• Ann Arbor Railfanning?

  • Pertaining to all railroading subjects, past and present, in the American Midwest, including Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and Kansas. For questions specific to a railroad company, please seek the appropriate forum.
Pertaining to all railroading subjects, past and present, in the American Midwest, including Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and Kansas. For questions specific to a railroad company, please seek the appropriate forum.

Moderator: railohio

  by diburning
Hello guys! I need some advice for some good railfanning spots in Ann Arbor, MI. I will be visiting Ann Arbor next month to visit a friend (and go to a UMich football game). I will be staying at my friend's place which is right next to the UMich campus. I won't be driving, so I'd have to take public transportation everywhere (or walk).

I'd like to know of some good railfanning spots and how to get there please.
  by jimnorthwood
If you are looking for Amtrak, then Ann Arbor is a good location. The area around the Amtrak depot is okay, and there is a nearby park along the Huron River with a walking/biking path that is close to the track. The NS track on which Amtrak operates six trains per day, three in each direction, between Pontiac/Detroit and Chicago, is in the process of being sold to the state of Michigan. NS will retain perpetual freight rights on this line once the sale has been completed. Freight traffic on the NS is sparse, one train in each direction each day. That former NYC/PC/Conrail line has been downgraded in terms of freight traffic for the better part of 40 years. The idea is that the state of Michigan will take over ownership and upgrade the line for higher speeds, in order to shave some time off the Detroit/Chicago schedule.

The Ann Arbor Railroad runs north/south through its namesake city. Again, generally one train in each direction per day, although this time of year you might also catch a grain extra on the AA at any time. The AA crosses both the NS and the Huron River on a pretty neat looking bridge, but you would have to be awfully lucky to catch an AA train on that bridge. There used to be an interchange between the two in Ann Arbor, but that has been out of service for many years.

All in all, if you are getting the idea that Ann Arbor is somewhat of a desert in terms of railfanning, you are correct! I lived in AA many years ago while I attended grad school at UM, and when I needed a train fix I would head for the Detroit suburb of Plymouth, where freight traffic was heavy then but much reduced now (two CSX lines cross at grade); Durand (still a good spot for CN, with an awesome depot); or northern Ohio, where the NS Water Level Route and the further south CSX route through Fostoria both see huge numbers of trains.
  by diburning
Hi Jim, thanks for responding!

I was hoping to catch some AA or NS freight action, but it looks like I won't get my wish! Is that AA bridge the one that's slightly west of the NS track? Any idea on what time NS runs through there during the day?

Hmm, Durand seems to be a bit far away (~60 miles, Amtrak takes forever to get there). Plymouth, MI doesn't seem to have public transit or Amtrak service. I'm not sure how I would get there. I guess I'll only be around Ann Arbor then!
  by jimnorthwood
Another place to try that is much closer to Ann Arbor is Romulus. In fact if you are flying into DTW you will land in Romulus. The NS line (former Wabash) that runs from Detroit to St. Louis crosses the CSX (former C&O) Toledo-Plymouth line at grade in Romulus. You can park in a neighborhood that is near the diamond and have good viewing. Both lines can be moderately busy, particularly in the morning. CP also has trackage rights on the NS line, and if you are lucky you might catch one of the NS RoadRailer trains. Milan is another possibility. Just south of Ann Arbor, in Milan the aforementioned former Wabash track crosses the Ann Arbor at grade.

The AA bridge crosses both the NS and the Huron River not far from the Amtrak station. The Art Train used to be based there, too but it was converted to Art Truck a few years ago :( I'm sorry but I don't know the times for the couple of NS freights that run on that line. With the exception of a short stretch between Detroit and Dearborn, that entire line is single track, which means the two daily NS freights have to time it so as to stay out of the way of the six Amtrak trains. You might ask the Amtrak agent in Ann Arbor if he/she has a sense as to when the couple of NS freights usually run.

If you get a chance to visit neighboring Ypsilanti, I highly recommend eating at the Sidetrack. This bar/grille is a long-time institution and a favorite for families and college students, too. And you can't beat the location, hard by the NS line that runs through Ann Arbor. The area of Ypsilanti where the Sidetrack is located is called Depot Town.

Let me know if you have additional questions!
  by diburning
How does Romulus compare to Battle Creek? I was thinking of taking the Wolverine up to Battle Creek since I see that NS and CN (GTW) run in that area. I'd ideally like a place with a lot of action.

If I were to go to Romulus, is there public transportation that goes there? I don't mind walking as long as I'm not walking through shady neighborhoods, but I won't be driving (I'm from a place where there's so much public transit that having a driver's license or a car is unnecessary)

How safe is Romulus? It's right next to the airport so I can just take the bus to the airport and walk over to the diamond.
  by jimnorthwood
In Battle Creek the CN line can be fairly busy, especially now that the automobile industry is producing again. An average of 20-25 trains per day use that line in a 24 hour period, although the daylight hours can be very, very quiet. The NS track in Battle Creek is the same one that passes through Ann Arbor, so not a lot in the way of freight action there. By the way, in terms of safety, Battle Creek is not the best place in the world, especially near the Amtrak station.

There are areas of Romulus where I wouldn't want to be after dark, but the neighborhood near the diamond is fine. Michigan in general (Ann Arbor being the exception) and Detroit in particular have no use for public transportation, so getting around without a car is tough. Here is a link to the SMART (Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation) bus system that serves the Detroit suburbs http://www.smartbus.org/Pages/default.aspx Until just a few years ago there was no bus service to DTW (the taxi companies were a powerful lobbying force to keep the buses out), but I believe SMART route 280 serves the airport now.

In terms of railroad action, Romulus should be busier than Battle Creek. Either one would be busier than Ann Arbor, though.
  by jimnorthwood
No, you don't want/need trouble. I recommend the Comerica bank parking lot on the SW corner of the diamond. If a weekend afternoon and the weather is halfway decent there are likely to be other railfans parked there. There is also an empty lot on the SE side of the diamond. If you go to the SE side stay back from the tracks. I've never experienced this myself, but I've heard others say that one of the locals will sometimes call the police if they see someone parked in the empty lot on the SE side. Perhaps for this reason, most people opt for the bank parking lot.