that area that seems so interesting to visit. I think it's that I relate it to old-school railroading and all of the interchanges that took/take place. I definitely want to see a bit of the IAIS but I might have to settle with some DSM area railfanning on my first day to satisfy that urge.

I end my last day at Eppley Field, and need to drop the rental off around 5:30pm. That should give me lots of time to cruise around.

Any feedback on Des Moines to Kansas City? Following the Spine Line is interesting but I am a big MILW fan so might like to cruise along their old line as well.

Thanks again!

-Dave
 

CGW101c

CGW Fan
Concordia KS has the BNSF Strong city sub. They have been running a lot more trains on that line. It goes to Superior Ne and then on to Hastings. It used to be ATSF and Superior was the only town in Ne that the ATSF went. Also 1 of the regional shortlines runs thru there. Either the NCK or the K&O. Not a bunch of action but an old railroad town. Truck on up 81 to Nebraska and then to the Marysville sub. You could swing thru Herrington for the ex-Rock Island Golden State Route. Lots of pleasant scenery in Central KS. But if you do decide just to head for the Marysville sub then Concordia might to far west. Although for sheer volume of traffic you can't beat Emporia or Gibbon. As far as Des Moines to KC I have only followed the CGW which is gone now. Although when I took a speeder trip on the old Wabash thru Chillicothe the MILW looked pretty cool.
 
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CGW101c

CGW Fan
Fremont is a good place to stay. There is almost no place in town that too far from some tracks. And the BNSF Sioux City line runs thru there so there is traffic of both types, Yellow or Orange and a blue GP30 at the grain elevator.
 

auburnrails

New Member
Thanks again. In between my last post and now, I settled on booking my last night in Council Bluffs. Figured that'd put me close to where I want to be that day so went for it. I chose a motel that backed up to a line though it's the BNSF ex-MILW out to Bayard so probably won't have anything pass outside during my brief stay there.

I love the idea of hitting Herington and the ex-Rock. Back in '84 we did a long cross-country road trip and followed this route all the way from northern New Mexico to Kansas City. I didn't have a lot of knowledge of the area but I do remember enjoying the many miles of corn. Perhaps Emporia to Herington to Concordia etc. Looking at the roads there may not always be parallel routes but that'll keep it interesting.

The Marysville Sub isn't a necessity because I'll get plenty of UP action on the Overland Route. In Kansas, catching some shortline action or at least seeing some of the secondary mains might be more interesting.

Getting excited for it. Thanks guys!

-Dave
 

CGW101c

CGW Fan
If you do stay in Council Bluffs it will probably take you an extra 5 minutes to get to the airport than if you stayed in downtown Omaha, so take that into consideration. The IAIS runs just east of the MILW so you might see something there too. I hope you have an enjoyable trip.
 

CGW101c

CGW Fan
Happy to be of assistance. By the way, the 5 min note is tongue in cheek. This town is really easy to move around in. So it doesn't matter where you stay it doesn't take long to get anywhere. Tom
 

auburnrails

New Member
Haha I was wondering about the five minute thing. lol Being from Seattle, I feel spoiled when I can go somewhere and just buzz around without having to worry about traffic jams, long distances, etc. I know Omaha/Council Bluffs aren't tiny but it seems like I will be able to cover a lot of ground pretty quickly.

Two things I'm getting from reading here and other places:
1. The Bayard Local on BNSF probably won't be running when I'm there (at the hotel by their line) as it's a Saturday.
2. The IAIS CBBI would likely be departing mid-morning and would actually be parked pretty close to where I'm staying (Western Inn) waiting for it's crew. If so, that should make it a bit easier to at least catch something on their line.

-Dave
 
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Bill Anderson

Well-Known Member
Haha I was wondering about the five minute thing. lol Being from Seattle, I feel spoiled when I can go somewhere and just buzz around without having to worry about traffic jams, long distances, etc. Dave
Dave is joking. Traffic in the Seattle area is horrible with three million people squeezed between Puget Sound and the Cascades.
 




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