Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Welcome to Dixie!

Note: I have changed my prototype from the CSX former Clinchfield route to the CSX line between Atlanta, GA and Nashville, TN via Chattanooga, TN. While I really have a special place in my heart for the Clinchfield, I really wanted to have some variety with regards to industrial swithching & operations that were just not available with the Clinchfield. While I will be losing perhaps the best mountain railroad scenery east of the Mississippi, I will be gaining the beautiful scenery of the rolling hills and mountains of northwest Georgia and southeast Tennessee. I feel this is an ideal tradeoff, plus don't be surprised if some Clinchfield inspiration shows up here and there on The Dixie Line.

The CSX Dixie Line is the name of my N-scale model railroad based on the current CSX Transportation route from Atlanta to Nashville through Chattanooga. Although this name exists in my miniature fantasy world only, its roots can be traced to the legendary Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis Railway, which pioneered the route during the latter half of the 19th century and prided itself as The Dixie Line. Fast forward through over 100 years of various mergers, takeovers and consolidations, and you find that these former NC&StL tracks now make up what is arguably the most vital link in CSX’s southeastern network. My Dixie Line actually follows two CSX subdivisions: the W&A Subdivision from Atlanta to Chattanooga, and the Chattanooga Subdivision from Chattanooga to Nashville. Along the way, a diverse selection of traffic, industry and scenery offers up just about anything a railfan or modeler can dream of.

First of all, the trains—and there are lots of them—come in all shapes and sizes from hotshot intermodals to unit trains of automobiles, coal, and grain. Even the exotic juice train plies these rails on its regularly scheduled trips between the Sunshine State and the northeast. Of course, you will find plenty of local and mixed freight action. In addition to the CSX, the Norfolk Southern always seems to be nearby on a parallel course. In Georgia, the two lines cross at a pair of diamonds right smack in the middle of downtown Dalton, Georgia—the self proclaimed “carpet capital of the world.” In Chattanooga, two railroads actually join together, with the NS having trackage rights over the CSX for the first 30 miles or so all the way to Stevenson, Alabama (yes, the Dixie Line even dips down into ‘Bama for a spell). Along this section of track you will regularly spot a southeastern railfan’s delight: the unit coal trains operated jointly by Norfolk Southern and BNSF that run between Wyoming’s Powder River Basin and a large power plant in central Georgia. These trains, which operate exclusively with the latest and greatest BNSF power, are operated by BNSF from Wyoming to Memphis, where NS crews take over for the remainder of the journey. At least three and up to five of these trains operate on a daily schedule!

Next, in additional to the usual smaller industries, there are some important large industries that are served such as TVA’s Widows Peak power plant (Bridgeport, Alabama), Nissan North America (Smyrna, Tennessee) and the Pilgrim’s Pride/Gold Kist feed mill (Calhoun, Georgia). However, by far the largest rail customer is the Georgia Power Plant Bowen coal-fired electricity generation plant near Cartersville, Georgia, about 50 miles northwest of Atlanta. This massive facility, with its four 300-foot tall cooling towers and pair of 1,000-foot tall smokestacks, ranks third in the United States in terms of net electricity generation. You typically find at least three unit trains each day supplying Bowen with a seemingly unending flow of Appalachian coal.

Finally, the landscape is just as varied as the trains and industry. OK, you won’t find any desert vistas or towering 10,000 foot peaks, but you will get a good sampling of just about everything in between. From the sprawling mega-city of Atlanta to the quiet rural towns that dot the landscape. From the rolling hills of northwest Georgia to the imposing Cumberland Mountain in central Tennessee. This latter geographical feature was an engineering challenge to the NC&StL when they tunneled through it at an isolated spot near Cowan, Tennessee in 1852 and even today, the CSX employs helpers and a sophisticated derailment detector system to help trains in their conquest of this crossing and the long, grueling 2.5% grades it imposes. A shorter tunnel through Chetoogeta Mountain in Georgia is not quite as impressive, but it is readily accessible and is one of the best train spotting locations anywhere along the line. If you prefer bridges to tunnels, the Dixie Line does not disappoint. In Georgia, the Etowah River is spanned on a high ballasted deck girder bridge. In Tennessee, the Tennessee River is crossed with not one but two bridges: a classic lift-span drawbridge and a modern concrete deck structure. And if you are into depots, it seems like almost every town has either preserved or restored their depots to their original conditions. Many of these structures house railroad museums in an effort to link the local surroundings with its history.

So there you have it, the CSX Dixie Line in all its glory. Now all that’s left is to compress it into a 18 x 9 room. Piece of cake.

Photo Credits

Etowah River: Patrick Phelan
Tunnel Hill: Mark S. Wurst
Cartersville Depot: Jamie Schatte