The Crescent Route
Meridian -- Birmingham
This is a part of a bigger -- much bigger -- tour of Frograil's New Orleans to Washington, DC, Norfolk Southern Crescent Route Tour. The overall tour is described here.
This segment of the Crescent Route tour has been written by John Moore, and extends from Meridian, Mississippi, to Birmingham, Alabama, and is complete for the entire 152 mile distance. Most of the stops along the tour are certainly railfan locations, but some of the stops are pretty way-out, Combat Railfan Locations. The basic write-up of the tour covers John's observations of the recommended stops for all fans, but many others are marked with a [CRL] prefix, which stands for, of course, "Combat Railfan Location". John is nobody's fool, and if he has not included it, it probably isn't worth visiting, but in the interest of overwhelming completeness, we include the [CRL] spots so you can say you've gone where few fans have gone before.
NOTE WELL:Please understand that the [CRL] locations are generated from aerial images, and not on-the-ground recon; so choose your targets accordingly.
Contents And Navigation:
John R. Moore. John did the on-the-ground research, wrote up the tour, and went thru the entire grinding process of making sure everything was correct. This is John Moore's tour.
Brandon Baxter. Provided a station list for Birmingham - Austell, as well as another one for New Orleans to Birmingham, which will hopefully be used in the future.
Tony Hill -- Webmaster -- the guy who makes it go. Any singular first person pronouns, unless explicitly excepted, refer to Tony. Plural first person pronouns refer to John Moore and Tony Hill, unless otherwise noted. Also, all [CRL] locations were researched and writen up by Tony, who makes no guarantee that these locations are fan-worthy.
Frograil is alarge site, and as it gets larger and more comprehensive, it becomes a more valuable tool for railfans around the country and, indeed, around the world. However, the only way it can continue to grow is for folks like you to contribute material. Your contribution can be one favorite train watching site or a large, complex tour, but every and all contributions cumulatively add to the worth of Frograil as a railfan tool. Contact me here, and we'll work together.
The Railroad -- History.The railroad was originally the Alabama Great Southern, and was built from Chattanooga to Birmingham, and then southwest to Meridian.It was consolidated into the Southern Railway, which later became Norfolk Southern.The railroad was very busy, as both Chattanooga and Birmingham were major steel and industry centers, and the Birmingham - Meridian section was part of the Southern's DC - Atlanta - New Orleans main line.The mile points we'll mention were originally numbered south from Chattanooga, and remain so today, so mile points will be decreasing as we follow this tour.
The Railroad -- GeographyFrom Meridian to about Eutaw, the topography is dominated by minor elevation gain and loss, and there are major rivers that today's roads and railroads follow.To the east of Eutaw, you'll definitely see the southeastern beginnings of the Appalachian Mountains, and if you take this tour to Washington, DC, you'll remain in them all the way. Those mountains really don't affect the railroad we're following, as it takes advantage of the Black Warrior River valley to Tuscaloosa, and then goes thru an area of low relief to enter the Birmingham metro area via the Jones Valley.
The Railroad -- Traffic. Traffic is mostly manifest and intermodal, but Amtrak's Crescent comes thru daily in each direction. Intermodal has grown dramatically, as the jointly KCS/NS-owned Meridian Speedway is completed now.The Speedway takes traffic (originating in the Dallas/Fort Worth area) at Shreveport, and delivers it to NS at Meridian via a state-of-the-art, fully CTC signaled, completely rebuilt main line.Even in late 2009's dismal recession, there are several Dallas - Atlanta trains each day. There is still plenty of industrial activity in Chattanooga and Birmingham, so these rails stay pretty shiny.
Life Support.This entire tour is never more than 10 miles, or so, from I-59, so life support is really not an issue. However, from Eutaw to the southwest outskirts of Tuscaloosa, there are no bridges across the Black Warrior River, so take care of tank, tummy and cooler before heading north from Eutaw.
Mapwork: Much of the tour is not easy if you have no detailed map for back country roads.I strongly recommend you get a DeLorme Alabama Gazetteer and Road Atlas. In urban areas, use Google, MapQuest or any other decent on-line resource, and print your maps before you leave. Even if you have a portable computer, it is much, much easier to work from printed copies.
Photography Ratings: I'm now including photo ratings for some crossings. Please note that these ratings are John's opinion of the photographic field available for pictures, rather than a subjective rating of photogenic/artsy characteristics of the site. All four quadrants of the crossing are evaluated, clockwise, from NE to NW. Each is rated from 1 to 4, with 1 being excellent and 4 being non-existent, either because of a severe drop off, wall of trees, private property, etc. An example would be NE4, SE1, SW3, NW3. This would be a fairly poor location except for shots from the southeast quadrant, which should be pretty wide open.
Security.There are two issues concerning security. First is your own personal safety. Some areas of the tour go thru some pretty rough areas, and you are always advised to fan with at least one male companion. Also, do not show expensive photo or recording equipment in those areas. Even if you are in a rural area, it's a good idea to fan with a friend, because if you have an accident and break an ankle, for example, it might be a long time before any help arrives.
The other issue with security is the railroad's security.In today's litigious society, NS is very much concerned about liability issues. It is also concerned about criminals stealing copper wire, tampering with cargo, tagging cars, etc, etc. Just remember that NS is serious about trespassing issues, and if you are trespassing, they may very well criminally prosecute you. Stay off railroad property.
Abbreviations. Some phrases are used repeatedly in this tour, so I've developed some standard Frograil abbreviations:
AG. An at-grade crossing.
AGS. Norfolk Southern predecessor and Southern subsidiary Alabama Great Southern Railroad. You can still see a few NS locomotives sub-lettered "AGS" under the numbers on the cab.
CP. Control Point. A specific place at which something happens, e.g., crossovers, junctions, etc. On the AGS, these are named.
NAG. A not-at-grade crossing. Unless I mention otherwise, these are usually not worth the time and trouble to drive to.
NARL. Not a railfan location. This is because of any number of reasons, such as lousy photo ops, dangerous, no shoulder on a NAG bridge, etc. As a general rule of thumb, it is wise to avoid NARL's.
NFOG. Not found on the ground. The map(s) clearly show the existence of a feature, but it's not there in real life. NFOGs can be pretty common in rural areas.
WEBMASTER'S NOTE: I do not recommend or condone walking along the tracks, as this means trespassing and exposing yourself to danger. You will have to be creative, in some instances, to avoid trespassing while getting to the detailed locations included herein, but you will either have to be creative or not visit those sites. At no point in this tour guide, or in any other part of Frograil, is it recommended that you trespass or expose yourself to danger. If you are a fool and have a leg cut off (or worse), don't come crying to me: You have been warned. Trains are big, powerful, and often surprisingly quiet. Don't end up being a statistic.
Meridian -- Birmingham --Site Listing
Meridian -- Amtrak Station. The Amtrak station is located downtown, at 1901 Front Street. If you're joining the tour here in Meridian, take I-59/20 to exit 153, SR-145/22nd Avenue. (The road is also signposted Sela Ward Parkway.) Go north 0.7 mile, crossing tracks NAG, and turn right immediately onto Front Street. The station is about 3 blocks ahead on the right. The station sits at MP 295.0. The eastern section of the building is also the Greyhound bus terminal, and the Meridian Railroad Museum also occupies part of the site (limited hours of operation, see web site http://www.meridian- railroad-museum.org). This segment of the Crescent Route comprises a portion of the AGS District-named for the original road, the Alabama Great Southern-with mileposts counting down toward Chattanooga.
[CRL] Meridian -- 18th Avenue Overpass.Immediately northeast of the station is the 18th Avenue overpass.To get on the overpass, you must go north on any numbered avenue, take a right, and then another right at 18th Avenue. This is a 4-lane, busy bridge, and no sidewalks are visible in the aerials. However, it can provide a nice overview both east and west of the KCS interchange.
Meridian -- KCS Interchange. Leave the station heading northeast along Front Street. Just beyond the station is the KCS interlocking. This is the eastern end of the Meridian Speedway, a joint NS-KCS effort that has upgraded the KCS main line between Shreveport and Meridian. The objective was to move domestic and ocean containers originating in southern California efficiently towards Atlanta and the Southeast.
Intermodal and manifest freights cross from one road to the other (and usually change crews) here.
[CRL] Meridian -- MS-39 Overpass. John notes:"The street crossings on 11thand 8th avenues are in incredibly bad condition; fdon't attempt them unless you want to buy new suspension before leaving town. To add insult to injury, they don't provide very good views of the station area anyway, because the tracks have begun to curve away from the depot before reaching them. Therefore, go northeast on Front Street 1 mile to turn right onto MS-39. Once across the tracks (NAG), turn right to loop down to Russell Street (Old US-11 or Old US-80); turn right."
Like 18th Avenue, the aerials do not show an obvious walkway, and this is a busy 4-lane connector.Scope it out for safety, and if there is decent -- safe -- room for some photos, the views north and south should be wide open.
[CRL] Meridian -- Hawkins Crossing Road. Russell Street will carry you northeast out of the city, and when it meets with US-11, you must follow the signs to go north on US-11.Once on it, get in the left lane and take the first left, which is Hawkins Crossing Road. This will be a noisy place, and you probably won't want to shoot from the east side, as you're quite close to US-11.CP BREYER, MP 292.7, stands about a quarter-mile northeast of this point.
[CRL] Russell -- Blue Top Road.Keep going north on US-11, cross a creek, and look for Blue Top Road on your left.According to the aerials, the southeast and northwest quads are probably your best bet.
[CRL] Russell -- Knox Road.Between Marion-Russell Road, Russell - Mt Gilead Road, and a point at least a quarter of a mile further northeast, Knox Road parallels the tracks tightly on the north.Since you'll generally be looking into the sun along here, this might not work for photos, but if you just want to relax and watch trains, this might be an ideal area to find a nice spot, get out the lawn chairs and cooler, and crank up the scanner.
Toomsuba -- West. Beyond the settlement of Russell, the track curves away north out of sight, until 3.4 miles further along when the highway curves left (north) to cross the track NAG/NARL. A defect detector at MP 284.5 stands just east of the crossing. Beyond the NAG, road and rails turn east to enter the town of Toomsuba. 2.0 mile from the NAG, turn right on Will Garrett Road to reach an AG crossing; track is tangent here, with good views both directions. Visible to the east is CP TOOMSUBA, MP 282.1, the west end of a siding.
Toomsuba -- Smith Spur or J. B. Gill Road. Return to US-11 and turn east; go 1.8 mile to right turn on J B Gill or Smith Spur Road (two separate feeds into Smith Spur Road), and go 0.3 mile to NAG at east end of this siding. This is CP SMITH, MP 280.8.Because this is a fairly lightly travelled road (but watch out for trucks in and out of the wood yard north of the tracks), it is considered a railfan location, as the viewing is good -- just be careful.
Kewanee. Return to US-11 and turn right (compass east, road signed north). The highway and railroad will be out of contact for 2.1 mile, during which interval both will cross I-20/I-59. They come together in a settlement called Kewanee. The AG crossing on Kewanee Road South is rated NE-2, SE-1, SW-1, NW-2. There is a defect detector, MP 275.3, about 3 miles east of here.
One sad thing to note here:Just east of Kewanee, the quality of the aerials falls off a cliff, with Google's still best.
[CRL] Kewanee -- Johnson Road.Back on US-11, head northeast towards Alabama. Just before crossing the state line, take a right onto Johnson Road.The road is variously named Richard Johnson Road and Johnson Road East, so be alert.On the poor aerials, the crossing looks fairly treed in, but it also looks to be a quiet, rural area.
Cuba. Return to US-11 and continue east to enter the town of Cuba, Alabama, and turn right on 4th Street, 3.5 miles from the last named road. Go two blocks to turn left on Railroad Avenue. There is access along both sides of the wide open track for about 4 blocks through the town. Third Street is the only road in town that crosses the track.
Cuba -- Pretty Branch Road. Go south on 3rd Street 2 blocks past the tracks to turn left onto 1st Avenue/Pretty Branch Road; the AG 0.5 mile ahead is rated NE-2, SE-1, SW-1, NW-1. NOTE WELL: There is a weight-restricted bridge on Pretty Branch Road, @ 3 ton total weight. If this is a problem you can return to US-11, turn right (US-11 North) and go just short of 1 mile to the US-80 turn off.
Cuba -- US-80 Overpass. Continue on Pretty Branch Road north of this crossing 0.3 mile to US-11; turn right 0.6 mile to reach a major intersection where US-80 turns right. There is a NAG 0.6 mile east on US-80 that overlooks the track, and it's a decent railfan location. As always, watch for traffic if crossing the road on foot.
Williams -- Benn Kidd Road. Backtrack up to US-11, and continue northbound 1.6 mile to a right on CR-27, Old US-11, Mount Pleasant Baptist Church Road or GOK what else it might be called on the ground.At Benn Kidd Road, take a right and go to a highly rated crossing: N-1, E-1, S-1, W-3. This is an isolated crossing with a good view to the northeast.
Weather can be a factor in choosing this location to wait for trains: In April, on the morning after a storm front went through, it was overrun with mosquitoes; on a warm, dry midday in September, it was very pleasant.
York -- AL-17. Return to US-11 and turn right. Continue 3.4 mile to AL-17, entering the small city of York. CP MCCONNELL, MP 269.7, the west end of a siding, lies in this interval. Although trackside access is possible a couple of blocks earlier, it's easiest to turn right onto AL-17/South Broad Street; you'll reach the tracks in 3 blocks. CP YORK, MP 268.2, lies a block east, and marks both the north end of the siding from MCCONNELL and the south end of a siding extending to MCGREGOR.
[CRL] York -- College Street.If AL-17 is too busy, or you're not satisfied with the viewing, try College Street one block to the east. As John mentions, this is the south end of the siding going up to MCGREGOR. There is a lane or private(?) drive on the south side of the tracks. If there is access from it, you will have good photo ops.
York -- Curl Road. Retreat northward 1 block to 2nd Avenue and turn right; you will reach the tracks in 0.3 mile at the east edge of town as they turn northeastward. This AG crossing, Curl Road, is wide open, and a street parallels the track on the southeast side for photos.
York -- Mallard Road. Cross to the northwest side of the track and turn right onto US-11 North; 0.25 mile further on lies another open AG at Mallard Road. CP MCGREGOR, MP 266.9, lies a little further northeast of here and may be reached via the street on the east side of the tracks.
[CRL] Hixon -- Battle Swamp Road.This one may turn out to be private, but is worth mentioning in case it isn't posted.As you drive toward Hixon, look for Battle Swamp Road on the right, shortly after you pass Sumpter Academy Road on the left.There is a definite crossing shown on the aerials.
Hixon. Return to US-11. You now reach another stretch where road and rails do not run together. Take US-11 eastto Pine Grove Road and turn right. This turn is right after Greenwood Road comes in from the left. Go 0.5 mile to AG crossing that is wide open. CP HIXON, MP 262.2, is at this crossing, and marks the southwest end of a siding. The northeast end of this siding, roughly 1 mile in length, is not accessible and does not appear to have a CP associated with it, John does not think it is used much.
Block signals are visible just to the west of the crossing and a defect detector 2 miles east (MP 260.4) will alert you to traffic in the area.
Livingston -- Bennett Road/CR-13. Return to US-11 North and go 2.1 mile to a right turn on Bennett Road/CR-13. This leads to NAG overlooking track with defect detector MP 260.4 just southwest of crossing. Shadows will be a problem here much of the time. The tracks are virtually 45º northeast - southwest here. Be aware that there is a very large industrial concern just east of this location, so expect plenty of traffic on the overpass.
Livingston -- Sucarnoochee River. Once back on US-11, go 0.6 mile from Bennett Road, and cross the Sucarnoochee River. The railroad crosses the river just to the south. Pull off past the river to view trains crossing the railroad bridge. The aerials show a secondary road which apparently goes under the overpass of the flood plain east of the river, gets to the railroad, and turns 90º to the southwest to head to the river, hugging the tracks. Apparently, there is a fishing area right at the eastern foot of the railroad bridge.
Livingston -- Station Area. Further northeast on US-11, enter the town and turn right on Main Street, which is directly opposite the courthouse on the left/north side of the road, one-half block past the traffic light. Go two blocks to reach the City Hall. This building was the Southern Railroad passenger and freight depot until the 1980s, and still sits just 15 feet from the track. A chain-link fence separates the parking lot and grounds from the tracks.
The University of West Alabama is located in town, and the campus includes Lake LU (http://lakelu.uwa.edu/). There is a public swimming pool in Jaycee Park that operates during the summer.
Livingston -- Pickens Street. From the City Hall, go 2 blocks northeast along Church Street to North Street/AL-28, which crosses the track NAG/NARL with no safe access. Therefore, turn left and go 3 blocks to join US-11 and turn right onto Washington Street/US-11; follow AL-28/US-11 north as they head out of town. The UWA campus lies left (west) of the road. Go 0.6 mile from your right turn from AL-28 to a right turn on Pickens Street (just after a curve) to reach an excellent AG crossing.Photo rated 1 in all quadrants.
Livingston -- North Industrial Park. Continue north on US-11 1.4 mile to reach an intersection where AL-28 North turns left (interchange with I-20/I-59 is 1.5 mile); turn right off of US-11 onto North Industrial Park Road and proceed 0.6 mile to the end of the road. CP LIVINGSTON, MP 257.0 is here, and is the south end of Parker siding.
A happy note: Somewhere around here the quality of the aerials goes back up -- big difference!
[CRL] Livingston -- Un-named Road.Once back on US-11 going north, look for a crossroads, and take a right onto a road that has no name on any map I can find, but it's as clear as day in the aerials. There are several houses on it, and it definitely crosses the tracks. As a point of interest, the topography east of the tracks all thru here is very odd. There are obvious roads going all over the place, and definite signs of human activity, but few if any houses. The north end of the Parker siding, CP PARKER, MP 254.7, is just to the north of the crossing.
[CRL] Livingston -- Un-named Road #2.Maybe a mile north of the last un-named road is another one. This one is also to the right, goes a very short distance, does a 90º turn to the right, goes less than 2/10's of a mile, and turns hard left to cross the tracks.The aerials show this as a fairly narrow crossing, and it may be at least partially treed in.
[CRL] Epes -- Clark Miller Lane.As you approach the village of Epes, Old Jones Creek Road will come in from the left; just after that take a very hard right onto Clark Miller Lane.This may be a private road, but then again, it's named (at least according to Google).
Epes -- Downtown. Return to US-11 East and continue northto cross a NAG/NARL on a bridge over the track as you enter the community of Epes. The bridge is a fairly wide, modern structure, but the railroad cut is narrow, and the reward doesn't appear to be worth the risk.Turn left on Minus Street to reach the track in an open area passing through town.
Epes -- North Side.Epes -- North Side. Turn right on Main Street to return to US-11. The intersection of Minus and Main streets is in the inside of a curve; from the north side of the tracks, outside the curve, you can view the track in both directions, including a straight shot through the Tombigbee River bridge just east of town.
Because the Main Street crossing was closed years ago, to reach the north side, go back out Minus Street to US-11, and turn right to go south. Cross the tracks on the NAG, and turn north on CR-20/Cedar Hill Road. Go 0.2 mile to a crossroad and turn right. This is Main Street, and it will take you to the outside of the curve mentioned in the previous paragraph.
[CRL] Fowler -- Un-named Road. Retrace your drive to US-11, turn left, and cross the Tombigbee River/Tenn-Tom Waterway to enter Greene County; the railroad crosses the river just to the north. John does not recommend trying to view the railroad bridge here because of the automobile traffic. Beyond the railroad's crossing stood Fort Tombecbe, a French outpost built in 1735 when this was part of the Louisiana settlement. Though often out of sight in the woods, the railroad parallels the highway.
Maybe 3 miles from the river there will be an un-named road to the left; take it, go thru the S-curve, and park near the tracks. This appears to be a NAG underpass, but looks open enough so that photos may be possible.Somewhere in this area but out of sight, you'll pass CP MILLER, MP 244.3;there is also a dragging equipment detector at this site.
Boligee. From US-11, turn left onto Main Street/CR-81/Constantine Street to enter the community of Boligee. The AG crossing is rated 1 in all quadrants. An aerial view will show you why -- this is an excellent crossing for railfans.CP BOLIGEE, MP 242.7, in the middle of the town, is the north end of the siding from CP MILLER, and the south end of an interchange yard.
Boligee -- AGR Interchange. At Boligee, NS crosses and interchanges with the Alabama & Gulf Coast Railway (AGR), on tracks that are ex-BNSF, exx-SLSF. The AGR is operated by RailAmerica, and runs from Columbus, Mississippi through Atmore, Alabama (on the Frograil CSX Sunset Route tour) to Pensacola, Florida. The interchange appears in aerial photos like an interstate highway "diamond" interchange, with "ramps" between the railroads in all four quadrants, but the northwestern ramp has been removed. US-11 crosses the AGR NAG just south of a curve in the rails from the actual crossing, but you can see it from CR-20. Go 0.6 mile east of the intersection of US-11 and CR-81, and turn left, north, to reach the CR-20 NAG. East of the CR-20 overpass is CP BERMUL, MP 242.0, marking the northeast end of the interchange tracks.
[CRL] Eutaw -- Wilson Avenue. East of the AGR crossing, road and rails run separated by fields and woods, until after 3.2 miles, US-11 curves northward to cross the track NAG/NARL (where the tracks are heavily treed in), then eastward to parallel the rails on the north side. The next two roads to the south (and the tracks) are almost certainly private, as they seem to lead to several aqua-culture complexes, and there are very few houses. As you enter Eutaw, take a left onto Wilson Avenue, drive thru the residential area, and then find a place to park before you cross the tracks. There are industrial facilities in the area, but there also appears to be plenty of room for photos.
There is a defect detector on the southeast edge of the city, MP 233.3.
[CRL] Eutaw -- Prairie Avenue. Backtrack up Wilson to your first right onto Roberts Street. This will take you to Prairie Avenue and another right.There are commercial properties in the area, but the aerials look wide open.
Eutaw -- Finches Ferry Road. A few blocks east of the center of town, US-11/43 swings very much to the north. Instead of following the highway, however,bear right/ahead onto CR-20/Finches Ferry Road to reach an AG crossing rated NE-2, SE-2, SW-2, NW-1. Just west of this crossing is CP EUTAW, MP 232.5, at the south end of a siding.
Eutaw -- Black Warrior River. East of the town the railroad crosses the Black Warrior River, AKA the Black Warrior - Tombigbee Waterway. This is somewhat out of the way, but most railfans will want to see the river crossing.To view this bridge, continue east from the crossing on CR-20/Finches Ferry Road 3.2 miles to reach Finches Ferry Public Use Area, from which you can view the railroad bridge over the Warrior River.The best view is in winter, when the trees are bare. The north end of the siding lies in this interval, at CP MCCLURE, MP 230.0. You must backtrack to Eutaw to continue the tour.[Webmaster's Note:From Eutaw all the way to Tuscaloosa, you will be well away from I-20/59 and US-11/43, because you'll be east of the Black Warrior River, and there are no bridges over it.Life support will be fairly sparse.We suggest you check tank, tummy and cooler before leaving Eutaw.]
Akron. In northeast Eutaw, from the intersection of US-11/43 and Finches Ferry Road, take a left to go south on US-11/43. Take a left onto 1st Avenue, and then another left onto US-43/AL-14. Go over a NAG/NARL, and at the southeast edge of town, where US-43 goes straight south, continue east on AL-14. There is another long interval away from the rails east of town. Go about 7 milesto AL-60.Note that 4.5 miles out of town, the road crosses the Black Warrior River. The next road bridge over the river to the north is at Tuscaloosa, more than 20 miles as the crow flies.Turn left (northward) onto AL-60 East. Go 5.3 mile and turn left onto CR-36/4th Street and drive into the town of Akron.
Go straight 1.4 mile (CR-36 will turn off at 1 mile) and bear right onto L Street to cross the track and turn right onto 1st Avenue North/CR-42. MP 224 stands here, and views of the tracks are wide open. There are 3 tracks in town, and aerial photos show evidence of a former spur curving through the town east of the main. The Akron siding began at CP AKRON, MP 224.8, southwest of the town.
There appear to be several places where you can get out the lawn chairs, coolers, and scanners, and just sit back and enjoy yourself. This is a fine railfanning area.
Akron -- Clary Drive. Leaving town in the northeast direction on CR-42 you will pass CP STEWART, MP 223.0, which is the north end of the Akron siding. Defect detector MP 222.1 stands about a mile north of CP STEWART. It's near the crossing at Clary Drive (not signposted), which is rated 1 for all quadrants (1.8 mile from town).
Stewart. There is another crossing further along CR-42, onWilliams Street/August Jackson Road 2.4 mile from town, but it is not as good as Clary, being rated W-3 and E-4. Therefore, unless you need to get trackside in a hurry, continue north. The road will curve away left (northward) then make a broad curve to the right (eastward) to cross the tracks (rated 1 all quadrants) a total of 3.4 miles from Akron.
MapQuest and Google Earth show "Stewart" as being a little south and west of this crossing, but DeLorme shows the crossing to be "Stewart". Remember that the railroad CPSTEWART is a mile to the southwest, as described in the preceding paragraph.
[CRL] Stewart -- Thomas Road.Continuing east on CR-42, take a left onto Duncan's Loop Road, and then take a left onto Thomas Road.This one is really obscure. The aerials seem to indicate that the crossing is defunct, but DeLorme and Google map show it as an active road. Well, I guess this is what the designation of "Combat Railfan" is all about!
[CRL] Cypress -- Tooson Road."If" the crossing on Thomas Road exists, continue north to a right onto Tooson Road, which will take you back toward CR-21 and another crossing. If the Thomas Road crossing is fictional, go back south to Duncan Loop Road, take a left, and this will T at CR-21. Take a left to get up to Tooson Road and take a left.This looks like a wide open crossing.
Powers. Continue across the track; CR-21 will curve right-north, then east-to return to trackside about 1.3 miles from the last crossing and parallel the track along its northwest side. On reaching the intersection with CR-46, take a right to an AG crossing. This is another excellent location, with all quadrants rating 1's.
Moundville -- CR-21. Return to the intersection with CR-21, and go straight (northwest).This is now CR-21, and it (as Powers Loop Road) makes yet another wide curve away from the tracks and then gradually returns alongside as you approach the city of Moundville, about 4.6 mile from the last crossing. In this last segment, as you're away from the tracks, stands CP POWERS, MP 214.5, at the south end of a siding through the area. The CP box and start of double track are clearly visible in the MapQuest aerial. MapQuest's street map view also shows Market Street going east from CR-21 and crossing the tracks, but it is NFOG.
Moundville -- Griffin Street. Cross the now-double track (main and siding) and enter Moundville, which takes its name from the Indian mounds located on the banks of the Black Warrior River here. Proceed 0.6 mile and turn left on Griffin Street. One block ahead is an AG crossing, rated N-1, E-1, S-1, W-1, at CP MOUNDVILLE, MP 213.1, and the end of the siding.
Moundville -- Mound Parkway. Go back up to 2nd Avenue/CR-21 and take a left. Go one block northeastward, and turn right on Market Street. Go 0.4 mile to reach AL-69 and turn left. North on AL-69 0.4 mile is the entrance to Moundville Archeological Park, which tells the story of the largest Mississippian Indian village south of the Ohio River. Defect detector MP 212.7 stands just north of the crossing on the entrance road to the site.
We'll now have a series of [CRL] locations. Before taking any of them, however, note John's Tuscaloosa -- 35th Street write-up, and decide whether you want to tackle them.
[CRL] Moundville -- Whitefield Road.North of Mound Parkway via AL-69 you'll see Cracker Asphalt Road, which does cross the tracks, but it is obviously NARL, as it is a commercial drive.Further north, take a left onto Whitefield Road.This puppy shows up just fine on the aerials, and is probably public, although it may become private at a point east of the tracks. Check it out, as the crossing looks fairly open.
[CRL] Maxwell -- Upper Hull Road.Backtrack to AL-69, take a left, and continue north. At Lower Hull Road take a left and drive up to Upper Hull Road. Take a left and drive to the crossing.The southeast quad, especially, looks wide open.
[CRL] Maxwell -- McPherson Landing Road.Go back to AL-69, using Upper Hull Road all the way.Take a left to continue north, and about a mile north of Upper Hull Road, take a left onto McPherson Landing Road. The leads to a crossing, and then into a nice-looking subdivision. It may be a gated community, but I can't see any gate-type structure.Note John's Tuscaloosa -- 35th Street write-up, however.
[CRL] Maxwell Loop Road South.These next two locations are REAL combat fan locations. North of McPherson Landing Road via AL-69, look for Maxwell Loop Road on the left.It will meander thru the countryside to a crossing.The aerials at the crossing don't even show the tracks, and that's a pretty good clue as to how treed in this spot is.
[CRL] Maxwell Loop Road North.You can return back to AL-69, take a right and continue up to the other end of Maxwell Loop, but what's the fun in that? Therefore, continue west on MLR, and it will eventually make a big swing to the north to parallel the river, and then will swing back down to head east to another crossing.This one also looks pretty treed in, but on the north side, you can see the tracks in the sunshine.
NOTE WELL:When you cross the tracks heading east on Maxwell Loop Road, or approach the intersection with it from the south via AL-69, you are no longer enjoying a bucolic country (actually a semi-wilderness) drive, you are solidly in the suburbs of Tuscaloosa.Take your driving attention level up a couple of notches.
Tuscaloosa -- 35th Street. For the next several miles from Moundville Parkway, the track and road run far apart. Although there are occasional access points, they are some distance out-and-back from the highway, two are on or in the midst of private/posted property, and the track is running through heavy woods that don't afford much of a view. Indeed, much of the area is a wilderness. Therefore, John recommends you continue north on AL-69 about of 12.6 miles from Moundville to Kaloosa Avenue, on the outskirts of Tuscaloosa.
Turn left onto Kauloosa Avenue (there is a Graceway Baptist Church sign at this intersection). Go 1.7 miles, passing under I-20/59 -- the track on the right as you approach the Interstate is the Alabama Southern Railroad (ABS), ex-KCS; NS is off to the left, behind the wastewater treatment plant. Turn left onto 35th Street. The AG crossing just ahead is rated NE-3, SE-2, SW-3, NW-2.
In the long run since we last saw the rails stand a defect detector at Hardy, MP 202.3, and CP CRABTREE, MP 201.2, the south end of the Tuscaloosa siding visible at this crossing. MP 200.0 stands just out of sight to the south of the crossing; to the north is visible CP TUSCALOOSA, MP 199.1, the north end of the Tuscaloosa siding.
[CRL] Tuscaloosa -- 32nd Street Area.Go back east one block to Kauloosa Avenue, turn left, and go north to 32nd Street.Take a left to head back to the tracks. This is an industrial area, and the aerials look like there should be good access from public streets, but the entire area may be private. Exchange Avenue west of the crossing looks to be public, and goes north for some ways, but you need to be on the ground to tell if there are opportunities.
Tuscaloosa -- Amtrak Station. If you're joining the tour here in Tuscaloosa, take I-59/20 to exit 71B/I-359 North, then exit I-359 at exit 2, 15th Street/Stillman College. Turn right one block to Greensboro Avenue, turn right, and go 4 blocks to Hargrove Road. The station sits just beyond Hargrove on the left side of the street, in a triangle formed by Hargrove Road, Greensboro Avenue and the NS tracks.
If you've been touring from the south, and are at 35th or 32nd Street, continue north on Kauloosa Avenue until it makes a 90º curve right and becomes 31st Street. Half a block ahead the ABS crosses the street; continue ahead to cross over I-359 and reach a T-intersection with US-11/AL-215/Greensboro Avenue. Turn left and go 0.8 mile to reach the Amtrak station (MP 198.4) on the right, beyond the tracks. There are parking lots on the west and north sides of the station.
The station is the former Southern Railway station, and continues in use today as the NS freight office and crew room as well as serving Amtrak passengers. The NS yard lies north of Hargrove Road and east of the mains. Tuscaloosa had one of two land offices in the territory, so it was an important site even before Alabama became a state in 1819. The original state constitution called for a state university to be built here, and the University of Alabama (www.ua.edu) was established in 1831. The University was burned in the late days of the Civil War, but was rebuilt.
Many people say football is a religion in this state; if so, the University's Bryant-Denny Stadium, home of the Crimson Tide, may be its most holy shrine. The Stadium lies only 4 blocks off the tour route, so consider carefully whether you want to tour on home game weekends!
Note that the mileposts in this segment of the tour measure distance from Chattanooga, Tennessee. The Alabama Great Southern built the original line south from Chattanooga to Birmingham to Tuscaloosa and Meridian in the 1870s. This segment is a part of the AGS District of NS's Alabama Division.
[CRL] Tuscaloosa -- Greensboro Avenue.The station is bounded on the southwest by Greensboro Avenue, and on the northeast by Hargrove Road. The former is an X, and viewing looks to be available from the two westerly quads, and the south between the two "legs" of the X.
[CRL] Tuscaloosa -- Hargrove Road.If Greensboro doesn't work for you, go north of the station to the Hargrove Road crossing.This one is almost a +, so the lighting aspects will be somewhat different.You probably will not have access from the southeast or northwest quads, but the other two look OK (the station being the southwest quad).Don't plan on rushing into the station area, snapping an image and moving on -- you have to walk the area and decide what works, depending on sun, available photo fields, and your priorities.
Tuscaloosa -- 17th Street. Leave the Amtrak station heading north onto Queen City Avenue (northeast corner of station, 1 block east of Greensboro Avenue) and go 2 blocks to turn right on 17th Street. The AG crossing 2 blocks ahead is photo rated NE-2 SE-1 SW-1 NW-1. Aerial photos show the remains of a wye just north of this crossing, but there is nothing accessible on the ground now.
Tuscaloosa -- 12th Avenue. Continue east on 17th Street to cross 14th Avenue, and then turn left onto 12th Avenue (note that there is no 13th Avenue). Half a block north on the left is another point of the wye, visible in the yard. One leg has been removed, so it might not appear to be a wye from ground level, but it is very evident in aerial photos. Continue two blocks further, passing under the 15th Street bridge, to reach an AG crossing rated very highly: NE-1 SE-1 SW-1 NW-1. Good fanning locations like this are rather rare in most urban environments.
Just beyond the NS main lies the single track Alabama Southern Railroad (ABS), a short-line railroad owned by Watco Companies. The ABS runs on ex-KCS tracks.
Tuscaloosa -- 10th Avenue. Proceed ahead (north) to 14th Street, turn right 2 blocks to 10th Avenue, then turn right again (now southbound) to an AG rated 1 in all quadrants. Note that while you are only two blocks east of the last location, the set-up is quite different. At 12th Avenue, the tracks are in a broad northeast - southwest curve, and by the time they get to 10th, they are close to east - west. Pick your spot based on the light at the time. Park at the shopping center in the southwest corner of crossing. Here is CP BRYANT, MP 197.5. This is the east end of a siding that began west of the Amtrak station near the ABS crossing at MP 198.9.
NOTE WELL:As John mentioned, you are very close to Bryant-Denny Stadium (some 4-5 blocks north on 10th), and on home football days, the population of Tuscaloosa doubles. You would do well to avoid this area during such times.
Tuscaloosa -- Hackberry Lane. Continue south on 10th, and take a left to go east on 15th Street for 0.4 mile to Hackberry Lane, and then take anotherleft. The AG crossing here is another good place for railfanning, as photo ratings are 1's in all quadrants. Again, the ABS lies north of the NS and both can be easily observed from this road. Maps show a park SW of the crossing, but the area is now a shopping center, where you can park.
Tuscaloosa -- 6th Avenue/Hillard Drive. Return to 15th Street and turn left (east). Go about 0.8 mile to turn left on 6th Avenue East/Dr. Edward Hillard Drive. The AG crossing 0.3 mile ahead is rated NE-1 SE-2 SW-2 NW-1. Try parking in the lot of the Easter Seals office in the northwest quadrant of this crossing. Druid City Hospital, known locally as 'DCH', stands northeast of this crossing. There is a parking lot in the northeast quadrant, but it doesn't provide any better view of the tracks than at the road because of an enclosing fence and foliage along the fence.
Tuscaloosa -- Kicker Road. Just south of the crossing is 13th Street East. Turn east (left if returning from the crossing) and go 0.9 mile to a t-intersection at Kicker Road/19th Avenue East. En route, you will cross busy McFarland Boulevard, which the Crescent Route crosses NAG/NARL on a bridge. This area is not recommended simply because there's too much traffic. Also en route, but out of sight to the north, the ABS tracks veer north, away from NS. The AG crossing just north on 19th Avenue is rated 2 in all quadrants.
Tuscaloosa -- 26th Avenue. One block north of the AG is 10th Street East; turn right onto it and go 0.5 mile to a T-intersection at 26th Avenue. Park in the shopping center in front of you and walk to the crossing just below the intersection (photo ratings are 1's in all quadrants). The bowling alley parking lot, southeast of the crossing, may provide better lighting angles for photos than the north side.
Tuscaloosa -- Pelham Heights Road. Head south on 26th Avenue 0.5 mile to intersect 15th Street/Veterans Memorial Parkway; turn left. The track is curving northeast then southeast and we'll rejoin it shortly. After 1.1 mile you will reach a major interchange. Stay in the center lane and bear left with the Parkway/15th Street through the interchange. Continue along Veterans, now also called Old Birmingham Highway, for 0.4 mile to intersect University Boulevard/AL-215. Along the way, ignore the NAG overpass of the tracks, as it is NARL, and you have your hands full driving thru here. The old highway continues straight ahead; it follows approximately the route of an early stage road that eventually led to Huntsville, the territorial capital. We'll rejoin this road near Bucksville.
Turn right onto University, then immediately right again onto Old Cottondale Road. The tracks run along the right side of the road. At 0.6 mile ahead, a right turn on Pelham Heights Road leads to AG rated N-1, E-1, S-1, W-1. Oooooh-wheee! Another excellentcrossing. Defect detector MP 192.5 stands east of the crossing.
Cottondale -- US-11/Skyland Boulevard. Return to Old Cottondale Road, turn right, and go 0.2 mile to a T-intersection at the end of the road. Turn right onto US-11/Skyland Boulevard East. [John's Note: This T is new, just built in the summer of 2008, so it may not show up on maps or aerial photos for some time.] The NAG crossing 0.25 mile to the south on Skyland has a good view in each direction, but watch for traffic if viewing here.
Cottondale -- Buttermilk Road.This crossing is quite decent for photos, but if you're trying to chase a train, you won't be able to get there in time because of the driving involved. For completeness, however, we include it here.From the Skyland overpass, continue south to your first left, which is Jaybird Road. This will go thru a semi-rural neighborhood, and will eventually turn 90º to the north (left). Take the left and it will take you to Buttermilk Road. Take a left and drive up to the crossing.
Cottondale -- Echo Lake Road Keep going north on Buttermilk to a right onto Church Street. At US-11, take a right to head east. US-11 is also named thru here and has several local and state route numbers associated with it. For simplicity, we'll refer to it simply as US-11. The highway is basically east - west for a couple of miles, and then it starts to swing to the southeast. As it does, look for a right turn onto Echo Lake Road (not signposted).
The AG crossing is 0.2 mile south, and is rated N-2, E-2, S-4, W-1. Unfortunately, illegal dumping is evident in this area.
[CRL] Grimes -- Larry Noland Road.Close to a mile southeast of Echo Lake Road via US-11, look for Bee Branch Road coming in from the left.At Larry Noland Road, take a right, cross the tracks, and park.It is doubtful that this is a private, posted road, but make sure it isn't before attempting to fan the crossing.
Grimes -- Cottondale Industrial Park. Return to US-11 and turn right; a bit further along US-11 the track joins the road. They run together under I-20/59 and turn eastward. For the next several miles (until Vance), the tracks are often far from the major road.However, 0.3 mile beyond the interstate, turn right on a road posted for Cottondale Industrial Park. The AG crossing here is rated 1 except in the NW quadrant, which gets a 3. MP 188.0 stands just east of the crossing.
Grimes. Return to US-11 and turn right. After 0.75 mile (1.1 mile beyond the interstate), turn right on Grimes Crossing Road and go 0.2 mile to the AG crossing just east of CP FLEMING, MP 187.5. Photo ratings here are E-1, W-2. The siding runs east from here to CP COALING, MP 185.4. Unfortunately, there is no access to the tracks along this siding, and to proceed you must return to US-11.
At this point, you have a decision to make. If you're chasing a train, it's a good ways south of US-11 to the tracks, so you're probably better off going to Dudley directly from Grimes. On the other hand, if you go down to Coaling, there are three relatively close together AG crossings to check out. The tour will be written for the individual who is not in a hurry, and who wishes to thoroughly tour the railroad.
Coaling -- Lower Coaling Road. From the crossing at Grimes Crossing Road, return to US-11, and turn right. Proceed 2.4 miles to Lower Coaling Road. Some maps identify this as CR-59, but it is not. Watch your mileage: The right turn onto Lower Coaling Road is in a curve, and you may not see it until you're right on it. It sits just before highway mile marker 93. After 0.9 mile, you're at an AG crossing (NE-2, SE-1, SW-1, NW-3) in the community of Coaling.
Coaling -- Middle Coaling Road. Cross the tracks to the south and continue on Lower Coaling Road, which will curve more to the east and stay fairly close to the tracks. Take a left onto Middle Coaling Road, and the crossing is a very short distance ahead. At NE-2, SE-1, SW-1, NW-3, this is definitely a decent location.
Coaling -- Hagler-Coaling Road. Return to Lower Coaling Road and take a left.Hagler-Coaling Road is a very short distance ahead, and the tracks are a 2-minute walk from Lower Coaling.Ratings are NE-3, SE-2, SW-2, NW-3; however, woods and the curve of the rails don't give you much of an approach view. Note that MapQuest prominently shows this road to be Morrison Road, but John's on-the-ground research trumps MapQuest.
Dudley. Go back to US-11 by continuing north on Hagler-Coaling, and take a right to continue towards Birmingham. After 0.6 mile, take a right onto Dudley Road.It's 1.8 mile down Dudleyto the AG crossing, which lies just east of Dudley Siding, MP 181.8. This siding services a small quarry southwest of the crossing. The crossing is N1, S4.
At the Dudley crossing, MapQuest and other such services show a road going to the northeast, almost all the way to US-11. It is NFOG, and probably is a managed forest road only when cutting is active.
[CRL] Dudley -- Phillips Drive.Get back on US-11 and head east towards Vance. After more than 2.5 miles, look for Phillips Drive on your right. This is probably a private road, but there are several houses north of the tracks and 3-4 to the south.Unless it's posted, the crossing looks decently open.If not private, this would be a very quiet, peaceful railfan location.
Vance -- Lucille Drive. Return to US-11 via Dudley Road, and turn right, onto US-11 North. There is an AG crossing 3.1 mile further ahead, at Lucille Drive, which is effectively a driveway for 3-4 houses south of the track. MP 180.0 stands on the west side of the crossing, which is rated NE-1, SE-4, SW-3, NW-1.
Vance -- Tingle Tangle Road. Get back on US-11 North, and 0.3 mile beyond Lucille is a tee-intersection on the north with Mercedes Drive. The latter road comes down from the Mercedes-Benz complex. This intersection marks the southwest corner of the Mercedes-Benz plant.Just east ofMercedes Drive is a flyover bringing a service lead out of the plant into a yard lying south of US-11. The yard lead meets the mainline east of the yard, at MERCEDES SIDING, MP 179.0. There is no public access to any of the railroad facilities anywhere in this area.
East of the plant lies the town of Vance, and the track and road run together for some distance. There are three crossings in Vance-from west to east they are Tingle Tangle Road (Wire Road -- which is erroneous -- on some maps), Griffin Road, and CR-9/West Blocton Road/Vance-Blocton Road. Photo ratings at Tingle Tangle are excellent, at all 1's.
Vance -- Griffin Road. A fairly short distance east of Tingle Tangle, via US-11, is Griffin Road. The crossing is all of ~30 yards south of the highway. Ratings are NE-1, SE-4, SW-4, NW-1. Here, on the south side of the crossing, the road and ground drop steeply away from the track and provide no real view.[NOTE: Some internet maps show this as Vance Church Road -- go with John's on-the-ground research.]
Vance -- West Blocton Road. Beyond Griffin Road (via US-11 North), the railroad swings slightly more to the northeast -- definitely moreso compared to Tingle Tangle Road. In the center of Vance, turn right onto West Blocton Road. Note that MapQuest calls this road Vance - Blocton Road. Ratings are excellent, with 1's all around. A defect detector, MP 177.7, stands just west of West Blocton Road.
Vance -- Sawmill Road. Further north on US-11, 1.0 mile beyond the town (measured from West Blocton Road), Sawmill Road/Champion Road turns south (right) alongside a small lumberyard; a siding here services the lumberyard. A look at the aerials show that there is a spur which goes a considerable way to the south. At the south end are some large industrial facilities, but the interesting thing is that there appear to be some storage-in-transit (SIT) autoracks down there. Whether they are really SIT, or just temporarily stored, the MapQuest aerial (as of October 12, 2008) shows an engine at the north end of the cars, so the conclusion has to be that the "yard" is active. It is unclear from the aerial whether there is more than one track.
Bibbville -- Lena Lane. 1.6 mile further on, just east of the Bibb County line, there is an AG crossing on Lena Lane, a dirt road. The road does not give access to CP VANCE, MP 174.7, lying a little further northeast, where the road and rails curve away from each other. CP VANCE is the west end of a siding. The crossing on Lena is OK, but tree shadows will often be a significant problem.
[CRL] Bibbville -- Bibbville Road.Continue on US-11 North 0.8 mile further to Bibbville Road and turn right. There is a NAG 0.4 mile ahead, where the road passes over the tracks.The aerials show the overpass as a wide, modern bridge, but trees might be a problem. Worth a check-out.
Woodstock -- CR-27 Overpass. Continue on US-11 to Woodstock Junction and AL-5. We now leave US-11. Turn right on AL-5, go 1.2 mile, and turn left on CR-97/Eastern Valley Road, after crossing above the tracks on a NAG/NARL. The road curves back to the northeast, then east to parallel the tracks as you enter the community of Woodstock. The bridge on CR-27, left of the 4-way stop as you enter the community, provides a good view above the tracks of the auto rack storage yard here.
Woodstock -- Raywood Road. Continue on CR-97/Eastern Valley Road for 0.2 mile beyond the 4-way stop to reach Raywood Road; the AG crossing to the left (north) is where the West Blocton branch line turns southward at MP 172.3, also MP 0.0-WB. The actual milepost 0 stands to the right of the street crossing. At the Raywood crossing, views from the southwest will usually be blocked by stored autoracks. The WB line also is usually stuffed with racks. Views from the north in both directions, and to the northeast from the south are wide open.
[NOTE:This road may be labeled as Willow Brook Drive on the aerials and Internet maps.]
Green Pond. A short distance east of Woodstock, the road curves away from the track, then parallels it, but out of sight and withoutaccess. CP WOODSTOCK, MP 171.8, marks the east end of the yard. Continue eastward on CR-97/Eastern Valley Road. About 2.0 miles from Raywood Road, you reach the community of Green Pond at CR-12/Grey Hill Road. To the left, CR-12 crosses NAG, providing a good view down onto the track. This is a long stretch of tangent track, so the views extend in both directions, but be careful, as the bridge is a narrow 2-lane jobber.
Tannehill. Leave Green Pond on Eastern Valley Road, continuing northeastward.Once again, the road and track run some distance apart, and though aerial photos show much of the track is in open land, there is no public access. The defect detector at MP 167.3 lies in the inaccessible stretch. To reach the next road crossing, continue on CR-97/Eastern Valley Road 3.8 mile, turning left on Tannehill Parkway just beyond the entrance (on the right) to Tannehill State Park (http://www.tannehill.org/).
The site of an ante-bellum iron works, with both single and double blast furnaces, the works were destroyed by Wilson's Cavalry in March 1865. The single furnace was repaired and fired as part of Alabama's Bicentennial celebrations in 1976.
Kimbrell. North on Tannehill Parkway 0.2 mile, you reach the AG crossing, photo ratings NE-3, SE-2, SW-2, NW-3.Continue north on Tannehill Parkway 1.8 twisty miles to reach an intersection with Bucksville Road. [Webmaster's Note: We have now gotten north far enough to be very close to I-20/59/US-11. If you continue north on Tannehill Parkway, you are less than a mile from the highway's exit 100.] Turn right. Almost immediately, Old Tuscaloosa Road intersects from the left (northwest); this is the route of the old stage road we left back in Tuscaloosa. The road ahead carries the name Old Tuscaloosa Road, and as it crosses into Jefferson County it takes on the designation CR-20, though signs with this designation are almost non-existent.
From here into Bessemer, the track runs straight, with CR-20 and CR-97 paralleling it on the north and south, respectively.Unfortunately, the roads are about a mile apart, and the track is pretty much centered between them. The only good access is 0.8 mile from the intersection where you joined Old Tuscaloosa Road, turning right on Kimbrell Cutoff Road to reach the AG crossing 0.7 mile from CR-20. The south end of Kimbrell Siding, CP KIMBRELL at MP 165.4, lies northeast of the crossing, which is rated NE-3, SE-2, SW-4, NW-1.
As you drive thru this area, look to the east (when there aren't a million trees blocking your line of sight). That rather unimpressive, low hill running parallel to the Old Tuscaloosa Road and the tracks is Red Mountain. You are now in the Valley and Ridge Province of the Appalachian Mountains, and the course of the railroad from here all the way to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania (and beyond!) will largely be determined by a very different geography than what we've seen since Meridian.
Also along here, the quality of the aerials really goes up, and they're a joy to work with.
Kimbrell -- McAshan Drive. Return to Old Tuscaloosa Road/CR-20 and turn right. Go 2.9 miles to turn right on McAshan Drive. The NAG crossing here lies at the north end of a light-industrial and office park, which is serviced from Kimbrell Siding. The overpass is quite new, and there is plenty of room for pedestrians. The north end of this siding, MP 163.0, is visible to the southwest.
Bessemer -- McAdory School Road. Continue on CR-20 for 2.0 miles until, just before crossing under I-459, turn right (south) on McAdory School Road/Charles Hamilton Road to reach AG crossing, N-4, E-1, S-1, W-1.This is probably the best AG crossing we've seen for awhile, but it can be noisy because of the proximity of the interstate.
[NOTE WELL: You are now in Bessemer, the first of several incorporated suburbs lying southwest of Birmingham. Unfortunately, many of these towns have above-average crime rates because of the general poverty that has taken hold in this part of the metro area.From here to downtown Birmingham, access points should be considered only for grab-and-go photos, and none of them are recommended after dark. Remember, too, there is safety in numbers! Always fan with at least one male friend.]
Bessemer -- Grant Street. Return to CR-20 and turn right. From this point, the road will usually be signposted 4th Avenue SW. When youreach an intersection with Academy Drive to the left (Bessemer Academy stands at your right), you can take the left toI-20/59 and all life support.
Continue 0.6 mile ahead on 4th Avenue SW to turn right on Grant Street. The AG crossing ahead is rated 2 in all quadrants (the track is on a fill here).
Bessemer -- Industrial Boulevard. Return to CR-20/4th Avenue SW and turn right. Continue 0.4 mile to Industrial Boulevard/Pine Valley Industrial Park and turn right, opposite the entrance to Jess Lanier High School. The AG crossing is 0.2 mile ahead and is rated north side-1, south side 3 because of a drop-off to a ditch. From the crossing, look northeastward (left as you approach the crossing)-in the far distance you can see signals for CP BURSTALL, the switch where the R-line turns off the AGS main. The R-line is not accessible here, lying behind the business south of the AGS.
Bessemer -- Division Street. Continue northeastward on 4th Avenue 0.9 mile to Division Street and turn right. The AG crossing is 0.2 mile ahead. Two tracks cross the road here; the north (first) track is the AGS main we have been following, while the south (second) is the R-line, which goes down to Wilton. John's Frograil tour of the R-Line to Wilton is here.
Division Street is quite busy, so be alert, and don't plan on spending a long period of time there.
Bessemer -- Alabama Avenue.Return to 4th Avenue SW and turn right. Go 0.3 mile to 1st Street North and turn right; go 4 blocks to turn left on Alabama Avenue. To the west stands CP BURSTALL, MP 156.0, which marks the beginning of the Birmingham Terminal District and the end of the AGS South district. Note that the line is double-tracked through the Terminal District; the north track is designated Track 1, and the south track is Track 2.
Bessemer -- 4th Street N. Heading northeast on Alabama, in about a block, you cross the remains of a railroad track bed coming down from the north, which is diagonally ahead to your left. (The road is running toward the north-northeast.) As you meet that ex-railroad line, you are at the southwestern edge of Steam Powered Video's Birmingham Terminal map page -- part of SPV's Southern States railroad atlas. The Birmingham area is complicated, to say the least, and this SPV asset will be of use to any railfan. The crossing at 4th Street is wide open.
Bessemer -- 7th Street N. From the crossing on 4th Street N, go north 1 block to 1st Avenue North and turn right. After 1 long block, turn right onto 7th Street and go 1 block to return to Alabama Avenue (it has been interrupted since you left it). The crossing on 7th is another wide open AG.
Bessemer -- 9th Street N. Continue northeast on Alabama Avenue and go 2 blocks to 9th Street (defect detectors on both tracks are here, MP 155.3, east of the street crossing). Turn right and go to (not to be too repetitious) another wide open crossing. It is exceptional to see so many fine crossings in an older urban area.
Bessemer -- Downtown. Cross the tracks to the south, and turn left onto the second street after crossing the track, Hall Avenue, which ends at a T-intersection at 14th Street. There is an AG crossing on 14th, but it is 4 lanes, and the street is a major local thoroughfare -- NARL. Jog left onto 14th for half a block and continue ahead to the right onto Carolina Avenue, passing under the remains of a flyover that took the Atlantic Coast Line/Seaboard Coast Line south and, eventually, southeast from Birmingham to Jacksonville Florida. All the track has been removed in this area, but the line is still in use (CSX) south of town. Both 15th and 16th streets have crossings that are wide open.
NS continues on, arrow straight up Jones Valley, headed for Birmingham. The line was originally laid before Birmingham was founded -- in fact, it was the location of the AGS (this line) crossing with the South & North Alabama (later L&N, now CSX) that determined where Birmingham would be sited.
Still on Carolina Avenue, continue northeastward through the old commercial center of Bessemer. All the crossings in town are wide open, including 18th and 19th (there is no 17th Street crossing), but remember to be watchful. On the north side of the tracks, between 19th and 20th streets, stands the Bessemer Hall of History, a local museum, occupying the former Southern Railway passenger depot (built 1916).
The 20th Street is wide open for photos, but what may be the best of these many excellent crossings is at 21st Street. The crossing has been eliminated (the road is cut north and south of the tracks), and everything is wide open, but be careful not to trespass.[Webmaster's Note:The aerials seem to indicate that 22nd Street is a NAG underpass. With all the good locations downtown, you'll probably want to skip this one.]
Beyond 22nd Street (block signals may be called here as CP BESSEMER, MP 154.3), you pass south of the site of the Pullman Standard plant. Opened in 1929, the facility produced more than 200,000 freight cars during its operational lifetime. Closed now for many years, in July 2007 the Birmingham Business Journal reported that a developer was working to cleanup and revitalize the site. (The site is not visible from the tour route because the NS track, between the road and the plant, is elevated on a fill.)
Bessemer -- 32nd Street N. At 22nd Street, the easy pickings for fan locations abruptly end for 10 blocks. About 1 block past 22nd Street, the main road curves right; continue straight ahead, alongside the track, into the Brickyard Hill Neighborhood.Continue to 32nd Street, where the crossing on your left is wide open; this is the north end of the Bessemer Yard, primarily used for storage.There are no other crossings for some distance both north and south of here, so there is a lot of street traffic. Viewing is good, but can be non-existant if standing freight cars are between you and your quarry. Also, be careful not to trespass, as this is an active rail yard.
Lipscomb -- 5th Street S. At 32nd Street, turn right (southeast) for 0.3 mile to intersect with Dartmouth Avenue. Turn left; we will continue along this road for some distance, but it will change names, being variously known in the different towns it passes through as Dartmouth Avenue, Avenue K, and finally Jefferson Avenue SW. Go 0.9 mile to 5thStreet S in the town of Lipscomb; the AG crossing 0.5 mile to the left is rated N-1, E-2, S-2, W-4. There is a CSX track about 30-40 yards north, with its own 5th Street S crossing.
[CRL] Lipscomb -- 15th Street S./Brewer Drive.Retreat back down to Dartmouth Avenue and turn left to continue northeast.At 15th Street South, take a left (the street may be signed as Brewer Drive), and drive to a wide open crossing.
[CRL] Hillman -- 50th Street.Once back on Dartmouth Avenue, turn left and continue on to 50th Street and turn left.There was a traffic lightat 54th Street SW which would take you to a crossing, but John advises against it for your personal safety. Just northeast of the intersection with 54th Street, a high bridge carries the remains of the Birmingham Southern Railroad (BS) overhead. The crossing on 50th is fairly open, but there is probably no access from the northwest quad, and you want to be very carefull to not trespass via the northeast quad.
Phoenixville -- 40th Street SW/Midfield Street. Go back down to Dartmouth Avenue, turn left, and continue on to 40th StreetSW/Midfield Street and turn left. The AG crossing 0.1 mile ahead is wide open.
[CRL] Birmingham -- Larch Avenue.This one might be ideal or terrible, depending on the neighborhood.From the 40th Street crossing go northeast on Bessemer Avenue SW three blocks to Larch Avenue and park north of the street.The crossing has long been cut, but there is excellent viewing from the south: N4, S1.
Birmingham -- 24th Street SW. From the Larch Avenue crossing, return to Jefferson Avenue and turn left. Continueuntil the road curves left into 31st Street SW. Cross the tracks on an AG/NARL (road is too busy to stop here), and turn right onto the continuation of Jefferson. (Signs for Jefferson will be found a couple of blocks after making the turn; at this intersection, the street is posted as Alemeda Avenue to the left.) After making a close approach to the tracks almost immediately, the road curves away left (north) for a while, then returns to cross NAG (over) the tracks. Do not stop on the bridge; it carries a good bit of traffic and does not have shoulders.
Trackside access is available by turning off of Jefferson just before the bridge to reach 24th Street SW. This is the last convenient place to access the tracks before reaching downtown Birmingham.
Access between here and downtown is through residential neighborhoods which will limit your progress (stop signs are very common) and the tracks are often not visible because of foliage. And, sadly, many of the neighborhoods simply aren't safe. Defect detector MP 147.1 stands about half a mile east of 24th Street on Track 1.
Continue on Jefferson Avenue 1.3 mile beyond the bridge to cross the tracks AG. Briefly, the road will be signposted Pearson Avenue, then become Cotton Avenue SW as it curves right to parallel the tracks about 3 blocks north of them. 1.3 mile further on, you cross Lomb Avenue, a major road divided by a median. One block further along you reach Arlington.
Arlington is an Ante-bellum home spared by Wilson's raiders (1865) because it was used as Major Wilson's headquarters while in the area. The house is operated by the city Parks and Recreation Board, and is open limited hours. This area is known as Elyton, and was the seat of Jefferson County before Birmingham was established in 1872.
Continuing on, Cotton Avenue SW becomes 1st Avenue North when you cross Center Street, 3 blocks east of Arlington. Passing 10th Street North, you cross under I-65. The slight rise at 12th Street North marks the remains of the city's beltline that ran down the middle of 12th Street; look right and you can see the curved paths that mark the former wye giving the beltline access to the Railroad Reservation to both north and south. [Note: For an explanation about the Railroad Reservation, go here. See the section dealing with "The Railroad -- History".] Continue ahead to 18th Street and turn right one block to Morris Avenue, then left to reach the Amtrak station. The tracks are elevated here, a part of the Railroad Reservation.
That concludes John R. Moore's excellent and thorough tour of this important railroad line. If you're continuing north, go to the Birmingham - Atlanta segment of the Crescent Route Tour.John is also the author of that fine tour.