First off, let me say that most of what I know comes solely from sitting trackside. I'm sure there are documents and timetables that are available out there that can fill in lots of the gray areas in my mind, (and I wouldn't mind picking up a few, actually). This info is also a couple of years old by now, since I left Atlanta in August 1994.
Anyway, having said "caveat emptor", here's the scoop.
CSX along the W&A from Atlanta to Marietta
NS from Atlanta to Buford, GA
MARTA in Atlanta
Brief notes on NS west of Atlanta
Brief notes on the Southeastern Rail Museum
Brief notes on CSX in SW Atlanta
Brief notes on GNRR
Brief notes on downtown Atlanta
Where to stay and eat
These tracks leave "Zero Milepost" near Underground Atlanta, and head north through Howell Wye into Inman Yard. From there, they head north, soon passing over South Atlanta Rd.(1). There are a few spots along here to watch the action, but at this point, you're still in an industrial section of town, and I never really felt that safe being down there, (alone, with camera/video equipment).
Shortly north of here, however, the tracks enter Vinings. This is a quite upscale part of NW Atlanta, with yuppie cafes and fern bars and quaint shops, etc. Paces Ferry Rd (2) crosses these tracks, and there are several shops and parking lots for businesses along these tracks. Cumberland Parkway (3) also crosses over these tracks, with a sidewalk for safe waiting, and plenty of nearby parking either at Cumberland Mall (shopping for the wife and kids) or a nearby bank branch.
All these locations are okay. The real fun starts in Smyrna. Either take Atlanta Rd. (1) north from I-285, or take Spring Rd. (4) west to Atlanta Rd. One block north of the Spring Rd/Atlanta Rd. intersection, the CSX tracks approach and parallel Atlanta Rd. north into Marietta. This shot shows a CSX freight coming toward Atlanta Rd. There used to be signals facing either direction in Smyrna (for Smyrna siding), at the entrance to NAS Atlanta (south end of Lockair siding) and at the bridge over South Cobb Rd (north end of Lockair siding). With the double tracking, though, some of these signals have been replaced with block signals that are dark unless there's a train nearby.
Another nice feature along this stretch of road is Dixie Rd., which also runs parallel to the tracks on the side opposite Atlanta Rd., from Windy Hill Rd to the NAS entrance. Dixie Rd. has some on-street parking, but almost zero traffic. (I would bicycle along Dixie Rd. and almost never be passed by a car.)
About 1/3 mile north of the South Cobb Dr. bridge, Atlanta Rd. crosses the tracks at an odd intersection, and continues into Marietta. If you don't cross the tracks, but continue uphill towards the Confederate Cemetary, you will be on a deadend road that ends at a nice little public gazebo (with parking) that looks out at the tracks as they cross South GA-120-loop. There is a rise along this road that briefly puts you about 10' above the passing trains for some nice shots, and it's close enough to the signals to know if there is an approaching train (and from which directions). And if you're coming into Atlanta down I-75S, S. GA-120-loop (5) is also a good way to get to the tracks.
Next we'll go into Marietta. Go west from the S-120-loop/Atlanta Rd. intersection one block, and turn right, staying on GA-120-loop. Go about 2 more blocks, and take your first right past the Krystal. On your right is a parking lot, and along side the parking lot are the tracks again. On the other side of the tracks is (as of mid '98) an old Pullman car that was made into a restaurant. Unfortunately, this restaurant has changed hands many times, and latest report is that it's now the Chamber of Commerce. Also on the other side of the tracks are the shops on the Marietta Square. ("Wife and kids" entertainment again; there are regular shows/performances "on the square", so check the Marietta daily paper for details).
Two blocks further north of the Pullman car is First Pres. Church of Marietta, with parking lots along the tracks. Back in '94, you could see over the bridge and get a good view of approaching north- and south-bound trains, but recent reports indicate that they've put up fences, making it less desirable. The church is at Church St. and Kennesaw Ave. (6), and is a good excuse to continue up Kennesaw Ave. About 1/2 mile north on Kenn. Ave. was another set of signals, (but I haven't been up that far since the double tracking to see if they're still there), and more parking. This is a quite pretty area, especially in the fall as the colors change.
Further north along Kennesaw Rd., the tracks go off to the east, and are no longer visible from the road. Maybe a mile along, take a right onto Marble Mill Rd., and follow this back to the tracks. More parking, more signals, and you'll be in Elizabeth, GA, where the Georgia Northeastern RR has its offices and interchange yard. The office is in a converted rail car (old passenger car, I think). More on this below.
Find your way back to Kennesaw Rd. This dead ends into Old Hwy 41. Go west, and take a breather at Kennesaw Mountain. No train stuff, but a nice hike up to the top, and now that I think about it, you can probably see some tracks from the top (with binocs, perhaps). Just beyond Kenn. Mtn., CSX runs under Old 41, and you can backtrack from that hwy overpass to Stilesboro Rd. (following signs to Kenn Mtn, only bypassing the Mtn Area's parking lots, and going straight), which will let you catch glimpses of track here and there, and if memory serves correctly, there is a dirt road off of Stilesboro Rd. that crosses the tracks and follows them for 1/4 mile or so. My map says Mossy Rock Rd. YMMV. If you've followed Stilesboro Rd., make sure you turn right onto Kennesaw Due West Rd., or you'll wind up way way way out in the sticks (voice of experience talking here). Kenn DW Rd takes you north to US-41.
Moving along to the north end of my railfanning experience, take US-41 north; turn right onto Kennesaw Due West Rd. (7); turn left onto S. Main St., which takes you into downtown Kennesaw. The tracks will be on your right as you come into town. Cross over them, and turn into the Big Shanty Museum parking lot. Not only will this give you parking for train watching, but the museum also has many items of railroad interest, being at least partially devoted to The General, the locomotive involved in the great train chase during the Civil War.
Recent reports/rumors are that some locals have bought the station in Kennesaw (near the museum) and are going to restore it for next spring ('99). The same reader also reports getting good info from a local train store in Kennesaw. The only other place I've been along these tracks as they run up to Chattanooga is Tunnel Hill. This is the site of the only tunnel along this line. It's signalled on at least one side of the tunnel, for your railfanning convenience. The only problem is that you're on your own for directions. I took US-41 south from Chattanooga, and saw the tracks pass under me heading slightly east. I'm not sure if I saw a sign saying I was in Tunnel Hill or not, but I was able to wing it and find the north end of the tunnel, and some convenient parking as well. There are even some historic markers at the site.
The best (and in some cases only) way to see the tracks from Brookwood Station north to Doraville is on MARTA, (see below). Just north of the Doraville MARTA Station (9), New Peachtree Rd. follows the tracks for a mile or so, giving a little bit of visibility to the tracks. New Peachtree Rd. then joins up with Buford Hwy (8).
Keep going north on Buford Hwy for a mile or two. The tracks will approach on the left side of the road. NS has a small yard just south of the point where the tracks become visible from Buford Hwy. (This is a slightly industrial section of town, so exercise caution, but it's considerably safer than Buford Hwy inside I-285; you've been warned). There are businesses on the left/west side of Buford Hwy that you can park at and look into this yard, if desired.
The tracks are double track at this point, and parallel Buford Hwy for another mile or two. They split off just before Buford Hwy crosses Jimmy Carter Blvd. Turn left onto JCB, and take a right at your first light, before you go under the tracks. This is Peachtree St NW, (which as noted below is not the same road at Peachtree St). You'll go past a NS MOW shed, and can then turn left at the first road, crossing the tracks. Looking south at this crossing gives a view of a north-facing signal governing south-bounds. This signal also guards the north end of the double track. Once over the tracks, you can go left (which takes you into a residential neighborhood), straight (into a parking lot, should you desire to linger here and take pictures, which I've done many a time with no problems from anyone) or right, which takes you alongside the tracks for 1/2 mile or so into Norcross.
Norcross has many good parking places, and some trackside grassy areas that are great for setting up for still or video shots. I say this since there is a nice grassy area where you can look straight down the tracks as they pass through Norcross. The tracks curve to the west right in front of this spot, giving (IMHO) beautiful head-on shots of the morning south-bound Genesis-powered Crescent running pretty much at speed, (or at least 50+ mph).
Continuing north along Buford Hwy, Beaver Ruin Rd. turns off to the right. A left at the next light off of Buford Hwy will take you over the tracks, and give you the view of a northbound block signal. There are other roads off of Buford Hwy for the next few miles, but none that really give any decent views or stopping places. Four or five miles north of JCB, however, is Berkeley Lake Rd. Turn left here, and go over a bridge over the tracks. Take your first left, onto Industrial Park Dr. Despite its name, this is a seldom travelled road that gives a business or two with parking spaces, and decent views of the tracks at one point. It's possible to park either at the base of this bridge or in a business lot, and safely walk onto the bridge, as the bridge has wide shoulders, and I've seen other railfans there, some with 8- or 9-yr-old children. Looking south will show you a signal bridge protecting the south end of Duluth siding; looking north will show you the concrete plant and a spur heading to the right over Buford Hwy. There are two or three rail-served businesses that I've seen switched along this 1-mile stretch of road along Ind Park Dr. 1/2 mile south of Berkeley Lake Rd. is South Old Peachtree Road NW, which will take you back across the tracks to Buford Hwy. Looking north from this crossing shows you the south-facing signal guarding the south end of Duluth siding.
Keeping in mind that schedules change often and drastically, I'll share my "schedule". The morning Crescent comes through Duluth and Norcross (if on time) at 8:15am. It was often accompanied by one or more hotshot intermodal trains, some with NS power, others with CR power. After the hotshots die down, a local (which is often waiting at the north end of double track mentioned above) makes its way north through Norcross to Duluth. The Duluth siding runs from Ind Park Dr. up to Main St. in Duluth. The local will service a couple of customers south of Ind Park Dr., run up to Duluth and service industry there, then run its power back south down to Ind Park Dr, and back up the mainline to connect to the other end of its consist. Usually by 11:00am, having reversed itself, it's back down to Ind Park Dr., serving more of the online industries there. Some of the industries served include a concrete plant just north of the Berkeley Lake bridge, Tull Metals near S Old P'tree Rd., and a couple of lumber yards. A spur runs behind the concrete plant and crosses Buford Hwy. Down this spur are more lumber yards, and the Southeastern Railway Museum, (see below). (Footnote: this still seems accurate as of mid '98, even on Saturday's)
Further north are more chances too see these NS tracks. The north end of Duluth siding is in Duluth proper, and can be found down side streets off of GA-120, which crosses the tracks. (There's even a Dairy Queen nearby for that post-train cooldown on hot GA summer nights). Buford Hwy continues north through Duluth, and you can catch the occasional glimpse of tracks to the west, although the tracks leave the hwy for a while. Once you get to Suwanee, GA, the tracks are back, though. In Suwanee, you can stop and park at the Suwanee fire and police station. The tracks lie just below this parking lot, and due to the curve in the tracks, you get another head-on view to the south, giving maybe 45-60 seconds setup time for shooting even the hottest north-bound hotshots.
Continuing north up Buford Hwy, which by now is probably just marked US-23, you will reach GA-20 (10). Turn left on GA-20, and go not quite 1 mile. A bridge will take you over the tracks; turn right onto Peachtree Industrial Blvd, then take your first right, which I think is E. Broad St. This takes you back to the tracks, which you can then parallel for 2 miles or so, through the town of Buford. You're back to double tracks at this point, and you can see a signal bridge from E. Broad St. At one point there was even a train/hobby shop along these tracks, but as I recall, it had odd hours, (i.e. not open weekends, or some such thing).
First, MARTA parallels NS from Doraville to just north of Brookwood Station, and then parallels CSX from south of West End most of the way to the airport. Unfortunately, MARTA trains don't stop at Brookwood, but go underground just prior to this point, and stay there until the West End station. This is the best way to see anything on NS from Brookwood to Doraville, as there is little if any public access to these tracks, and few overpasses at all, let alone safe ones.
Second, MARTA's equipment is such that if you get on the lead car on the train, you can look over the driver's shoulder out onto the track. All MARTA equipment that I saw allows this, and I never saw anything to obstruct your view of the track. Granted, it's light rail track that you're looking at, but it was the closest I've come yet to a cab ride at 60mph.
Miscellaneous notes: I only rode the N/S line, except to get to the GA Dome, but north of Five Points station, I always felt safe, both on the train and at stations. The run to the airport is fine during the day, but runs through some rough South Atlanta neighborhoods, and I wouldn't go it alone at night. Trains are well patrolled, and the stations usually are as well. Trains run every 12 minutes off-peak, 6 minutes rush-hour. They're a great, albeit crowded, way to get to local sporting events. Trains are usually 5-6 cars long during rush hour, less off-peak and on weekends, unless there's a game going on.
Once in Newnan, follow US-29 through town. The drive through town all by itself is beautiful. At some point, you'll pass Sprayberry BBQ, and you should take the time to stop. The Brunswick Stew is great, as is the BBQ. Back on US-29, you'll have to make a left and a quick right. Take your next left onto Savannah St. If you didn't stop for BBQ, you'll want to stop at the restaurant at the foot of the hill, next to the tracks. The name escapes me, but it's buffet-style southern cooking at its finest. (I worked in Newnan for several months, and ate there often). After you've finished stuffing yourself, across the street is where the tracks you've been following cross over other tracks (someone will have to help me out with whose tracks those are). As parking is nearby, you'll be able to wait and watch, or walk a block to a bridge crossing over CSX's line.
You can actually take US-29 all the way into downtown Pensacola, FL, to the docks and CSX's rail operations that serve the docks, and see CSX operating at several points along the way, (i.e. Lanett, AL, Troy, AL, and Brewton, AL, to name a few), but that's a bit out of the way for Atlanta.
First is Howell Wye. I spent one Saturday afternoon there, and was never more than 5 minutes between action of some kind. Plenty of light engine and switcher shuttle moves keep things going, and loads of CSX and NS road freights passing through. In 1992, when I was last there, there was a manned tower in the Wye, but this has been closed since then. The second time I was there, Atlanta's finest politely inspected my car for drugs, (found none), and asked me to leave and not come back. This isn't a good neighborhood, but if you have to see it, here are directions: Take I-75 north from downtown, and exit at Howell Mill Rd. Go south past Atlanta City Water Works (looks like a lake or two) to Huff Rd. Go right onto Huff, and left at your first road, Foster St. Foster dumps you out into the wye. Again, don't go alone or at night, and don't say I didn't warn you.
Second is more promising. The tracks that leave south from Howell Wye go beneath/beside the GA World Congress Center and the Omni Stadium. The road between the Omni and GWCC runs over these tracks, and dead end into a parking garage. (I think this road is International Blvd.; to get there, follow signs from I-85 south to the Omni.) I parked at this garage many times, and at lower garage levels, you are at eye level with these tracks, which are double and triple through this section. At most games I went to, I would see a train either on my way in or out, sometimes both. I didn't wait for this to happen; i.e. in the five minutes it took to get to the Omni to/from my car, a train would happen by 50+% of the time. On the other side of the Omni is CNN Center, which houses, (you guessed it) CNN, as well as the World of Coca-Cola exhibit and a shopping mall. MARTA also has their Omni Station adjacent to the Omni. I was always there with the crowds (and hence Atlanta's Finest), but I never had or saw problems.
As far as food, I can recommend just about every Taco Bell within 50 miles of downtown Atlanta, as well as the Krystal's and Subway in Marietta. (You can tell I was a batchelor in my trainchasing days in Atlanta, can't you.)
(2) Paces Ferry Rd. - take I285 to the west side of town; Paces Fy Rd. is two exits south of I75.
(3) Cumberland Pkwy. - go east on Paces Ferry Rd. (2), take first left only Cumberland Pkwy. Follow for 2/3 mile; bridge over tracks is one block before traffic light crossing Hargrove Rd. entering Cumberland Mall.
(4) Spring Rd. - Take I285 to US-41 north. Spring Rd. is the first left on US-41 north of I-285.
(5) South GA-120-loop - Take I-75 north from Atlanta. S GA-120-loop is the third exit north of I-285.
(6) Kennesaw Ave. - Follow S GA-120-loop (5) from I-75. It crosses Atlanta Rd., and goes under the tracks. Turn right at the next light, staying on 120-loop. You will go through a few lights, and go under Kennesaw Ave., followed immedietaly by going under the tracks again. Turn right at the next light, onto Church St., then take your first right onto Kennesaw Ave.
(7) US-41 & Kennesaw Due West Rd. - For the sake of speed, take I-75 north from Atlanta, and stay on I-75 after I-575 splits off to the right. Your next exit is GA-5; take GA-5 west maybe 1.5 miles to US-41. Go north on US-41 maybe 2 or 2.5 miles. You go over the tracks; Kenn. Due West Rd. is your next right.
(8) Buford Hwy - Take I-85 north from Atlanta. Follow signs to I-285 West; Buford Hwy is first exit, and you may not even get only I-285. This interchange is Spaghetti Junction, and is called this for good reason: on/off ramps go everywhere through here, connecting not only I-85 and I-285, but Buford Hwy and a couple of other roads as well.
(9) New Peachtree Rd/Doraville MARTA Station - Take Buford Rd. north from I-285, and take first left onto Longmire Way. The next light is New Peachtree Rd. Keep in mind when looking at a map of Atlanta that there are *SCADS* of roads (70+) with Peachtree in their name. Peachtree St. isn't Peachtree St. NW isn't Peachtree Dr. isn't Peachtree Rd. isn't Old Peachtree Rd. isn't New Peachtree Rd. ... etc.
(10) GA-20 is also an exit off of I-85, about 25-30 miles north of Atlanta.
This page was last updated on October 13, 1998, and is correct to the best of my knowledge. If you know of anything I missed or should fix, please let me know.