NS's main line between Demopolis and Anniston, Alabama, passes through the small town of Wilton, in Shelby county, near the center of the state. Here, a short connector called the R-line turns north and runs to Burstall (Mobile Junction), where it connects with the NS AGS District west of Birmingham. The R-line is only about 35 miles long, and movements are by Train Order only, so you'll need a scanner to know whether anything is moving on this line.
This tour has been written by John Moore.
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.
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.
Train Gifs. All train gifs used within this tour are from the Ed Bindler's train gifs site.
Frograil is a fairly large 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. Maps from the late 19th century identify this as the Brierfield, Blocton and Birmingham Railway. It was incorporated in 1889, but maps from a year or two earlier show the line; possibly they indicate the railroad built by the Cahaba Coal Mining Company as early as 1884 to service their mines. By 1891, the BB&B came under the control of the East Tennessee, Virginia and Georgia Railway, which itself merged with the Richmond and Danville Railroad in 1894 to become the Southern Railway.
The Railroad -- Geography Even though you might feel you're in the deep south, you are actually still in the Appalachian Mountains thru this tour. If you've ever driven directly south out of Birmingham, you'll know what I mean. These aren't the very large mountains found in far southwestern Virginia, but they are plenty big enough to cause problems for the railroad surveying and engineering staffs in the 19th Century. However, today's Norfolk Southern has carried on the tradition of the Southern Railway's superior track maintenance and improvements programs. Trains can go quite fast, and are surprisingly quiet throughout the length of this entire tour.
The Railroad -- Traffic. A 1989 NS timetable showed 3 scheduled trains daily each way, and John thinks that's about the same number as today. Through-freight from Birmingham to Mobile passes this way, but there are only a couple of business sidings on the R-line, and they're less than 4 miles from the AGS, so he expects they are switched by a local from Birmingham.
Mapwork: Much of the tour is not easy if you have no detailed map for back country roads. 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.
Photography Ratings: I'm now including photo ratings for 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 AM shots from the southeast quadrant, which should be pretty wide open.
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 R-line, 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.
Bessemer - Wilton -- Site Listing
|Alphabetical Sequence||Sequential Order: North to South|
|Aldrich||Bessemer -- Burstall MP 35.0R|
|Aldrich -- Pebble Road||Eastern Valley|
|Bessemer -- Burstall||Morgan -- Aviation Drive|
|Dogwood||Bamford MP 23.0R|
|Dogwood -- South||Turner|
|Morgan -- Aviation Drive||Dogwood MP 5.7R|
|Old Maylene||Dogwood -- South|
|Ryan||Aldrich -- Pebble Road|
|Wilton||Wilton MP 0.0R|
Bessemer -- Burstall. From I-20/59 in the city of Bessemer (west of Birmingham), take Exit 108, Academy Drive, and go south one block to a T-intersection (follow signs for US-11 North). Turn left onto US-11 North, and proceed 0.8 miles. Turn right onto Memorial Drive, just beyond University of Alabama Birmingham Medical West (formerly Bessemer Carraway Hospital). After 0.7 miles, you reach a T intersection with 4th Avenue/CR-20. Turn left and go 0.7 mile to a traffic light at Division Street and turn right. The AG crossing is 0.2 mile ahead.
From the crossing, look northeastward (left as you approach the crossing) -- in the near distance you can see CP BURSTALL, MP 35.0R (156.2AGS), the switch where the R-line turns off the AGS main. Between Burstall and Wilton, the mile points decrease. Both tracks cross the road here; the north (first) track is the AGS main, while the south (second) is the R-line.
Eastern Valley. Continue southeast on Division Street 0.5 mile to a T intersection with Eastern Valley Road/CR-18. Turn right and go 1.4 mile to reach the R-line at an AG crossing (photo ratings N-1 E-1 S-1 W-2).
Turn left at the near side of the crossing onto Sparks Gap Road; the track curves away to the right while the road bears left. Proceed 0.8 mile and bear right at the fork onto Vulcan Road/CR-26 (no CR sign). (At 0.6 mile the track met the road as they passed through Sparks Gap in Red Mountain.) Vulcan Road crosses a siding just ahead -- it's a _very_ rough crossing, so take it slow! After 1.0 mile you cross over the R-line and I-459; you can pull off the road on either side of the bridge. The track is entering a long tangent section here, running east 2 miles from this viewpoint.
Greenwood. Beyond the bridge 0.2 mile you reach a T intersection with Dickey Springs Road. Turn left and go 1.1 mile to a left turn onto Pleasant Hill Road. There are no CR signs but maps also identify it as CR-55. This is the first left turn past a weight-restricted (5 ton) bridge. Go 1.1 mile to Greenwood Road; this is basically a T intersection into a curve. Turn left onto Greenwood; after 0.1 mile, the road curves onto a bridge over I-459 and the east end of the tangent track that began at Vulcan Road.
Morgan. Turn around and follow Greenwood Road past Pleasant Hill Road; 0.6 mile from I-459, turn left on Greenmor Road/CR-6; the signpost for the road ahead will read Roselyn Road. After 0.6 mile, Greenmor passes below the R-line, which is riding on a low bridge -- only 8-foot 6-inch clearance! -- 0.4 mile further on, you reach a traffic light at Morgan Road. Gas, groceries, restaurants and fast food can all be found here.
Alternate route for high vehicles: From the bridge over I-459, continue northward, away from Pleasant Hill Road (don't turn around!) about 0.5 mile to reach a T intersection and traffic light at Morgan Road/CR-52. Turn right onto Morgan Road and go 0.8 mile to the traffic light at Greenmor and Morgan.
Turn right onto Morgan Road/CR-52 and go 0.1 mile to Lake Drive, a small side road on the right; an AG crossing 0.1 mile along this road is photo rated N-2 E-2 S-3 W-4.
Genery Gap. Return to Morgan Road and turn right. Go 1.1 mile to the traffic light at South Shades Crest Road. There is a convenience store on the right; park here and walk onto the bridge on South Shades Crest overlooking the R-line as it passes through Genery Gap. South Shades Crest is a busy road--be careful crossing it! Behind the convenience store, Old Gap Road (dead end) leads downhill 0.1 mile to a field at trackside. One of the two passing sidings on the R-line lies about 0.5 mile south of the Gap, at a point called NOMEN, MP 25.2-R (not accessible).
Bamford. Continue south on Morgan Road/CR-52; you'll pass the track as it exits the gap, but there's no safe pull-off here. After 0.7 mile, turn right on Cherokee Beach Road/CR-93. Cherokee Beach, a popular swimming place in the mid-20th century, now has an RV campground. After 2.4 miles, the track joins the road; at 2.5 miles, CR-277 turns right. You can view the track from this dead end road; MP 23.0-R stands along it.
Turner. Continue along CR-93; 3.4 miles from Morgan Road, 1.0 mile from CR-277, you come to a T intersection with CR-13; turn right. Go 2.2 miles to AG crossing at a point the railroad calls TURNER. The track here runs northeast (behind you) to southwest, and the road--more or less paralleling the track--crosses the track in a long, narrow X. In the southwest "quadrant" of the crossing stand a scanner and a defect detector, MP 20.4-R. Photo ratings are NE-2 SE-4 SW-1 NW-2. Of interest may be the house 1.1 mile beyond (southwest of) Turner that has a Southern Railroad caboose in the yard.
Brantleyville. From Turner, for about 10 miles, the track winds through what was once a coal mining district. There are no mines or settlements there today, and much of the area is designated as a state wildlife management area. Maps show county highways running through the area, but they are dirt where they exist at all, and some of the area is being logged, with the result that many of the roads are closed and/or NFOG. Therefore, it is necessary to bypass a large section of track that has limited or no access. Return along CR-13, passing the intersection with CR-93, for 5.0 mile (measured from TURNER) to a T intersection with CR-52. Turn right and go 2.9 mile to the traffic light where CR-52, CR-17, CR-91 and AL-261 intersect.
This is the commercial district of the city of Helena, and all life support is available. If you hear train horns in the Helena area, they are CSX, and far from the NS line we're following. Continue straight ahead on CR-17 South for 4.8 miles to CR-270. At 4.5 miles from Helena, there is an historic marker on the east (left) side of the road marking the grave of a Revolutionary War veteran who settled here.
Turn right on CR-270 and go 0.4 mile to turn left onto CR-260/Brantley Lake Road. The AG crossing 0.1 mile ahead lies at a point the railroad calls LACEY; photo ratings NE-2 SE-4 SW-3 NW-4. Note that the second of the two passing sidings is here.
Maylene. Return to CR-17 and turn right, go 1.0 mile to cross the R-line. Like the crossing at TURNER, the crossing here at CR-17 is a long, narrow X as the road hops across the track to the west and then continues to parallel the track. Photo ratings are 1 on the north side of the road, 3 or 4 to the south of the road.
Ryan. Continue south on CR-17 1.4 miles from this intersection to cross the track again on a somewhat broader X--though still not at right angles. Photo ratings here are N-2 E-3 S-2 W-2. There are active quarries in this area; observe the No Trespassing signs for your own safety, as well as the property owner's rights.
Dogwood. Continue south on CR-17 for 1.7 miles to a T intersection with CR-22 and turn right. From the last crossing, the track has run tangent a little west of south, while the road has curved away east of south. Go 0.5 mile to AG crossing, with photo ratings of NE-2 SE-2 SW-3 NW-3.
There is a hot box detector just south of the crossing, named CP DOGWOOD, MP 5.7-R.
Aldrich -- Pebble Road. Continue 1.3 miles further to CR-206 West; turn right. After 0.4 mile you reach an AG crossing (crossbucks only--be alert!) on the side road signposted as Pebble Road. Photo ratings for this crossing are NE-1 SE-1 SW-1 NW-1.
Aldrich. From Pebble Road, CR-206 curves south (right as you exit Pebble Road) and becomes CR-223. One-half mile down CR-223 brings you to a T intersection with CR-10. Turn right onto CR-10 West. Go 0.3 mile to AG crossing (crossbucks only); photo ratings NE-1 SE-1 SW-1 NW-1.
The Aldrich Mining Museum is beyond the crossing; follow the signs and bear left at the fork. Housed in the Cahaba Coal Mining company store, it tells the history of coal mining in the Cahaba coal fields; open Thursday--Sunday, other times by appointment.
Turn around, and follow CR-10 East (warning-at least one sign says you're on CR-10 West, even though you're now retracing eastward the route that was CR-10 West when you came into Aldrich). You are now going away from the R-line tracks, but that can't be helped. Go 1.4 miles from the crossing in Aldrich to reach a fork in the road at the edge of the University of Montevallo campus. Bear right onto Shelby Street, or continue ahead on Middle Street--they run parallel, one block apart. 0.4 mile from the fork, you will reach AL-119 in the business district of the city of Montevallo; turn right onto AL-119 South. Go 0.5 mile to cross the NS N-line (the line between Anniston and Mobile/Montgomery).
Wilton. After crossing the N-line tracks, you will intersect AL-25. Turn right onto AL-25 South and proceed 1.4 miles into the town of Wilton. Turn right on Depot Street and go 1 block to the AG crossing (crossbucks only) at the northeast end of Wilton yard; the yard office sits here. To the right of the crossing, the R-line wye turns north (left) at MP R-0.0. A limited view of this leg of the wye may be seen by taking Church Street to the right, beyond the crossing.
Many thanks, and a big round of applause to John Moore, who is the author of this Frograil Tour.