Eastern Alabama Railway
Born of a break-up of part of an older Louisville & Nashville line, and victim of the rising waters behind a major dam, today's Eastern Alabama Railway is a thriving shortline working between Sylacauga and Talladega, Alabama. This tour puts you in the driver's seat, as you put the top down, settle back, and enjoy some fine Alabama scenery and shortline railroading.
Contents And Navigation:
For information concerning the other Frograil tours which have been put together, go to the Tour Guide. If you've never taken a Frograil tour before, I strongly urge you to print out the Tour Guide, and carefully follow its suggestions. Also, you should know that the Eastern Alabama Railway tour has a junction with the NS Central of Georgia tour between Leeds (Birmingham) and Columbus, so you will especially want to check out that tour, which is here. This will be discussed more fully in the Sylacauga portion of this tour.
Dale Burns. Dale wrote this entire tour. To supplement the material in this tour, I strongly recommend you visit his excellent Alabama Rail Pic's pages, which are here.
Tony Hill, Webmaster. The guy who makes it go. Any first person pronoun within Frograil is a direct comment from Tony, unless otherwise indicated.
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.
History. Like all shortlines, a glimpse into its history makes the EARY much more understandable. This line was originally part of the Anniston & Atlantic Railroad that opened between Anniston and Talladega in February 1884, and then was extended on to Gantt's Junction at the marble quarry there in 1886. The line shortly came under Louisville & Nashville ownership (in 1890), and in 1891, was extended from Gantt's Junction to Calera, crossing the Coosa River, and connecting with the South & North Alabama Railroad.
Today, only the tracks from Gantts ("Gantt's" is correct, but almost all map resources refer to this location as "Gantts") Junction to Talladega remain intact. The line west of Gantts Junction was abandoned when Lay Dam was built on the Coosa River (a very large river, which surprisingly few people outside of the immediate area have ever heard of!). The dam impoundment flooded the rail bridge, and it was not economically feasible to replace it. To the east of Talladega, the line was abandoned in the early 1970's.
Heart of Dixie Railroad Museum. While the line east of Gantts was abandoned 30 years ago, the Heart of Dixie Railroad Museum in Calera is rebuilding a portion of the track from the convergence with the CSX S&NA Subdivision back to the town of Shelby, a distance of about 9 miles. As of March, 2003, the museum operates about 4 miles of tracks, and runs regularly scheduled excursions on the line. Their Web site is here.
Motive Power. The railroad is now part of the RailAmerica empire, and as such has access to the considerable motive power assets of its parent. Prior to the RailAmerica takeover, the line used GP7's and GP-9's, but you can expect to find whatever the parent has available.
The Railroad. Geographically, the railroad is mostly in very pretty and fertile valley country between mountain ridges. Gantts and Sylacauga comprise the only "city" railroading on the line. There are no major hills along the right of way. There is a lot of farmland to traverse as the EARY rolls from Sylacauga to Talladega.
Major customers and products carried include calcium carbonate from the Imerys plant in Gantts Junction, newsprint to American Color Graphics (they print the lion's share of Marvel Comics -- your Spidey buddy comes from here) just up from Imerys, and a fairly new fertilizer plant is also in the area. In Sylacauga, EARY serves Purcell Technologies, which is a worldwide producer of time-release fertilizer. Blue Bell Creameries will get an occasional car of corn syrup.
Mapwork: Much of the tour is made easier if you have a detailed map for back country roads. Indeed, while doing simple map research for this tour, I was very frustrated with the limitations of the mapQuest pages. I finally broke down and bought a Delorme Alabama Atlas and Gazetteer. Oh, man! What a difference. Even though this is a very short tour, the map is your most basic tool, and mapQuest and Rand-McNally just couldn't do it for me. You can find information about Railfan Maps that are available.
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 any other tour which is 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.
Gantts Junction to Talladega -- Railfan sites:
|Alphabetical Sequence||Route Sequence: South to North|
|Berneys||Gantts Junction -- Yard Area|
|Gantts Junction -- Marble Lead Area||Gantts Junction -- Marble Lead Area|
|Gantts Junction -- Yard Area||Sylacauga -- Downtown|
|Rendalia||Sylacauga -- Station Area|
|Sylacauga -- Downtown||Rendalia|
|Sylacauga -- Station Area||Berneys|
|Talladega -- Bemiston||Talladega -- Bemiston|
|Talladega -- CSX Connection||Talladega -- CSX Connection|
Gantts Junction -- Yard Area. From US-231/280 in Sylacauga [Note: MapQuest does not label this road correctly -- it shows it only as US-231.], go west on Sylacauga-Fayetteville Highway (locally known as Fayetteville Road). Note that Fayetteville Road is opposite the Food World Shopping Center, and is called North Fort Williams Street east of US-231/280. Soon you will cross a spur off the EARY tracks that enters the Imery's Plant, a marble quarry. This spur is call the Marble Lead. Continue on and the first road you come to on the right is signed "Hill Road". Take this right and you will soon cross the EARY tracks just east of the yard.
The road makes a sharp left turn and you will pass Motion Industries, and then you'll see the sign for the Eastern Alabama Railroad. Turn into the gravel drive here to see the office and the east side of the yard. There is a brand new sanding tower fully viewable here, and normally there are a large amount of rolling stock and a couple of engines idling here. Drive back out and turn left onto Hill Road, and drive the short distance to its end and take a left onto Wynette Road. Just past Dixie Color you can look up the middle of the west side of the yard. There may be out-of-service engines stored here. Drive a very short distance further and you'll cross what remains of the original main line. This portion of track ends a few hundred yards from the road. Back track out of the area and turn back left onto Fayetteville Road to head east.
Gantts Junction -- Marble Lead Area. When you get back to the Marble Lead, you can turn right and drive in to see Imery's industrial railroad operations. However, this is an industrial area, and you are trespassing. Therefore, Dale and I suggest you call ahead first and get permission to be on the property before you try to visit it.
From Fayetteville Road at the Marble Lead, turn left before the tracks onto Gene E. Stewart Boulevard. There isn't a road sign here, so just keep the Marble Lead on your right. You'll immediately cross the EARY's tracks (three of them, in fact), where the railroad does the switching for the Imery plant. Most day's you can catch the train switching here all day, with a mid-morning shoving move from here into downtown Sylacauga where the EARY interchanges with Norfolk Southern.
Sylacauga -- Downtown Area. As we enter the city on Gene E. Stewart Boulevard, you've got to pay attention and watch out for the other guy. If you get lost, don't worry, as the city is laid out in a classic block pattern. It shouldn't be hard to find your way back to the tour.
Continue on Stewart until you intersect with US-280. The Wal-Mart Supercenter will be in front of you, and this might be a good opportunity to get film, batteries, etc. To continue the tour, take a right to go east on US-280 (which is also US-231 and AL-38/53 here), and you'll soon cross the EARY via an overpass. This will put you back at the Food World Shopping Center traffic light where we started at the beginning of the tour. Take a left onto West Fort Williams Street, and you'll soon see the EARY tracks on the left, where they switch the fertilizer plant there.
The tracks run right behind a Wendy's and "a great Chinese buffet restaurant" [To quote Dale's text precisely]. Go past the McDonalds and turn left at the Sonic Drive In restaurant onto North Elm Avenue. You'll shortly cross the main line. Take a right onto West Third, and drive a very short distance until you cross the tracks again at the Foote Brothers Furniture building. You'll see a short spur here that the Blue Bell Ice Cream Company uses to receive single tank cars of syrup from the EARY. Go straight thru the traffic light, and then turn left at the next light onto North Broadway, which is also AL-21. If you're in a hurry, this road will take you right to Talladega.
Sylacauga -- Station Area. While part of downtown Sylacauga, the station area merits special mention, not the least reason being that it is a junction with Frograil's NS Central of Georgia tour, which is here. The station itself was less than a full block north of the intersection of West Third Street and North Broadway, and would have been on your right, but it was torn down in the early 1970's. It was a Union Depot, and was jointly constructed by the Louisville & Nashville and Central of Georgia railroads. The crossing diamonds are just east of AL-21, and there is plenty of off-railroad property for photos. The only "depot" in the station area today is a rather ugly small brick structure that NS owns on the original location of the CofG freight depot across the street from where the Union Depot used to stand. There are pictures of these structures and the L&N freight depot in Sylacauga on Dale's Rail Pix pages, which are here.
Sycamore. From the station area in Sylacauga, drive north on North Broadway/AL-21. Just as the 2-lane starts to become a 4-lane, you can see a remnant of a spur off the EARY main that ran up into Avondale Mills. The spur has been abandoned for years. Continue on and look for a currently out-of-business convenience store on the right. Turn right here onto North Main Avenue, then left onto East 10th Street at the caution light, and then there will immediately be a T intersection, with the elevated main directly in front of you. Take a left onto Old Talladega Highway, and then an immediate right onto Oldfield Road, where you'll also cross the EARY main.
We now start out of town and the navigating gets much easier. You will need to be careful, as even though you may be in the country, you must avoid trespassing on private property. Other than that, about the worst thing you need to worry about is the errant armadillo or deer playing kamikaze with your vehicle. So..., just keep your eyes on the road. Dale believes all of the up-coming roads are well signed, but local maps and/or DeLorme maps are definitely recommended.
After hopping onto Oldfield Road, the main line is a few feet off the road on your left for about 2 miles. You actually can see the 459, 460, and 461 mile post markers al the Louisville & Nashville Railroad. The tracks veer away from the road, but soon you will cross them at an angle where they will again disappear from view to the right of your vehicle. After a short drive you will come into the sleepy town of Sycamore. The road will be signed "Main Street" here. The tracks are on your right where they pass the closed and partially burned out remains of a mill. The road makes a very odd curve around the mill grounds and then comes into downtown Sycamore. The tracks go thru the middle of town at mile post 465. Continue on the same road you came in on, Main Street, and then take your right onto AL-21.
Rendalia.. The tracks will briefly be parallel with the road on your right. Make the short drive on AL-21 to the crossroads known as Winterboro. You will pass Winterboro School on your left and you should turn right just past the school onto CR-211. This is a beautiful drive, so roll down the windows and put the top down (if you're lucky enough to have a convertible). You are definitely in the country now, and you'll come to a T-intersection soon, where you'll want to turn left onto the very well maintained dirt road.
There are wall-to-wall cotton fields here. In the winter months, you can see for miles. In the summer, of course, your visibility will be limited, but you'll still be able to see a long, long way. The dirt road winds through the fields a short distance, where it comes up to the EARY tracks at a place called Rendalia. Right at the grade crossing there is a neat little wooden trestle over a small creek. It's very quiet here, so get out and enjoy it for awhile.
Berney's. Drive back out the way you came in on the dirt road, and take the right at the pavement. Then, take the immediate right onto Whiting Road/CR-238. A short distance on this road will bring you past Bullocks Ferry Road, which is on your left. SLOW DOWN HERE! You will turn just past the top of the hill to your right onto Berney Station Road/CR-208. The tracks are a few hundred yards away. Apparently, there used to be a stop on the L&N in this area, and Steam Powered Video's (SPV) Railroad Atlas identifies Berneys. There's no evidence of the station, but there is a beautiful house right past the tracks.
Backtrack out and take a right onto Whiting Road/CR-238. Continue on until you come to AL-21, and take a right. Relax for a few minutes here, as it's a short and pleasant drive into Talladega.
Talladega -- Bemiston. Enter the city limits and look for a sign for AL-275 turning left off of AL-21. Go past this intersection and take your first right, onto West Parkway Avenue. You'll see 2 brick pillars on either side of the road. Go immediately across the EARY tracks and take your immediate left onto Bemiston Avenue. This is the area known as Bemiston. [Webmaster's Note: Be aware that SPV identifies this area incorrectly as "Berriston". There is no such place.] You will now be paralleling the recently extended yard that the EARY uses to interchange with CSX. There are normally many cars in the yard, and you might find a CSX local working it. Drive this road and again cross the tracks on the north side of the yard and at AL-21, take a right.
Talladega -- CSX Connection. Coming into town, you'll see a large part of the Alabama Institute for the Deaf on your left, and you'll go under a crosswalk that leads to the college. Just past this crosswalk, take a right at the second traffic light. A Conoco station will be on your left at this light. The EARY tracks cross this road (which is probably South Street West) and curve back towards AL-21. But if you look closely, you can see where the tracks used to go straight into town. Those tracks have been pulled up for many years, but you can still make out the roadbed.
Take the gravel alley road between the curvature of the tracks and the back of Wehadkee Mills shipping. Turn right again onto AL-21, and then take a left at the far side of the mill at the traffic light onto North Street West. Drive down this road, and just before you cross the tracks again, take your right onto Coosa Street. Then, take the next left onto North Spring Street. You'll cross the end of the EARY and the CSX Lineville Subdivision tracks. There is a switch here where the EARY diverges at CSX MP 910.34. Looking back at the tracks, you'll see the Lineville Sub veer right towards Birmingham and the west, and the EARY veer left towards Sylacauga and the south.