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.





















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.

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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):

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

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

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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.

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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:

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One of the heads:

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

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

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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.

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Viaducts

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.

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

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

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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.

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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 :

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

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

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The Crescent train 19:

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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.

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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.

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 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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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).

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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Marengo County High School, 1909

As some of you may have heard me remark, I have driven from Atlanta to Mobile so many times that I will go to great lengths to avoid the normal I-85/I-65 route and get some variety.

This time I went to Tuscaloosa on Friday, spent the night and Saturday morning there, and headed south in the afternoon.

Ignoring the route suggested by Google maps, I decided to follow the way that was burned into my memory from 20 years ago. The route that at that time most Mobile-area UA students followed:

AL 69 to Greensboro, then AL 25 down to AL 5, which very shortly leads to US 43, which takes you all the way to I-65 north of Mobile.

The 25 stretch is the most rural. It is almost nothing but farmland alternating with the manmade lakes where catfish are raised.

The towns along the way are tiny, one traffic light (if that) affairs. The kind of places that have feed and seed stores. The kind of places where the main road in the middle of town has a passive railroad crossing with no lights or swinging gate arms.

In Thomaston a sign proclaiming “Eat Pepper Jelly!” caught my eye. Smaller signs indicated the “Alabama Rural Heritage Center” was nearby.

I know now the center was closed (it’s Saturday hours are only 10-1), but it would not have mattered anyway because I was too clueless to realize which building it was in.

Instead I thought the signs were directing me to a large old building that once I got up to it, turned out to be an abandoned high school. The doors were padlocked, the window glass was broken, and the wooden wheelchair ramp was rotting. Clearly this place has been unused for some time, although the mere presence of such a ramp showed it had probably still been in use in the 1990s.

I was at this point still confused thinking this was the heritage center, which I imagined as some kind of museum. Signs had promised a gift shop at least, and pepper jelly. Yet here it was, abandoned and decaying.

The gym was in even worse shape than the main building. Trees were growing out of its roof.

The ground around these buildings was not overgrown, indicating it is still cared for. A flag was loudly flapping atop the school’s flagpole, which presumably someone had to raise and lower.

I decided to walk around between the school and its gym. Behind the gym the tattered tin roof of an old shed was groaning in the breeze, metal scraping against metal with each gust of wind.

The back door to the gym was off its hinges, so I went inside to take pictures. The main roof was gone except for its skeletal ribs, the sun shining in fueling plant growth in what had presumably once been the basketball court and the scene of many a prom and homecoming dance. Nice touch for Valentine’s Day.

The actual heritage center turned out to be in a renovated outbuilding on the side of the school opposite the gym, actually closer to the Pepper Jelly sign. But like I said it was closed. No pepper jelly today.

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