On a quiet corner near downtown Kalamazoo, there's a lonely tower that is a destination for railroad enthusiasts. If you've never paid attention to this building before, here's the fascinating story behind Kalamazoo's BO Tower.

Kalamazoo's BO Tower is not the kind of attraction that makes it into many tourists itineraries, but for a segment of train and railroad enthusiasts, known as railfans, the BO Tower is a highlight of a trip to the Mall City.

What is the BO Tower?

The tower was historically very important to railroading in Southwest Michigan. I would come to no great surprise to anyone who has been stuck in Downtown Kalamazoo due to the passing train that the area receives considerable rail traffic.

Operations at the BO Tower are responsible for switching trains among the tracks. According to the Thornapple River Rail series, the tower dates back to 1915 and currently the tower operations control

the signals and power-operated switches, the operators now use the local control panels, which are ordinarily located in the signal control bungalows.

All in all, the tower orchestrates around 20 movements per day, a far cry from the tower’s heyday in the early 1900s.

Perhaps the only reason the tower has remained open is the reluctance of Conrail, and later NS, to renovate the plant to modern technology, due to the low volume of traffic.

Thus, it wasn’t until the Michigan Department of Transportation stepped in to make a higher-speed passenger corridor out of the Michigan line that BO received the modern upgrades

By 2017, NS will hand over dispatching duties to Amtrak, at which point BO tower will close for good, leaving Delray tower in Detroit as the last true interlocking tower in the state of Michigan

Where is the BO Tower in Kalamazoo?

BO Tower Google Street View
Google Maps Street View

Visiting the BO Tower takes you a block or two north of Kalamazoo Avenue (M-43 East) at the corner of Porter and Willard Streets. The tower is just north of the tracks.

Trains Pass the BO Tower

Rainfan Phil Turner captured three trains passing by Kalamazoo's BO Tower in late 2015.

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