There is something about trains that attracts men. It often begins as a toddler. Mom stops at a railroad crossing as a train is passing, and the little guy points from his car seat and yells excitedly, “choo- choo, choo-choo!” It doesn’t change all that much as they age. I’ve known men in their sixties and seventies who are so fascinated by trains that they sit for hours watching for them, sometimes with a camera, sometimes not. In Rochelle, Illinois, an entire park is dedicated to train watching, the first such park in the United States.
Wedged between two sets of railroad tracks, the park is narrow, only wide enough to hold a building that functions as a visitor center and a driveway leading to the parking lot.
A pavilion, built up on a platform, has plenty of seating, including picnic tables for those who plan to stay awhile.
The viewing pavilion is close to where the Union Pacific and BNSF lines cross.
According to the gentleman I spoke with in the visitor center, 10 or 15 locals show up almost daily to watch trains, but on weekend days, tourists raise that number up to 30 to 40.
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About a hundred trains used to pass through Rochelle every day. There are fewer now because technology allows for longer trains, but in the hour or so that we were there, three trains came through. Often railroad fans keep a record of engine numbers that they see.
Inside the visitor center, you can watch the ATCS monitors. One shows the BNSF Aurora Subdivision, and the other shows the UP Chicago Service Unit – Geneva Subdivision. The monitors illustrate the positioning of the trains. You can purchase railroad memorabilia and snacks in the visitor center, as well.
A couple of old railroad cars made in Rochelle are also in the park. The 1928 7 Ton Whitcomb has steps up to it, so kids of any age can climb in for a photo op.
The Rochelle Railroad Park is located at 124 N 9th Street, Rochelle, Illinois, not far from the intersection of I-88 and I-39 in the Blackhawk Waterways region. The park is open 24 hours a day for train viewing. Check the web site for visitor center hours and exact directions.
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