Again with Alabama train pictures

A last-minute one-night trip to Tuscaloosa afforded me the opportunity to do some rail fanning on the way back, mostly CSX in the Birmingham area.

I did not go looking for trains in Tuscaloosa itself. This is the only photo taken in Tuscaloosa, and it shows the remaining ballast and ties of the L&N line from Birmingham to Tuscaloosa. This was taken near the city water works along Jack Warner.


Rest assured there is still plenty of active rail in Tuscaloosa but we won’t be visiting it today.

Now in between here and Birmingham a couple of things happen. This line crosses the Alabama Southern shortline, which operates the former ICG eastward from Mississipi into Alabama. Eastward from that crossover, the dead L&N line goes active and used by Alabama Southern to send trains to CSX in Birmingham.

At Brookwood, the track comes under CSX ownership, the direct successor to the L&N. This is the “Birmingham Mineral subdivision” and it serves the still-active mines in that area.

This is a coal train that I caught next the the Lowe’s store off of I-20/59 in Bessemer, where the line from Brookwood joins with tracks that make a loop around the western side of Birmingham.


Here you can see another train waiting for this one to pass:


I was able to stay ahead of the train for a while and caught it again a couple of times.


Now back to downtown Birmingham. I got Amtrak 19 as it came into the station, and an intermodal train that passed immediately after.



These are views taken from the 1st avenue north viaduct that overlooks the 27th street interlock. I stood out on that bridge long enough for three trains to go under it before leaving Birmingham.




The closest dirt road to this office park

The border area between Fulton and Forsyth counties is kind of a half-suburban, half-rural neutral zone. You can see where development stopped some time ago on various planned neigborhoods, where pseudo-streets turn off from the main road and then immediately dead end into the woods. There are pastures with horses and cows located next to strip malls. And there is at least one dirt road, within a mile or two of Windward Parkway.

This isn’t someone’s driveway or a temporary road meant for use during construction, this is a real public road called Tidwell Road, and it just happens to be unpaved.


Even before you get to the unpaved section, things start to look a little rural (it should be noted that the below is across the street from some rather more modern buildings):



Then the sign says the pavement’s about to end, and it does.



Turn the corner and suddenly you are on a dirt road in the woods and fields with no sign of pavement.




The unpaved nature of the road doesn’t seem to prevent people from living on it, or traffic from using it. There are “no trespassing”, “posted!”, “no hunting”, “no fishing” signs all along the road, in case you forget you are not in a national forest or something.







University of Alabama, Wilson Hall (Demolished 2011)

These seem to be the only photos I have from when I explored this building shortly before it was torn down. I thought I took more.

Wilson had been used as a lab for studying children, as there was a large play room with one-way mirrors to watch the kids play. I don’t seem to have saved any photos of that.

Headless teddy bear see-saw in the basement:


One of the heads:


This toilet looked like people had been using it long after it had been disconnected from water:


The attic. Now you know where my twitter profile picture is from:


More Birmingham

When I said “it’s almost like it was designed by a railfan”, that may or may not literally be the case, but the downtown street grid was planned around a “railroad reservation”, as Birmingham was laid out in the 1870s at the height of railroad importance.

As the “Birmingham Wiki” says:

The Railroad Reservation is a plot of land, 1000 feet wide by 4,780 feet long in the center of Birmingham‘s street grid, set aside in William Barker‘s original plat of the city for use by the railroads and related industries.

The tracks within the railroad reservation remain active today, giving people in Birmingham a rare opportunity to engage in trainspotting or benching in the midst of the downtown core.

This “bird’s eye view” drawing from 1885 shows the area around Sloss Furnace. Just look at those happy little trains. The railroad lines are recognizable. The train nearest the top of the picture is on what would now be the CSX, the middle train is on the NS, and the bottom train is on a segment of track that no longer exists but is continuous with the extant Alabama and Tennessee River. Most of the land is still empty, but the street grid is already laid out.

That image is from Birmingham Rails, which has a lot of interesting maps and other images if you follow the links.

What follows is a smattering of pictures taken at various places around the city.

NS SD40-2 on the north side of town with an obviously ex-BN green one with spraypainted change of ownership:



The tail end of a CSX train passing over Graces Gap, which is where northbound trains cross over Red Mountain into Birmingham proper. This train has already passed the CSX control point called “Grace’s”, which is slightly south.


Caught the lead ES44AC of another train from the same overpass:


I managed to beat that train downtown, and catch it again from the parking lot of Carrigan’s Public House.


A different CSX train, this one showing the contrast between the “Bright Future” and “Dark Future” (fan nickname) paint schemes:


UP power on NS, taken down under the Richard Arrington Blvd bridge.


Downtown Birmingham Railfanning

Downtown Birmingham is not only better-preserved than downtown Atlanta, it is also much easier to watch trains. It’s almost like they let a railfan design the place.



Birmingham has its own equivalent of Atlanta’s “gulch”, sort of. NS and CSX run right beside each other through the very center of town. Both railroads are double-track, and there are additional sidings and such, so a fairly wide path through downtown is devoted to rail.

Birmingham’s downtown street grid is (as in Atlanta) grade-separated from the railroads, except that in Birmingham many of the surface streets go under the tracks rather than uniformly over. The freeways and a few surface roads go over the tracks on viaducts that provide a good view of the trains below.

Birmingham has not built any structures completely over the top of the tracks, as Atlanta has. Therefore the view from the viaducts relatively unobstructed.

The bridges on 22nd street and Richard Arrington Blvd (which occupies the place of “21st” street in the grid) have curbside parking spaces on the bridge, so you can pull your car over right in the middle and stand next to it waiting for trains to come by.

You shouldn’t have to wait long, because these viaducts span main lines of both NS and CSX. (Birmingham’s other Class 1, BNSF, is a topic for another day)

The 24th street viaduct provides no such parking, and the sidewalk is only on one side of the road, so it is not as good as the others.

This is a view looking southwest from the Arrington Avenue viaduct. To the right of the tracks in the distance you can see the platforms of the Amtrak station. These two photos show two trains that went by in rapid succession, you can see the end of the first train still in the second picture.



This is looking northeast from the same place (and same train). Mountains loom ominously on the horizon.


Some blatantly “instagrammed” pictures of the same trains. You can see the Sloss Furnaces pretty clearly in the background of these.



Sloss Furnaces

Speaking of which, before getting back to the rail pictures, let’s throw in a few of the Sloss site itself. If you don’t look at these and say “I want to go to there“, then I don’t really understand how you like trains either.





27th Street Interlocking

As shown on the map above, this is a major intersection of NS and CSX lines. In spite of its name, it not directly viewable from 27th Street. I got a good view of it from the extreme western end of the Sloss property.

The shortline Alabama and Tennessee River also comes into play here, but I saw no sign of their trains.

“Emergency release instructions” for both roads :


An NS train is about to cross the double CSX tracks, with the downtown skyline in the background.


A train approaches on the CSX with a BNSF unit in the lead:


The Crescent train 19:


Anoether NS train waits under the 1st Avenue North viaduct before proceeding. The viaduct itself might have provided a good overhead view of all this stuff, had I managed to find a place to park near its approach.


Railroad Park

At the other end (southwest) of the downtown corridor shared by NS and CSX, lies Railroad Park. It is a nice park, but I think if you are really out just to see trains rather, then you will get a better view from the viaducts.



 Easy Livin’ in Irondale

These last were not taken in downtown Birmingham at all, but out in the suburb of Irondale where the NS tracks enter Norris Yard. Here these is a covered wooden platform beside the tracks with benches and picnic tables, so you can just sit in the shade and relax as the trains roll by.

I did drive around Norris as much as possible without entering obvious NS property, but I didn’t really feel like stopping anywhere to take pictures, so these are all taken from the platform. The sun was pretty low by this point, as can be seen in these pictures.

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