CSX Gulf Coast Route
New Orleans - Pensacola
This is part of what may one day become a tour from Houston to Jacksonville. The entire tour of 213 miles is worthy of a short vacation trip, and you'll bring home lots of great memories. It includes this segment, and this additional segment: NwFlorida.php, which covers Pensacola to Cottondale, west of Chattahoochee.
Contents And Navigation
WHAT YOU WILL FIND HERE: From a particular starting point, each segment of this coverage will allow you to follow the instructions given, drive to a railfan site, then to the next, etc. etc. Traffic levels and patterns will be given, and the photographic/ lighting considerations for each site will usually be mentioned. You'll be told about Area Attractions, such as tourist and historic sites, as well as hotels and restaurants which are trackside or otherwise worthy of note. In short, you'll be able to plan an entire family or railfan-only outing or even a vacation from this guide, as it is completed in the months to come.
WHAT YOU WILL NOT FIND HERE: This is a railfan guide, not a photo collection. There are already many excellent and enjoyable railroad photo sites available, and one more really wouldn't add much value to the general railfan.
Major contributors to this effort include:
JIM LARDUSKEY -- All text, Nokomis, AL to Pensacola, FL
Train Gifs. All train gifs used within this tour are from the Ed Bindler's train gifs site, which is here.
Peter Furnee, CSX logo
Tony Hill, Retired Webmaster -- the guy who put the tour together. Unless specifically stated otherwise, any first person singular pronoun in this tour refers to Tony.
Trains Magazine, from the August, 1997 issue, provided visual info which allowed Tony to clarify information in and around the wye in Flomaton. If you don't subscribe to Trains, you're missing a darned good railfan resource. Trains is here.
M. J. Scanlon provided a series of corrections, updates, and a new location during the summer of 2006.
If you'd like to contribute to this, or any other tour, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and let me know what you'd like to do. We'll work together: You supply the data/info, and I'll do the HTML stuff and upload it. You'll get a chance to review the fruits of your efforts before the general public sees the finished product, so you can let me have your corrections, additions and changes.
Traffic Patterns: Between the end points of this segment of the Sunset Route East, Pascagoula and Pensacola, sits the small town of Flomaton, Alabama, the most important railroad site on this tour. In order to understand the traffic you see on this line, it's important to remember what happens at Flomaton. All traffic from Atlanta and the northeast comes down to Flomaton to head west to New Orleans, with a small amount of that traffic diverging at Flomaton to reach Pensacola. Jacksonville/Tampa traffic comes up from Pensacola, with, again, the majority of the traffic heading west, and a small amount heading north from Flomaton. Finally, all eastbound traffic from New Orleans and Mobile is sent either northeast to Montgomery and beyond, or east via Pensacola.
The long and short of all this: The traffic between New Orleans and Flomaton is quite a bit heavier than that between Flomaton to Pensacola and beyond. Expect an average of one train per hour west of Flomaton, and about one-third of that east of town.
Railroad Organization: All trackage is now CSX, ex-Louisville & Nashville. Flomaton - Pensacola is currently the PD subdivision. Flomaton - Mobile is part of the larger Mobile & Montgomery subdivision. Remember, all mile points between New Orleans and Flomaton are from Louisville, so as you go east towards Flomaton the numbers get smaller (as you get geographically closer to Louisville). The railroad is considered a north/south railroad, even though it is obviously geographically east/west. However, once you get on the PD subdivision towards Pensacola, you're going "away" from Louisville, or southbound, and the mile points begin to increase. The railroad simplifies things somewhat for us, by adding a "K" prefix to the miles on the PD and beyond.
The railroad is CTC dispatched from Flomaton west, and is dispatched block-by-block (DTC, or Direct Traffic Control) east of Flomaton. For the latter, especially, you'll want a scanner. George Harris has provided some of the information contained in this section.
Geography: Compared to railroads in many other parts of the country, this line is not particularly complicated or difficult. Most of the line is fairly level, especially as you get into Florida, and even the "hills" encountered wouldn't be considered such in most parts of the country. However, there are broad swampy areas and some significant rivers, so building the railroad must have been quite an engineering challenge. It's also a railfan challenge, and you need to be careful about where to walk, park and drive.
Map work: While much of the tour is straightforward, I definitely recommend you get a DeLorme Atlas & Gazetteer, study it before your trip, and copy pertinent pages for your field work. You can find information here about Railfan Maps that are available.
New Orleans to Pensacola -- Railfan sites:
|Alphabetical Sequence||Sequential Order:
South (West) to North (East)
|Atmore||Nokomis MP 626.0|
|Wawbeek||Flomaton MP K607.0|
|Bluff Springs||Bluff Springs MP K612|
|Cantonment||Molino MP K627.5|
|Gonzalez -- North End||Molino -- South|
|Gonzalez -- South End||Quinette|
|Molino||Quinette -- Quintette Road|
|Molino -- South||Cantonment|
|Pensacola -- Brent Lane Overpass||Gonzalez -- North End|
|Pensacola -- Goulding Yard North||Gonzalez -- South End|
|Quinette||Pensacola -- Brent Lane Overpass|
|Quinette -- Quintette Road||Pensacola -- N. Goulding Yard [MP K648.2]|
[Note: This segment is primarily authored by Jim Larduskey, and has been completed from Nokomis, Alabama, to Pensacola, Florida.]
Nokomis. This wide spot in the road is the site of a passing siding, and makes a good place to start this section of the Pascagoula - Pensacola segment of the CSX Gulf Coast Route. The area is 19 miles west of Flomaton, and is reached via U.S. 31. It's easy to miss: When heading west, you will have passed it when the railroad disappears into the woods (and will remain in the woods all the way to the outskirts of Bay Minette). As you get out of your car, the actual south (compass west) end of the siding is about 0.2 to the west, and you are standing at mile point 626.0. As we follow the rails back east towards Flomaton via U.S. 31, we are heading railroad north and compass east. (You might want to set your car's trip odometer to 0.0). After 1.6 miles, you'll come to the north end of the Nokomis siding.
Trains are frequently held here, as this is a single track line, and the dispatcher in Jacksonville is often challenged to keep traffic through Flomaton fluid.
Continue east on U.S. 31 and there are industrial sidings at your mile points 2.1 and 2.8. At your mile point of 4.4, you'll be coming into the west edge of Atmore.
Atmore. As you enter town, you'll go under what is now the Alabama and Gulf Coast Railway's flyover bridge [MP 621.8]. There is some interesting engineering history here. Turn left just before going under the bridge, and you'll find traces of the west leg of the wye installed by the BNSF when they owned the former St Louis & San Francisco (Frisco) branch to Pensacola. The 1993 hurricanes damaged the Perdido River bridge to the south of Atmore, so BNSF decided to embargo the line to Cantonment, Florida, and negotiated trackage rights on CSX to Pensacola. To get onto CSX, however, they first had to construct a wye.
To make room for the wye, they took the northernmost bridge span off the embankment and set it off to the side, Then, they tore out some of the embankment to make room for the west leg of the wye. Naturally, when the AGR bought the line, they immediately restored the bridge (which meant ripping up the west leg of the wye and rebuilding the bridge)!
Continue east under the overpass, and turn left on North Trammel Street. Within one block, you'll be where the connector from the AGR comes down to CSX level. There is a small siding in the area where AGR's Fountain, Alabama turn sometimes stops. From back on U.S. 31, continue east out of Atmore. As you do, you'll see the small Amtrak station (an Amshelter) at your MP 4.7. Continuing on, you'll see block signal 619.3 on your left (your MP 7.2), and then another signal at 616.1 (your 9.8). There is a defect detector [MP 616.0 "Canoe"], but you have to wind around on some farm roads to get there, and the DD is just a little locked silver building, with an antenna on it.
Wawbeek. You'll go over the railroad at your odometer reading 10.8, and will thereafter have the railroad to the south of the road. In another mile, you'll be at the south end of the passing siding at Wawbeek. This siding is only 3,905 feet long, and was apparently used for the staging of tank cars (the old tank car unloading facility is a stub track off the east side of the siding , just above the westernmost switch.). However, it now shows signs of disuse, and is far too short to be a passing siding on a modern railroad. All that said, however, the siding is still used occasionally as a passing siding, and the trains parked here often have to be cut over grade crossings, which just adds to the activity. The north switch is reached when your reading is 13.7, but it's down in a cut, so photos might be less than ideal. It is just visible from the road, which, along with the railroad, enters the woods at this point.
Continue east on U.S. 31 for another 1.3 miles, and immediately before the trees end, turn right (south) of the road toward the tracks, into a clearing at the top of the hill. Turn right again on the dirt road in the clearing and go back towards the west about 100 feet or so. Turn left and go down the hill. Be extremely careful here as rain tends to wash out the road. Jim Larduskey states he carries a shovel in his Neon because he got stuck on this road once. If it's really wet through here, you might want to just hoof it (a simple matter of 5-10 minutes). At the bottom of this little hill, you'll be in the middle of a major "S" curve. You can turn right and drive up to the top of the cut, where there will be room to turn a car or pickup around.
You'll be able to get good photos here, but you'll want to arrive early and scope out the area. Different sun and sky conditions will offer both opportunities and problems, and you want to have both evaluated before you hear the big dogs growling.
Miles. Back on U.S. 31, as your odometer approaches 17.7 miles, prepare to turn right on Lambeth road. Go south for about 1/2 block up the hill, and the grade crossing is across the tracks just east of Miles. Here, the double track through the Flomaton "terminal" ends. Trains often wait here until it is clear to the west. Park north of the tracks on the right side of the road, and respect the private property of the people who live on the other corners of the crossing. If there is nothing here, it's time to head into Flomaton.
Flomaton. Back on U.S. 31, continue east, and notice the old L&N caboose (SBD 020820) parked on the high school's athletic field. Just past the caboose, turn right (south) onto Ringold Street, and after one-half mile, the tracks will appear on top of the bank to the right. Follow along the tracks as the road turns to the left, and then goes under the U.S. 29/AL-113 overpass. Often, bad order or MOW stuff will be parked on the tracks under the bridge.
Continue on past the overpass and turn right onto Houston Street and follow the curve to the left, as Houston becomes Cary Street. Occasionally, engines will be parked in the area in order to clear the Palafox Street crossing, which is straight ahead. Turn right on Palafox Street, cross the tracks, and you now find yourself in the middle of the Flomaton wye.
To your north is the Mobile & Montgomery subdivision, and it runs geographically east-west. Coming up from the south, and going to the east is the PD sub curving to get on the northbound leg of the wye towards Montgomery and the north. Curving to the west on the southbound (railroad southbound, that is) side of the wye is the PD sub heading on the main to Mobile and New Orleans.
Flomaton is a sleepy southern town of only about 2,000 folks, but the railroad and its security personnel are not at all sleepy. There are plenty of off-railroad, safe places to watch trains. Good locations are east of the U.S. 29 overpass, along Railroad Street just north and east of Palafox Street, and you'll find other such places. Use a scanner, and do some homework ahead of time, and you'll be able to figure out where to be for the majority of the trains. You'll not catch 'em all, but no fisherman does.
Bluff Springs. After a day or so of train watching in and around the wye, it's time to move south, and on toward Pensacola on the PD subdivision of CSX. From the MP 607 on the west leg of the wye (Note: this is actually MP K607.0. Look here for the old mile post itself), set your odometer to 0.0, and drive south on Palafox Street, which will become Old Flomaton Road in Florida. Take the first right (west), onto Cottage Street. After a few blocks, turn left (south) on U.S. 29/Century Boulevard, kick back and enjoy a 5-mile drive, as the tracks and highway are separated through some very soggy wilderness south of Flomaton.
As you approach the 5 mile mark on your odometer, look for a crossroads with Byrneville Road on the right, and Bluff Springs Road to the left (east). Take the left, and drive to the tracks.
Here you're at the end of the Flomaton block from the north, and the beginning of the Century block to the south. The tracks are somewhat hilly in either direction. From this point a nice photo of a southbound can be had with the block signage in the picture. There is also a concrete mile post marker (612), and a defect detector.
Frograil thanks M. J. Scanlon for contributing this location.
After passing FL-97, prepare to turn left on County Road-182/Molino Road at the flashing light. Be alert, as CR-182 is at a dip in U.S. 29, and zooming by at 65 mph makes it real tough to see the turn. Head east on Molino Road, cross CR-95A, and look for Jahaza Road on the right. Turn right on Jahaza and go down the hill for 1/2 mile to the T intersection at Fairgrounds Road. Take a left on Fairgrounds for about 0.4 mile, and you'll be at the grade crossing. About 0.2 miles north of the crossing is the north switch for the passing siding.
The traffic on this line has been increasing, and the length of the trains has grown impressively. Therefore, CSX is running out of places to put trains. This siding, on the station list I have, used to be shown as 3,905', but now shows at 9,120', so the siding has to have been lengthened in the not-too-distant past. The result is a very busy passing siding, and you can pretty much expect to see trains, both north- and southbound, using it. Southbounds tie up here. There is a nice double track curve south of the crossing, which is good for northbounds. To see the northbounds a little further south, hang onto your hat, say a prayer, and follow these directions: Backtrack to Jahaza Road.
Molino -- South. At the intersection of Jahaza and Fairgrounds, zero your odometer once again. Continue west/south around the curve on Fairgrounds (the road is now red clay -- your new $50,000 SUV will get filthy, but what the heck! -- and the stupid road looks like ice when it's wet -- even worse, the road IS as slippery as ice!!). Head carefully up the hill -- this road is rough, and has a fair amount of local traffic. About 1.3 miles along, the road changes to a sort of white sand, and at 1.4 miles you will be at the top of the "HILL." This is a very steep and rutted hill, so stop and pick out your best line down before proceeding. The "shoulders" here can be narrow and very, very deep. If you make it safely to the bottom (NOT a given!), another 0.3 miles will bring you back to the tracks just south of the railroad's north (compass south, remember) switch at Molino (look left as you cross the tracks).
Trains headed for Pensacola tie up here. The area north of the crossing is posted, so avoid it. However, there is a nice "S" curve on which to catch northbounders.
Quinette. Retrace you way back to Jahaza Street, turn left, and head back to CR-95A. Take a left and head south on 95A. After CR-196 heads off to the west, start looking for North Chipper Road. You can turn left, go down a hill, and you'll be at the tracks and the "Quinette" defect detector [MP K631.6].
Quinette -- Quintette Road. Go back out to CR-95A, and turn left to continue south. After a little more than a mile, You will find the FL-184/Quintette Road crossroads. [Webmaster's Note: The railroad spells the location "Quinette", while the state calls it "Quintette." There are several roads and places in the general vicinity with the name "Quintette" in them.] Turn left, and just to the east is a grade crossing. A new asphalt plant's siding may offer a photo of trains heading south to Pensacola out of Molino.
Cantonment. Get back out to CR-95A, turn left, and continue on CR-95A. As you drive through the town of Cottage Hill, there are a few nice crossings next to the street that offer good photo ops. When you reach the intersection with U.S. 29, head south on U.S. 29 to the area of Cantonment, and its huge International Paper paper mill.
Go through the light at Muscogee Road/FL-184 and park on the left (east) at the gas station in front of IP's mill. A short walk north will give access to the "sidings at Cantonment." There is a good bit of activity here, with three things happening. The Alabama & Gulf Coast Railroad (AGR) has the contract to switch the mill itself, but photos are impossible because the plant is strictly off limits to us, and its security forces take their responsibilities very seriously. The second thing happening is the AGR coming up from Pensacola and Gonzales. There is a connecting track between CSX and AGR. Finally, CSX has a relatively short (3,245 feet) storage siding here, and sometimes blocks U.S. 29 for 15-20 minutes while doubling its train. As you can imagine, the plant is a very major rail customer, and generates a lot of business for CSX.
As for getting a shot of the AGR engine dedicated to the mill, there are tours of the mill offered during the week, and you can call the mill's Public Affairs Office for details. It is possible that they might be agreeable to a specific request to photograph the engine.
Gonzalez -- North End. Zero the odometer again, and when you pull out of the gas station, keep in the left lane and take the first left turnout past the traffic light in front of the mill. This will put you on Old Palafox Highway. Continue along the tracks until your odo reads about 2.5 miles. Stop at the flashing red light (note that the cross traffic does NOT stop), and turn left on to Old Chemstrand Road, and then your first right onto Pauline Street.
The tracks across Pauline are the Solutia (formerly Monsanto) spur back to the Nylon plant. This spur comes off the (compass) north end of the Gonzalez siding [MP 638.4]. The plant is switched by a local turn (M733), which usually shows up in early - mid afternoon. These tracks are mostly hidden in the woods, so there are only 1 or 2 limited places to get photos back off of Old Chemstrand Road -- it's hardly worth the effort. The plant itself, like most major industrial locations is off-limits and security is enforced by folks who take their jobs very seriously.
Gonzalez -- South End. Continue south on Pauline Street to Kingsfield Road. Turn right on Kingsfield, go across the tracks and turn left onto Old Palafox/CR-95A again [Note that signs designating Old Palafox Road may be missing, but the number will be there]. At the 3-way stop at Roberts Road, turn left. An open spot on the right by the mobile home sales lot will give a limited photo opportunity for trains passing the DTC board for the Gonzalez/Olive blocks. This is the south end (railroad north) of the Gonzalez passing siding.
From this point, the railroad veers away from civilization again, so it's time to head for Pensacola and Goulding Yard. Turn around and go back through the 3-way stop, and go south on U.S. 29 again.
Pensacola -- Brent Lane Overpass. Continue south on U.S. 29 to I-10. Get on the ramp for I-10 eastbound. [NOTE WELL: You are no longer doing a casual railfan tour -- you are getting onto a busy interstate highway in a fair-sized city. The ramp to I-10 is dangerous, as it involves a tight left turn up hill, and then it dumps you out into the fast lane where cars typically are doing 65-70 mph. The locals seem to drive well over the speed limit, and you must be fully alert here.] Get into the right hand lane and take Exit 12 for I-110 south.
There is, as of October 2006, a lot of construction in the I-10/I-110 area. Pay close attention to your on and off ramps. Lanes shift and exits are not where you'd logically expect them to be.
Take the first exit off I-110 to Brent Lane. Turn right on Brent Lane, and go west to just before Brent Lane begins its uphill overpass of the tracks. Take the right just before the overpass, and continue to the railroad tracks. The street on the east side of the tracks is Sycamore Drive. Three blocks north of here, Sycamore bends to the west, and crosses the tracks as St John Street. Along here, northbound trains are parked south of the St John's crossing, pending release from the terminal. There are 2 tracks here, with the westernmost the main line and the east track is "1-Drill."
Pensacola -- Goulding North. Take Sycamore Drive south 2 blocks to Amber Street. Park at the field by the L&N Credit Union, and check out the action. The tracks to the left of the entrance are "RD-1" (shop lead) and "RD-2". The 2 westerly tracks are "3" and "4 Drill." 4 Drill is closest to the road. [Remember: Observe the No Trespassing signs. To quote Jim Larduskey: "Most importantly, stay off the dirt road on the west side next to the main line, unless you want to meet Greg, our resident Special Agent. He will ruin your day!"]
This completes this segment of the New Orleans - Jacksonville tour. Pick it up right where we leave off here, by going to the Pensacola - Chattahoochee segment, which is here.