This guide is offered to give railfans an idea of good viewing spots. I will list locations for Conrail and some area shortlines that are generally safe, with plenty of railroad traffic, and offer good viewing of the tracks. Not so safe areas are noted. Also, some weather links have been provided as well.
If you're looking for overnight lodging... there's plenty of hotels in the Rochester area within a few minutes from area lines. Check out Travelocity to make online hotel reservations. For those flying in, the Greater Rochester International Airport is only minutes away from Conrail, right next to the Rochester & Southern, and a short drive to several other shortlines. You can also reserve flights using Travelocity and even book a rental car. I'm not endorsing Travelocity, but I've used them in the past and am a satisfied customer (it's a free service by the way).
Suggested items to bring:
- Camera with extra film (floppy disks or memory cards for digital cameras - or at least a laptop computer to dump the pictures into) and extra batteries
- Keeping a Kodak FunSaver camera in the glove box is also a good idea for those spur of the moment trips, or to get a picture of that unique train when you weren't planning on going trackside, or if you run out of film. Sure, the picture quality isn't the best, but it's better than nothing and if someone breaks into your car chances are it won't get taken - whereas that new Canon 35mm outfit will.
- Maps of the area - I suggest picking up a laminated, folding map of Rochester called "Map Works, Inc. Easy Streets Rochester." Most book stores, convienence stores and supermarkets in the area carry these. Price is $4.95 - very durable, compact size, and it shows just about all of the rail lines in Monroe County. Also - street atlases are available for the surrounding areas.
- Employee timetables, freight schedules, track maps, etc... that you have acquired so you know what's where and when it's coming. Most of what you need for Conrail in the Rochester area is located on the Conrail section of the Greater Rochester Railfan Page
- Scanner programmed to the frequencies of the railroad you are 'fanning
- Cellular phone - never know if you're gonna have problems as some of the areas below are in rough neighborhoods
- Food and drink - not always going to find a McD's or 7-11 around the corner, especially on a hot summer day - bring water.
- Bug repellent, sun screen, etc. You're going to be outdoors for awhile.
- Something to read - it could be a while between trains
- Make sure there's plenty of gas in your car if you like to chase trains or if you're driving in an area you're not familiar with
- Wear boots and a pair of jeans. Some spots may require a short walk on rough surfaces, in mud, on a trail and/or through some brush. Dress for the weather, and remember that the weather in Rochester changes quite rapidly so keep that in mind if you're going to be out for the day (as the local saying goes, "If you don't like the weather in Rochester, wait five minutes").
Some trackside tips:
- Stay off the right of way and the tracks itself. This is private property. Trespassing can lead to an arrest (misdemeanor charge - legislation in the works to upgrade it to a felony), serious injury or death.
- Park a good far enough from the tracks to allow for a margin of safety - you never know what can come flying off an open car. In the event of a derailment, you don't want a fully loaded 100 ton car rolling on top of your vehicle.
- If you come across a working maintenance crew, don't bother them. If they want to chat, they'll come over and chat. They have a schedule to keep. Also, by distracting them, you are putting them at danger since their attention is devoted to you and not the oncoming trains.
- On the issue of cab rides - don't ask because the answer will be no. FRA rules prohibit "unauthorized persons" from riding in the cab. The only exceptions are FRA inspectors or railroad employees (i.e., trainees or management). There are stories out there about cab rides and the such, but remember that these guys have to put food on the table, and should something happen because of an unauthorized person in the cab, the crew could very well be looking for a new job.
- I hate to say this, but don't be a "super railfan". Leave the engineer's hat or hardhat, orange safety vest, railroad T-shirts, etc. at home. Last thing we need is to look silly. You'll actually get a better reception by the railroad if you look normal.
Heading out? Make sure the weather is in your favor!!
There's plenty of places to watch Conrail. Expect 40-50 trains every day, except Sundays. In addition to the usual freights and trail vans, there is also Amtrak and a bunch of local trains. During the day, activity is lowest because of the Maintenance of Way window - but trains do come by. Things pick up after 2 or 3 in the afternoon. I haven't listed any places to watch the West Shore Branch (there really isn't anyplace decent to begin with) because it can be hours before the dispatcher decides to send a train down there. Listen in on 160.800 (road), 161.070 (road), 160.860 (local switching), 160.980 (yard), and 457.9375 (end of train telemetry devices - you know something is near when you hear it).
Fairport - Lyndon Road - can be viewed from the park at Lyndon Road, or on the old Lyndon Road bridge. Lyndon Road is off of Route 31F (Macedon Center Road) east of the village. Great views from the bridge (closed to vehicular traffic - open to pedestrians). CP-359 is about a 1/4 mile to the west. Nice, quiet location.
Fairport - Main St. Crossing - there are several places to park and watch the trains go by. This location is right in the village. Plenty of nice places to eat nearby, as well as a few bars. There is also Vix drugstore in the village shopping center for film and batteries. Both the Mainline and the West Shore Branch goes by this location. Good views in either direction. I prefer parking down Railroad St. near the self-storage. Nice and quiet. You can get to Rt. 250 via Rt. 104, Rt. 31 or Rt. 31F.
Rochester - Univeristy and Blossom - this parking lot is private property, but the owners allow railfans to park here and watch the action (they consider it free security). Recently, people have been asked by the company's management not to drive behind the building or park on the west end of the property - stay in the east side of the main parking lot. This is one of the few good places to watch trains - so don't ruin it for the rest of us! Popular train watching spot. The Mainline and the #3 track (controlled siding) and #4 track (yard lead) goes by here. To the west is the Goodman St. Yard. Good views in either direction. Just to the east is CP367. From east of the city, take 490 west, get off at University. Blossom is on the right, make a sharp right onto Blossom and it's right there as you turn onto Blossom. Usually a bunch of railfans there at any given time. Neighborhood is OK - mostly business and industrial property in the immediate vicinity. Plenty of stores and places to eat in the area.
Rochester - Goodman St. Yard - there is a small parking lot for employees near the yard tower. Railfans are tolerated as long as they don't wander into the yard. View of the mainline is limited, but you can see the yard operations during the day. Neighborhood isn't that great - so keep your eyes open. Goodman St. is accessible from I-490. Go north, over the RR bridge, make a right onto East Main Street, and the very first right on East Main will be the driveway to the yard. DO NOT go into the yard entrance off Atlantic Avenue (it's strictly off-limits).
Rochester - Amtrak Station - the station is located on Central Ave, the sight of the original NYC station. The station sits right on the Mainline. This location is ideal for bad weather railfanning as there is a canopy over the boarding area. The surrounding area is so-so, but with the amount of people at the station, problems are few. There are bathrooms and vending machines inside the waiting area with a view of the tracks (for ticketed passengers). Take 490 to Rochester, get off on the Inner Loop and follow the green railroad station signs.
Rochester - West Avenue - plenty of places to park along the street. This is where CP-373 and the interchange for the R&S is located. The R&S bridge is off to the west. This isn't a great neighborhood, but I haven't had any problems but keep your eyes open and don't throw caution to the wind. While most of this area is industrial, just be aware that the 'hood is right around the corner. In the summertime, the local kids enjoy throwing things at the trains, putting large items across the tracks, etc. (some reports of shots fired at the trains at this location have been heard). Things are quieter in the winter. To get here, take I-390 to exit 19 (Chili Avenue), go west, make your first left onto Cairn St., take this to the end and you're on West Ave.
Gates - Coldwater Road - there is a parking lot for the Coldwater Grill - a bar/restaurant inside an original NYC station along the mainline. The parking lot is for customers of the restaurant, but railfans are tolerated. Nice quiet area. My suggestion is to go inside, get a tall cold one, and sit out on the deck that's next to the tracks. On the other side of the tracks is the new Coldwater detector. Take 490 to exit 5 (Rt. 386), go north, make a right at the intersection, and make your first left (Coldwater Road), and it's right at the tracks. Alternately, you can take Rt. 531 to Elmgrove Road - go south to the end past Kodak, make a righ at the light, and make your next left onto Coldwater Road.
Chili - Attridge Road - located at CP 382 on the Mainline. To the east is where the West Shore comes into the Mainline and a controlled siding. Bring your scanner - as this location is between the Churchville detector and the Coldwater detector - so you'll always know if a train is coming (I don't think you can pick up the Pittsford detector on the West Shore from this location). There is a gravel "parking" area on the south side of the tracks. Technically this is railroad property, but there hasn't been any problems as long as you stay away from the tracks. Take 490 to exit 4 (Union Street - Rt 259), go north and make a left onto Buffalo Road (Rt. 33). Attridge Road is the first left. Take that down about a mile to the crossing. There is a shopping center and some stores at the Rt. 33/Rt. 259 intersection. Nice quiet area.
Churchville - Main Street - good area, good views of the Mainline. Nice and quiet. Finding a good place to park is tricky as most of it is private property, but railfans seem to be tolerated. Take 490 to exit 3, go north until you get to the tracks.
Watching the shortlines is a great experience. Each shortline is unique and you'll find a wide variety of power on their systems, including Alco power (for you Alco fans). Remember that shortlines really don't have set schedules. When and where they go is largely dictated by customer requirements. Interchange with a connecting line can take place at any time.
ROCHESTER AND SOUTHERN
The R&S has very few places to watch. Usually only one train makes a run to Silver Springs and back - and usually at night. The Brooks Avenue yard is where most of the action is. You can watch the R&S interchange at Silver Springs with Conrail, CP and soon - NS. What time they come down there can vary. The R&S is not a railfan friendly operation. The yard is off limits. You can try talking to the yardmaster for permission to enter and watch, but I haven't heard many success stories of people being able to do so. The two grade crossings on either end of the yard don't have anywhere to park and since they're at the far ends of a long and narrow yard, the view is disappointing. To the north, is Kodak Park - but much of it is set back from the road and behind barbed wire fencing. When and how often they go to Kodak is not steady. If you catch them at the right time, you can see an engine (usually the G&W MP-15DC) crossing Ridge Road while switching cars. North of that is Matthews and Fields Lumber, but traffic up there is once in a blue moon. Anyhow... the Brooks Ave yard can be reached by taking I-390 to exit 18 (Brooks Avenue - Airport), take that west, go under the RR bridge, and their driveway is on the right. Listen in on 161.100 (yard) and 160.770 (road).
LIVONIA, AVON AND LAKEVILLE
Best place to see the LAL in action is at their Lakeville facility. Permission to enter the yard and photograph is usually given at the office, as long as you stay off the equipment. Here you can see switching for Sweetener's Plus. Their engine facility is also located here. To get here, take 390 to the Lakeville exit and follow the signs to Lakeville. The LAL is on the left. South of the main facility is a smaller engine house with some MOW equipment and a few stored Guilford Alcos next to an Arbys. Trains run 2-3 times a week to Genesee Junction in Chili. A good place to watch this is at the Genesee Valley Railroad Museum on Rt 251 (390 exit - to west). Times are not predictable - as local switching requirements determines this. Usually trains in excess of 40 cars and 3 locos make their way up north. there is no easy access to Genesee Junction Yard where they interchange with Conrail. There is the old PRR Rochester Branch that's now a rail-trail (part of the Genesee Valley Greenway trail system) that will take you up to the Junction if you don't mind the hike. You'll have to park on a side street off Ballantyne Road (Rt. 252) to get to the trail. Once you're at the end of the trail, you'll be at the Conrail West Shore Branch and just to the west is the Genesee Junction yard. Be aware that you will be on Conrail property and subject to arrest for trespassing if you decide to proceed any further. Listen in on 160.830.
FALLS ROAD RAILROAD
The FRRR is a railfan friendly operation. They operate out of the Lockport Yard in Lockport. Runs are made east as far as Brockport Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The crew starts work at 7:30 in the morning every day. Switching is done in Lockport daily in the mornings (on Tuesday and Thursdays after the morning switching is done, they head out to either Lancaster or Batavia to switch customers on the Depew, Lancaster and Western lines). How far east they go is determined by the customer requirements. The yard is located on Niagara Street off Route 31. There are plenty of places to park near the yard. Be sure to check in with the yard crew before entering the property. Check out the "upside down" bridge just to the east of the famous locks when either the 1800 or the 1802 makes its run. There is a park east of the bridge for a good view of this - or from a street to the west. There are plenty of places to spot the FRRR between Lockport and Brockport in and around the villages along the line. The FRRR roughly parallels Rt. 31 and the Erie Canal. Most train dispatching is done via cellular phone (dispatcher sits in Scranton, PA), but local switching and MOW work still uses radio. Listen in on 160.920.
Hits since 3/1/00
UPDATED: February 20, 2005
Copyright 2000 by Les Wilson - all rights reserved