The first arbitrary award for train-watcher friendly architecture 

..goes to Westside Provisions District.

When they redeveloped this property – which happens to span both sides of the NS Piedmont division right at Birmont Junction (the northeast corner of the Howell Wye area) – back in the 2000s they could have hidden the tracks away. They had all kinds of ways in which they could have fucked it up.

But instead they put a camera-friendly pedestrian bridge over the tracks right in the middle of their shopping center.

And on both sides of the bridge, the tenants are restaurants with patio areas facing the tracks.

GE’s dominance of the modern locomotive market

In my earlier post about the changes in railroads since I got into the railfan hobby, I noted the continued dominance of GE over EMD.

I decided the check the numbers. Using these two (very handy) Wikipedia pages:

Let’s compare just “modern” locomotives. Let’s define that to mean SD60 or newer for EMD, and Dash 8 or newer for GE. Note that this definition takes in the last thirty years. Let’s also limit it to six-axle locomotives, as 4-axle models are largely irrelevant in the modern marketplace. This also neatly rules out passenger locomotives, since all modern ones are B-B.

So, by that criteria, GE has sold 13,047 to EMD’s 5,811. That is a ratio of 2.2 to 1. So yes, GE has sold twice the engines that EMD has over the past 30 years.

If you limit to 1990s and newer models by throwing out the SD60s and Dash 8s, you get 11,250 to 4,664, a ratio of 2.4 to 1.

If you look only at models that are still in current production (according to these article), it is 4507 to 1047 or an astounding 4.3 to 1.

That is, GE’s lead established in the 1990s has increased over time.

Also notable, no single model designation by either builder in the past 30 years has come anywhere close to the SD40-2 at 3,982. But this is likely to be due to regulatory shenanigans. Had EPA Tier 2 regulations not kicked in in 2005, its hard to predict how many more C44-9W and AC4400CW would have been made. DC Dash 9 sales would probably have fallen off, but the AC could have broken the record easily. (The combined total of AC4400CW and ES44AC sales is 4,972)

Pictured: CSX 451 is an AC4400CW.

Atlanta Railfan Locations: Top o’ the Slide 

When I get to the bottom I go back to the top of the slide
Where I stop and I turn and I go for a ride

Till I get to the bottom and I see you again

The “top of the slide” is the CSX timetable name for the signal and control point at the south-eastern end of Tilford Yard. It is shortly west of “Howell Tower”. (Scare quotes because there is no actual tower there..)

I am not certain if “slide” refers to the Tilford Yard hump itself or to the corkscrew-ish loop that connects the main with the line that tunnels under it.

This location is clearly visible from the Marietta Boulevard bridge. NOTE: Marietta Boulvard is a separate from (but related to)  Marietta Road and Marieeta Street. Be aware this is a very busy bridge, and getting from one side of it to the other will put your jaywalking skills to a Frogger worthy test.

Your best bet for parking is probably on Huff Road. You might also find some on Marietta Street. There is no parking on the Marietta Blvd bridge itself.

The bridge also crosses the south-eastern extremity of NS Inman Yard. This is the northernmost bridge that crosses both railroads in a single span. 

You don’t see most of either yard from this bridge, especially not Tilford, so it should mainly be considered a location for seeing through trains as opposed to yard operations.

It is probably the best place from which to observe CSX trains going from Tilford to the Abbeville Sub and vice versa.

You will also be able to see, somewhat in the distance, trains coming into Tilford off the Manchester line. These trains tunnel under both NS and CSX.

The NS control points you can see from up on the bridge are Rockdale to the west and Howell Wye to the east. Rockdale is pretty much located on top of the tunnel.

CSX looking at the “top of the slide” signal:

CSX looking towards Howell Tower:

NS looking towards Inman Yard and the Rockdale signal. The train in the first photo is on the main line, the train in the second is on yard tracks.

NS looking toward Howell Wye:

A side view showing the CSX tunnel under the NS. This is taken from Marietta Road:

Atlanta Railfan Locations: Spring, South

This is very close to the first location discussed in this series of posts, and could be considered more or less the same location on the railroad.

South of the Peters Street overpass, the tracks exit the Gulch and emerge into the south side of Atlanta as a street-level line with occasional grade crossings (there are very few public grade crossings north of the gulch and inside 285).

The Railside Dog Park is a convenient location to access the tracks at this point. Located almost in the shadow of the Peters St. bridge (on sunny days you will wish it actually was in the shadow!) at the end of dead-end Castleberry St.  Outside of the dog fence you can walk up and down the tracks for some length.

(This dog park is unrelated to the CSX timetable station known as “Doghouse”. That refers to a Purina dog food factory)

Located across the tracks is Gourmet Foods International. It’s not as nice as the dog park, being a gravel parking lot with frequent coming and going of semi trailers.

There is no fence for the tracks here, and neigbhorfood residents and assorted vagrants cross the tracks on foot very frequently. So if you decide to just cross the tracks to get a different angle instead of going all the way up over the bridge, it’s not like you’re remotely the first to do so. It’s still trespassing of course.

This is just north of where the NS ex-Southern main line goes under the line shared by NS (ex-Central of Georgia) and CSX (West Point Route) and diverges off. That means it is the southernmost place to see the trains from all three of those lines. The actual crossover is near McDaniel Street.

The Central is the original railroad here, being the Civil War era Macon and Western.

The view north (of southbound trains) has pretty much the whole Atlanta skyline behind it.

The view south is less impressive but at least there’s this cool old water tower (seen from the dog park side):

From the other side, we heard you liek U-haul..

Railroading in 2015 vs 2000

As I mentioned before, I have only recently gotten back into paying attention to railroads to the level of caring what type of locomotive is used, etc. This is some of the changes I’ve noticed to have happened 2000-2015. Most of this is of a “duh, obviously” nature. A lot of these trends were started before 2000, but seeing their full development was notable.

  1. AC traction everywhere! A single model, the ES44AC, has only been in production for about a decade and is already one of the most common engines you see.
  2. The ubiquity of wide cabs. GE’s wide cabs don’t appear to have changed much cosmetically since 1990. I guess if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. EMD has messed with theirs little more, adding those notches on the nose. (Aside: I swear the EMD wide cab looks like you can see the old standard cab “under” it, like they just glopped modeling clay onto the nose to make it bigger)
  3. Stabilization of the horsepower race. Everyone seems to have decided that 4400 is enough. No more crazy shit like the AC6000CW.
  4. Permanent reversal of the old “EMD is #1, GE is #2” . This had already started in the 90s but back then you could think it might be temporary. Nope.
  5. Older GE units disappear. The Dash 7 has followed the U-Boat into the history books. The Dash 8 has already been mostly replaced and the remaining ones often look really nasty and beat up.
  6. Meanwhile in EMD world, the SD40-2 abides. And the GP38-2 as well.

Pictured: a rather rusty C40-8.

In Defense of Urban Trainwatching

You may wonder why bother with going to the downtown and industrial areas of a major city, with the attendant parking problems, traffic, chance of getting in trouble  for trespassing, slummy neighborhoods, vagrants everywhere.. There’s plenty of other places to go railfanning.

Why? More. Trains.

When you can watch more than one main line, you see twice the trains. At least. And with a few small-town exceptions like Folkston, most of the places where major rail lines come together are in the cores of cities. Often these rail junctions are the cores of our cities.

So, yeah, it’s about volume, volume, volume.






Atlanta Railfan Locations: Spilling the Beans on Howell

I actually hesitated to get to specific about where I was sitting when watching trains here for a while, because I’m still not entirely sure if you are supposed to be there or not. Whatever. Only my friends read this blog (and probably not even most of them), and I’ve already admitted to creeping around on property that was closed off due to “terrorism” threats..

First, a map. To find this area on Google maps, use these directions. Click on this image here to expand this map.

Now, this map shows several ways you can observe trains in this area, which I will explain here in no particular order.

  • Marietta Street Bridge – you will need to park somewhere near the bridge, and walk to it. There are times when such parking will be difficult to find. It provides an overhead view of both railroads’ lines headed downtown.
  • Foster Street – the street crosses the NS tracks and ends. There’s not a clear indication of where the street technically ends and where the railroads’ access roads begin. The crossing of NS is marked with a crossbuck as seen on all public road crossings. I’m fairly certain once you get to the CSX tracks, it’s railroad property. The area in between, seems like it would have to be either NS or CSX property. I have sat parked here without being run off, but YMMV.
  • 10th Street – there is a parking lot at the end of the street that never has any vehicles parked in it. There are “no parking/tow away” signs, but it seems to be fine for sitting in or near the car and observing trains. You are right next to the CSX. I have no idea whose parking lot this is. There is a chainlink fence between the parking lot and the tracks, but the gate is normally open and used by the railroads.
  • King Plow Parking Lot – this provides a view of the area where the two railroads’ wyes are closest to each other. There is a guard tower in this lot and a sign saying it is for King Plow use only, but I have never been messed with while parking here and sitting in the car to watch trains. You will be watching trains through a fence though. From here you can see the NS basically right across the fence, and CSX a little ways beyond that.
  • Bim’s Liqour Store – they clearly understand that their customers want to sit out behind the store by the tracks, because there is a picnic table back there and everything.  So if you are not the kind of person who is bothered by the idea of hanging out at a liquor store, this is a good place to watch trains. Buy something from the store since you are on their property after all.
  • Ye Olde Hole in the Fence – this is “it”. This provides basically the same view as the King Plow Parking lot, only you are now on the track side of the fence. The legality of this is… uncertain, but railfans go back there all the time just judging by the amount of photos and videos you see taken from back there. To get here, walk to the northeast corner of the parking lot of the vacant building to the east of Bim’s, which I believe was once a porn shop. There is a break in the fence right at the corner, that you can go through and make your way along a dirt path worn between the tracks and the fence. There is no picnic table, but there are some cinder blocks that can be used for sitting. I suggest bringing your own portable chair.

Now, some photos.

BNSF run-powered coal train on NS, I think train 734 or maybe 732, seen from the area behind the liquor store:

Now, about that hole in the fence. Recyled from an earlier post, this is what the hole itself looks like from the “beyond the fence” side:


These are the cinder blocks mentioned:


From back there you can clearly see one of the diamonds where the NS crosses the CSX main line:


Here’s a pic of a train going through that diamond: