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.

Forgotten and forbidden trails and parks of northwest Atlanta

Fort Peachtree

On Sunday I decided to visit the recently (2014) reopened Fort Peachtree park at the mouth of Peachtree Creek on the Chattahoochee. (Google maps link)

This park had been closed since sometime after 9/11/01 (or maybe even the 1996 Olympics) due to the threat posed by terrorists to the Atlanta River Intake, where the city draws water from the river. It is also very close to the R. M. Clayton sewage treatment plant and to Georgia Power’s “Plant McDonough” coal burning power plant.

There had once been at the Fort Peachtree park a recreation of the War of 1812 fort. This was built for the 1976 US Bicentennial. I have no idea if it still exists, as wherever it was is still not accessible.

What is accessible is the ability to drive through a scary looking “authorized personnel only!” gate on Ridgeview Road which now sits open from 8am to 8pm, and park next to small picnic pavilion and follow a trail down to the river.

You can stand at the mouth of the creek and try to imagine the Indian village of Standing Peachtree, but it’s not easy. The area is now dominated by chain link fences, “no trespassing” signs, and concrete industrial structures. The smell of sewage is inescapable.

On the other side of Peachtree Creek I noticed some men fishing in the Chattahoochee and could not see a way to get to where they were. There is no bridge over the creek downstream of Ridgeview Road. I tried calling to them but they did not hear.

Chattahoochee Trailway

After leaving the park, I went and stood on the sidewalk of the Marietta Blvd/South Atlanta Rd bridge, looking at the river and the nearby rail bridges. Directly below me on the Fulton County side of the river I could see a concrete path, and lo and behold a worn footpath down the riverbank from the road to it. I hopped over the guardrail (it’s there to stop cars not people right?!) and scrambled down the bank.

What I found was a bike trail that I had memories of seeing around 2000, and which had also (I have since confirmed directly with the PATH foundation) been closed because of “terrorism”. Remaining signage called it the “Chattahoochee Trailway”. There is almost nothing about this trail on the Internet. Not on the PATH website, no newspaper articles about its closure, it is almost like it never existed.

The other end of the trail was where it had once been accessible from Marietta Road, only this part of Marietta road was no longer drivable, being gated off much further from the river. The old barriers to keep motor vehicles off the trail remained.

Now it was possible to walk around this stuff and follow the road further downriver. I decided to go ahead, since I probably could not get in any worse trouble than I was already in. Don’t try this at home kids, and all that jazz.

It lead to a view of the CSX railroad bridge, with Plant McDonough visible across the the river, that cannot be had any other way.

Returning to the trail, I followed it back under the road bridge to the old Seaboard Air Line rail bridge, and in doing so I met the men I had seen earlier fishing. They seemed concerned that I had “caught” them, as if I was someone who was supposed to be here.


The end of the (belt) line

This morning I took a walk on the BeltLine trail from the Ansley Mall access point northward. The northern part of the eastside trail is supposed to be completed in 2015. I figured I had better check out the “default” state of the old railroad before it is fully trailified. Better late than never right?

I started at the Publix parking lot, next to this old trestle bridge:

The Montgomery Ferry Rd overpass is pretty much the end of trail-as-such. This is where most of the people biking/running turn around and go back. 

Past this point things briefly get muddy. But then you find yourself walking on a railroad.

The right hand track (walking north) actually looks semi usable by trains. The other one.. Not so much.

I have no idea if it is the railroad (Norfolk Southern) or the BeltLine organization that keeps this corridor clear of weeds.

The rest of the way north the rail line goes over GA-13, under I-85, and under the MARTA tracks before reaching the NS main line at Armour Yard.

Atlanta’s bridge to nowhere

The Bankhead avenue bridge once carried US 78 over the railroad tracks. Now it stops abruptly in mid air.

Both NS and CSX pass under here. This set of tracks running parallel to Marietta street between about the King Plow center and the Georgia World Congress Center is a major funnel of train activity, and certainly was already in 1912 when this bridge was built. You can see why they would want to put a bridge over it.

Here are some photos taken on the approach to and on the bridge itself. These were taken a few weeks ago.

This is an older photo of the end of the bridge, clearly taken at a different time of year. As you can see, it just kind of.. stops. There is nothing to prevent you from just walking off the end of it.

I’m surprised you never see news stories about homeless people falling off of it.

The bridge and tracks under it can easily be observed from the Northside Drive bridge slightly to the north. This is not a bad place to stand waiting for trains, if you can find a place to park. I actually went to the bakery cafe at the corner of Northside and Marietta and bought something so I wouldn’t feel guilty about parking there.

I also went down under the thing to trackside level, to get pictures of trains going under it.

Just to give an idea of train frequency here. The three trains shown were 10 and 5 minutes apart. It had been about 30 minutes since the previous train which was leaving just as I arrived. I would expect this pattern to hold at most times of day.

1895 map of Atlanta and surrounding areas

Another gem from the USGS store.

This thumbnail shows the long-abandoned Roswell Branch of the Southern Railway where it joins the main line in Chamblee. Click to get a much larger map covering a much larger area.

Notice that most of the Chattahoochee are still ferries on this map, rather than bridges. Holcomb Ferry is located more or less where Holcomb Bridge road is now, and so are the others.

The Eastern Continental Divide is rather easier to see on this map than on a modern map, if you know where to look.


More on the Nelson Street Bridge

According to bridge hunter, the bridge was built in 1906 has been closed to traffic because it is “structurally deficient”.

The west side of this bridge connects with the Castleberry Hill neighborhood. An earlier wooden bridge in the same spot may have been the first such overpass in the city, predating the massive number of viaducts and buildings over the tracks that since defined downtown Atlanta.

A bit of reading of local news articles suggests that the city intended to tear this bridge down after completing renovations/rebuilding of the nearby Mitchell Street. But that was finished in 2012, and here we are three years later and the old bridge is still standing, in use by pedestrians if not by vehicles.

The elephant in the room when discussing the future of this part of Atlanta is whether or not the Multi-Modal Passenger Terminal will ever be built as planned. If the MMPT happens, say goodbye to this whole area as depicted in these photos. These bridges would all be replaced by street-level parks and plazas completely burying the railroad tracks, making it that much harder to watch trains. (If there was a political action committee to promote railfan-friendly architecture and urban planning, I’d give money to it..)

Of course having a big fancy new train station would be fun too, but.. whether or not it’s ever going to happen is a big “if”.

Amtrak doesn’t want to have to run their trains down there because it’s not actually on their route. The freight railroads don’t want passenger trains running down there because they have enough trains already. Considering that commuter rail has been “coming” for the entire 15 years I’ve been in Atlanta, I don’t see any of this happening any time soon, so we may have the urban decay aesthetic to enjoy a while longer.





Atlanta railfanning locations, part 1: Spring

Those of you who remember me as a foamer in college would be surprised at this, but I’ve been quite lax in the train watching hobby for a while. The last time, until recently, that I regularly out with a scanner looking for trains was in the early 2000s when I worked in midtown. With basically no economic development west of the Connector back then to create traffic, I would use my lunch break to zip over to Inman and Tilford yards, Howell junction, the Marietta artery, sometimes all the way downtown. Or all the way west to the Chattahoochee.

I moved locations, I got busy with other stuff, I gave my last scanner away to some wacky college kids (ahem).

Only in 2014, when I started to make the trek to public outdoor shooting ranges (a subject for a different post) and subsequently started exploring the lesser known rural highways of Georgia did I feel the rails calling again.

So in 2015 I have purchased a new scanner and am refamiliarizing myself with where one can get close to the tracks. This is not always easy in a city that grows as rapidly as Atlanta.

Locations where you can get a good view of trains, with nearby parking, and without having to trespass (much) are not as common as one would like. So this is a series of posts describing places to see trains.

If anything below is incorrect, please someone point it out.

Before beginning, here is a general overview of the Atlanta area so I don’t have to write one myself.

Spring Street Norfolk Southern Building and surroundings

The former Southern Railway building (actually collection of interconnected buildings) downtown on Spring Street has been vacated since the mid-2000s, when Norfolk Southern moved their Atlanta offices to midtown on Peachtree Street. As far as I am aware it has not been sold and is still owned by the railroad, although one of the entrances I saw has the Atlanta police logo on it, I do not believe it is actually owned by the city.

The building has been used as a filming location for The Walking Dead. The bridge that crosses the tracks here is the bridge that Rick rode over on horseback in the first (or a very early) episode. The roof of one of the buildings was the setting for some important scenes early in the first season. I have not watched the show past the 2nd season so I do not know if they returned here or not. There is a nearby tour bus business called “Atlanta movie tours” that I think is focused on TWD fandom.

The nominal location for at least one NS building is “125 Spring Street Southwest, 30303“.

There are parking spaces in front of the building itself, but they bear prominent “you gonna get towed” signs. I am not sure how long you could get away with ignoring them. There is pay parking across Spring Street,  but it is probably not worth it.

Nelson Street passes through the buildings, and crosses the railroad tracks behind on an elevated overpass. This overpass has been relegated to pedestrian only traffic, and when you walk on it you will immediately see why, the pavement is in bad shape and there are cracks that you can see through all the way down. You should probably be able to find free on-street parking on the other side of the bridge.. unless there is a major event going on at Phillips Arena or the Georgia Dome, in which case you are just screwed for parking and you should go watch trains someplace else.

A good location to plug into Apple/Google mapping apps to get directions to a street you might actually be able park on is Smoke Ring BBQ, at 309 Nelson St SW, 30313.

Three MARTA stations are nearby, as seen on the map. The Garnett Station formerly announced “Norfolk Southern” was one of the destinations at that stop.

Both NS and CSX trains pass by here. This location is marked as “Spring” in both the NS and CSX employee timetables. Atlanta is too complex to have a single bottleneck point for all trains, but this spot sees a lot of them. Here is a sloppily annotated and somewhat inaccurate map that I made showing the major rail lines in the immediate vicinity:

The first photo here is a view of the “back” of the building from across the railroad tracks. The bridge shown is the pedestrian Nelson Street.

The area between is the southernmost extremity of Atlanta’s infamous Railroad Gulch. The portion shown here may be the only part of the gulch that is not paved, the rest being mostly parking lots. (There will be a post in the near future focusing on the gulch and Underground Atlanta area from a rail perspective)

The small building down in the gulch next to the tracks is the Spring Interlocking Tower. This is one of very few remaining such towers anywhere, and almost certainly the only one in the metro area.

I think the two tracks nearest the camera here are Norfolk Southern and two beyond are used by both NS and CSX (I believe owned by NS).



This is the front entrance to 125 Spring Street, showing both the “Southern Railway” name and the aforementioned “Atlanta Police”.


This is taken from the Mitchell Street bridge which runs just north of the complex, which unlike Nelson is open to vehicular traffic. This train was idling here the entire time I was there. The cars are from the Federal Railway Agency.

The structure behind the train that looks like a passenger platform is exactly that, a reminder of the long-demolished Terminal Station. Here, not the current Amtrak station on Peachtree, is where Southern operated its intercity passenger trains.


This was a CSX power move of two locos that came down from the direction of Hulsey Yard (the bridge it is emerging from under is Mitchell Street) and then sat idling the rest of the time I was there.

The tall white building on the right is the Richard B. Russell Federal Building. In the parking deck under it there are spaces marked “FBI Parking Only”, and a scary number of vehicles labelled with various other three-letter government agencies.




These photos show a soundbound CSX train as it passes under the Nelson Street bridge. The first is looking north, the second looking south. Note the two locos sitting to the right in the 2nd photo.



This is an NS train, seen from the other side of the gulch.




These next photos are taken down in the gulch. I was able to get down there by driving through the Phillips Arena parking lot. The first photo shows the crossing of a CSX line (the same line that the two locomotives were on) that is inside the parking area, which I found notable because of the lack of “railroad crossing” signs (even the normal “private railroad crossing” usually seen). The other two are of the tower.






Brown’s Bridge


Located on the border of Forsyth and Hall counties on state route 369, spanning Lake Lanier. There have been bridges at this spot over the Chattahoochee since before the lake was created. This current bridge was built in 1955.

There is a very similar bridge to the north on route 53. The part of Lake Lanier spanned by that bridge is actually the Chestatee River, above the confluence with the Hooch that is now submerged by the lake.

Both of these bridges are set for replacement. Two-lane through-truss bridges like this are an endangered species on our highways.

link to BridgeHunter page for Brown’s Bridge