Amtrak No. 351 passes BO Tower in Kalamazoo on a Saturday morning.
I was in Kalamazoo, Michigan, last month and had a chance to visit BO (Botsford) Tower to catch some Amtrak action.
My first glimpse of the tower occurred in early evening on a Thursday as we were walking to Bell’s Eccentric Café.
Several years ago a friend had told me about the café, saying you could see from there the tracks used by Amtrak as well as BO tower.
The combination of good craft beer, good food and railroads was too much to pass up.
I saw two eastbound Amtrak trains pass BO as we were eating dinner at Bell’s, but I didn’t bring my camera or the Amtrak schedules so seeing them was a surprise.
That’s unfortunate because there was good late day light and I could have gotten some good images had I done some planning. But I was more focused on eating dinner and drinking beer than photography.
By the way, I highly recommend eating at Bell’s due to its good food and great beer.
The next morning we had breakfast at Food Dance, another Kalamazoo eatery that I highly recommend.
As we sat in the dining room, I had a good view of the former Grand Rapids & Indiana passenger station across the street.
The GR&I was absorbed by the Pennsylvania Railroad and the depot has been nicely restored. The tracks are now owned by the Grand Elk Railroad.
Three times the gates for the Grand Elk crossing of Michigan Avenue came down, but no trains went past.
Perhaps a train was switching nearby, there was a maintainer at work, or the circuit was malfunctioning.
After breakfast, I journeyed over to get photographs of BO Tower. The first westbound Amtrak train of the day had already passed and we didn’t have time to wait for the next one.
The next day, a Saturday, we checked out of our motel and stopped by BO a third time.
Amtrak No. 351 was due into Kalamazoo at 9:17 a.m. and I made sure I got there in plenty of time.
The Wolverine Service train was reported seven minutes late out of Ann Arbor and it lost six more minutes en route to Kalamazoo.
The lighting conditions were brutal for a westbound train in mid morning. Earlier, the skies had been cloudy to overcast, but by now the clouds were breaking up and the sun was out.
It was my only opportunity to photograph Amtrak at BO on this trip. After the passage of No. 351, we had to begin heading home.
No. 351 had five Horizon fleet cars. What was unusual, though, is that it had just one locomotive.
For several years now every Chicago-Detroit (Pontiac) train that I’ve seen has had a locomotive on each end and/or a cab car on the west end.
Someone on a railfan chat list said most Wolverine Service trains have been operating with one unit for several weeks.
The trains are apparently is being turned on Canadian National in Pontiac or Detroit.
Someone speculated that the lack of two locomotives on Wolverine Service trains could be due to a shortage of working P42 locomotives.
I’m not sure if BO is in use. I thought I had read something within the past year saying that it had closed.
During one of my three visits I had seen a vehicle parked by the tower, but there were no vehicles there for my other two visits. I didn’t see anyone inspect the train when No. 351 came past.
Someone on TrainOrders.com said that the conductor on a Wolverine Service train had told him during a June 24 trip that BO still had an operator.
Yet another poster said that BO can be operated remotely, but I’m not sure if that is by a Norfolk Southern dispatcher or an Amtrak dispatcher.
Amtrak owns the rails between Kalamazoo and Porter, Indiana. A sign west of BO instructs Amtrak crews what radio frequency to use and welcomes them to the Amtrak Michigan Division.
NS sold the track between Kalamazoo and Dearborn to the state of Michigan more than a year ago and I heard the Amtrak crew calling signals on an NS radio frequency.
Whatever the case, BO is mostly boarded up and appears to have received little external maintenance in recent years. It remains a throwback to an era that has all but ended on American railroads.
At one time, BO controlled crossings of the Michigan Central – which Amtrak uses – with three railroads, two of which were New York Central properties.
These included the PRR’s GR&I, the NYC Kalamazoo branch and NYC’s now abandoned Chicago, Kalamazoo & Southern.
I’ve put it on my “to do” list to get back to Kalamazoo and photograph Amtrak passing BO Tower in the evening in better light.
And, of course, I’ll be sure to make a return visit to Bell’s Eccentric Café.
Article and Photographs by Craig Sanders
Amtrak’s westbound Wolverine Service train will be stopping in the Kalamazoo station momentarily.
BO Tower could use some new paint. The BO sign was put on by Conrail.
The double track former Michigan Central tracks at BO Tower are now owned by the state of Michigan. The crossing track is now owned by Grand Elk Railroad.