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:

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These are the cinder blocks mentioned:

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

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

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.


 

Just Gulch Things

This is the main area of the gulch, the biggest open-to-the-sky piece of ground in downtown Atlanta. As you can see it is currently a parking lot.



This area is directly in the middle of the triangle formed by the railroads at the center of Atlanta. In former times this would have been a tangle of yard tracks.

You would never know it but this is also on the Eastern Continental Divide.

Lots of people have ideas about what to do with this space. The Multimodal Passenger Terminal, if ever built, would use this space. There are also various plans to built elevated parks/plazas over the top of all this, up at the level where the viaducts run.

As it is, this space serves the city mainly as a place for tailgating during Falcons games.

These next are some pictures of the area between the Spring and Forsyth viaducts. Fairlie street runs into this parking lot from the north and ends. Cars frequently turn down Fairlie and then turn around once they realize it doesn’t go anywhere.







The two sets of tracks that split here form two sides of the “triangle”. This is one of the vertices. It is the only one that has a grade crossing that is still open to cars in modern times directly at the point of the triangle. It is also much simpler than the other corners, there being only two tracks here that have not been abandoned.

Formerly this was the location of Union Station, and the trackage would have been more complex. You can see unused rails in the dirt.

This connection called “circle Jubction” is the current mile zero of  CSX’s Western and Alantic subdivision. The historical “zero milepost” is located slightly east inside a building. I believe it was the post that moved, not the railroad.

Another notable thing, you can actually drive beside trains for a few blocks through the underground parking decks to the east of here, without having to pay to park. You would be driving (I think) on the original alignment of Wall Street (with the modern street directly overhead) and you will pass under the intersection with Peachtree. You should try that once before they do something to mess it up.

About that “air line” thing

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seaboard_Air_Line_Railroad#The_air_line_name

In the days before air travel air line was a common term for the shortest distance between two points: a straight line drawn through the air (or on a map), ignoring natural obstacles. Hence, a number of 19th century railroads used air line in their titles to suggest that their routes were shorter than those of competing roads.

The Seaboard never owned an airplane. In 1940 the railroad proposed the creation of “Seaboard Airlines,” but this idea was struck down by the Interstate Commerce Commission as violating federal anti-trust legislation.

During a spate of interest in aviation shares on Wall Street following Charles A. Lindbergh‘s trans-Atlantic flight in 1927, Seaboard Air Line shares actually attracted some investor curiosity because of the name’s aviation-related connotations; only after noticing that Seaboard Air Line was actually a railroad did investors lose interest.[2]

The CSX Abbeville sub (Tucker, Lilburn, etc) is the major remaining Seaboard line in the Atlanta area. The line west of Atlanta became the Silver Comet Trail.

Some of the “belt” lines were built as main lines

From this history of the Georgia, Carolina & Northern Railway:

Organized in December, 1886 to build a rail line from Monroe, N.C., near Charlotte, to Atlanta, the GC&N began construction in North Carolina in 1887. The line was completed to a connection with the Georgia Railroad at Inman Park on the east side of Atlanta in 1892.

Ok so it sounds like the original route of what eventually became the CSX Abbeville subdivision was the line that is now considered the “Inman Park belt”, rather than the current main line that runs from Emory to Howells yard. Hmm. That’s actually a shorter route. Why did they change it?

Because an injunction stopped the new line from entering the city of Atlanta from the east, the GC&N was forced to construct the Seaboard Air Line Belt Railroad in 1892. This eight-mile line branched off the GC&N at Belt Jct. (near Emory University) and ran west to a connection with the Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis Railway at Howells. By use of trackage rights over the NC&StL, GC&N trains were able to enter Atlanta despite the injunction.

Shenanigans! I don’t know what this “injunction” was, whether it was the work of competitors or of what you’d now call NIMBYs, but it looks like we have legal entanglements to thank for the current layout.

Now it gets even more interesting when considering Norfolk Southern and its predecessors. This 1872 map shows the Atlanta & Richmond Air-Line Railway, the earliest predecessor to NS’s Piedmont division line, connecting to the Georgia as well! That is, the line that is now the Atlanta BeltLine east-side trail was also the main line of its original railroad. The line around the north to connect to Howells seems to have been built later. (It is shown on the 1895 topographic map)

Incidentally, I don’t know that the “Atlanta and Richmond Air-Line” or its reorganized form “Atlanta and Charlotte Air-Line” ever had any association with the better known Seaboard Air-Line. I doubt it, but it seems to have been using the “air-line” name before the more famous road.