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.

Eastern Continental Divide (probably not the last you’re going to see of it here)

Atlanta was not built at a natural seaport (like Savannah) or at the head of navigation of a major river (like Macon and Augusta). Atlanta is near the Chattahoochee river, but is not actually centered on it, and is also much too far upstream for steamship navigation.

No, Atlanta was built as a railroad junction. You probably knew that. But what you may not know is that some of the oldest railroad lines, and some of the oldest roads, were built on top of the Eastern Continental Divide. This is the boundary that divides the rivers that drain to the Gulf of Mexico from those that drain eastward to the Atlantic.

There are good reasons why roads and railroads would be built on top of a natural watershed boundary. They avoid they need for bridges over streams, since by definitions the boundary lies between all the streams. They avoid low, swampy areas where early roads would get bogged down. The ridge can provide a relatively consistent elevation at the expense of being a bit twisty. “Ridgeways” have been in use worldwide for a long time. There is a trail in England called The Ridgeway which is over 5000 years old.

The ECD is not much remarked upon in Atlanta, mostly because it is a very gentle boundary. Atlanta is not mountainous. The ECD twists around through gently rolling hills. Because so many roads were built near it, you can drive through the city on it, and you get no sense of being on top of any kind of ridge. So most people don’t actually know it even exists, much less where it runs.

It is supposed to be a common belief that Peachtree Street runs along the ECD, but this is only true of a short section which was formerly called Whitehall Street. The main portion of Peachtree Street has little to do with the ECD.

I could not resist taking the 1895 topo map and adding a red line that vaguely approximates the ECD.  The map gives a mostly unobstructed view of the contours and streams, so the divide almost jumps out on its own. Click on this thumbnail to get the whole map.


So many towns are centered on this invisible line. Jonesboro, Morrow, Hapeville, East Point, Atlanta, Decatur, Clarkston, Tucker, Norcross.

As you can see on the full map, the divide is actually not that far from the Chattahoochee. In fact you can see all the way from one side of the Chattahoochee’s drainage area to the other on this map.

This image from Wikipedia shows the entire Chattahoochee, Flint, and Apalachicola river system. The yellow area is that drained by these rivers.

Notice how narrow this drainage area is upstream from Atlanta. That is our water supply. All of the city’s (and several surrounding counties’) water comes from rain that falls on that small yellow area. This is why Atlanta’s water supply is threatened by drought every few years.

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.


Do all Class 1 US railroads connect?

I know they all connect into a single system, I mean is there one city or area that is directly served by all seven of them.

Looking at their route maps on all their wikipedia pages (and also using this), I actually don’t think there is. The closest you get is Chicago which has every railroad except KCS (the closest it gets is Springfield), and New Orleans which has everything except Canadian Pacific (which doesn’t come any further south than Kansas City).

So the answer to the question is no, they don’t.

But a drive around the Midwest would probably allow you to see all seven in one day. Hmm…


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: