Hot Spots

Hot Spots

Hot Spots

If you want a lifetime of great railroad experiences, Hot Spots is your go-to guide for train-watching throughout the U.S. and Canada. This special issue from Trains magazine tells you everything you need to know to be a great train-watcher — railfan basics, travel tips, and dozens of must-see locations from coast to coast.

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United States
Kalmbach Publishing Co. - Magazines
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2 Min
flagstaff, ariz.

LOCATION: Arizona is not solely a wide-open desert landscape. Along the Arizona Divide, a college town exists, surrounded by Ponderosa Pine trees: Flagstaff. At an altitude of 6,900 feet, Flagstaff is a popular train-watching destination to see the BNSF Railway’s Southern Transcon line from Los Angeles to Chicago. The line sees a parade of intermodal, manifest, grain, and ethanol trains. Amtrak’s Southwest Chief makes daily stops at the Flagstaff depot. In Flagstaff, trains are working hard up the grade toward the summit of the Arizona Divide at 7,359 feet. With nearly 70 trains within a 24-hour period, one will be busy capturing these heavy trains grinding up the mountain. TRAIN-WATCHING: Flagstaff offers many opportunities for railroad photography. Downtown provides a scenic backdrop with the 1926 Flagstaff depot. One can snap photos…

1 Min
old fort loops, nc

LOCATION: The loops near Old Fort, N.C., provide a unique way for Norfolk Southern trains to move from the Piedmont to the Blue Ridge Mountains with 13 miles of steep (2.2 percent) winding track to cover 3 air miles. In those 13 miles are seven tunnels, and enough curves, cuts and fills, and bridges to astound and embarrass any model railroader. Think of this railroad as a giant spiral staircase. TRAIN-WATCHING: Sadly, the loops are not as busy as they used to be, with only two scheduled freights in each direction. Extra unit coal trains and locals fill in the missing pieces. Andrews Geyser and High Fill are great places to watch. Mill Creek Road is the primary way in, and Point Lookout Trail on an abandoned section of U.S. Route…

11 Min
train-watching 101

Railroads move millions of tons of freight and millions of passengers each year. America’s railroads got their start nearly 200 years ago and have been instrumental in the development and prosperity of North America. But railroading is more than just a major industry with a long history. For perhaps a quarter- million people, the study of railroading’s fascinating aspects is an important hobby that can be enjoyed in many ways. The modern freight train pictured above reveals several characteristics that draw people to railroads: power, color, geography, history, and photography. For the many “train-watchers,” “railroad enthusiasts,” or “railfans” across the country, these elements are cornerstones of the railroad hobby. This freight train is one of the thousands that operate daily throughout the continent, moving about 40 percent of the nation’s goods. This…

3 Min
feather river canyon

LOCATION: This is Union Pacific’s Canyon Subdivision between Oroville and Portola, Calif. This is the Western Pacific line completed in 1910 between Salt Lake City and Oakland. Construction of Oroville Dam in the 1960s resulted in a new 22.9-mile line from Oroville to Intake. Trains follow the North Fork of the Feather River from Intake almost to Keddie in the most scenic section. Traffic consists of westbound UP grain and coal trains and usually a single westbound manifest train from North Platte to Roseville. There is also a six-day-a-week local between Portola and Oroville, going down one day and back the next. West of Keddie, the route hosts BNSF’S Highline trains to and from the Pacific Northwest. There are usually about four or five UP trains and five or six…

2 Min
maximum action

Sometimes, the lure of a trainwatching location comes from spectacular scenery, or marvels of engineering, or historic significance. And sometimes, no attraction is greater than the opportunity to simply see a whole bunch of trains. For those who seek the latter sort of hot spot, we’ve got a few places to suggest. These are the places where the attraction is volume, volume, volume. It’s a pretty diverse list, stretching from coast to coast and from Florida to Canada. It has major cities (the Kansas City metropolitan area has more than 2 million residents) and small towns (Crawford, Neb., was home to 997 people in the most recent census). There are places where you can expect sun almost every day (hello, Fullerton, Calif.) and those where you should be prepared to bundle…

3 Min
donner pass

LOCATION: Part of the original transcontinental railroad, Donner Pass is located between Roseville, Calif., and Reno, Nev. Union Pacific operates the former Southern Pacific line through the Sierra Nevada mountains. Amtrak’s California Zephyr passes during the daylight hours, with stops at Truckee and Colfax. Reaching the summit requires a climb of just under 7,000 feet for eastbounds out of Roseville, or 2,400 feet for westbounds from Reno. UP runs about 15 to 20 freight trains in a 24-hour period, many with DPUs placed mid-train or at the rear. Donner sees heavy snows in the winter with flangers and spreaders making frequent and dramatic appearances. TRAIN-WATCHING: Interstate 80 is your route across the pass. UP’s J.R. Davis Yard is located in Roseville; Overland Route manifest trains originate here and intermodal trains out…