As part of our January software rollout for work, we decided to do field tests in Tallahassee, FL. Mostly we picked it because it was as close to warm as we could get with a location that still met our requirements. Needless to say, I took more than a few days on each side of working to explore the shortlines of Florida and Georgia, as well as to take in a little Class I action from CSX.
I made two trips down to CSX's Bone Valley phosphate hauling operations on two Saturdays, one week apart. Having been down there about five years ago, I wanted to go back, both due to the number of relatively slow trains, as well as just to see what had changed with the recent slowdown in mining. The first trip was mostly a bust, since there was very little moving, but the second day was a relative success. Still, the number of trains was significantly less than I remember. That might be a function of being there on a Saturday rather than during the week, or it might reflect the fact that some of the mines have been idled lately.
My main focus, however, was not CSX. I was really after some of the less-photographed shortlines in the area - particularly the Apalachicola Northern, the Georgia & Florida Railroad, and the Georgia Central Railway.
The first small railroad of the trip was the Apalachicola Northern. The road has fallen on hard times, as its primary source of revenue - a paper mill at Port St. Joe - is now only a memory. I thought that, being only a couple hours from work in Tallahassee, it would make a good starting point. As with any shortline railfanning, it's somewhat luck of the draw, and sometimes your luck bottoms out. So was mine with the AN. I made two trips to Port St. Joe, and both times came up empty-handed - not even any power sitting around the yard to photograph.
I devoted about two and a half days to the Georgia & Florida, following three of their four major lines. Two days had rather crappy weather (clouds, cold, and rain), but I managed to catch the major road trains and a local switch job. In the report that follows, you'll see trains on the Albany-Thomasville line and the Albany-Perry/Foley line. While a large part of the road's motive power consists of rent-a-wrecks, they do have four very nicely painted ex-CN GP40-2LW widecabs. Fortunately it was these I managed to catch in good weather...
Late Sunday through Tuesday was spent on the Georgia Central. The line runs from Macon to Savannah, Georgia. What really makes the road unique is its roster - nearly all classic GE U-boats, and high nose, long-hood-forward ones off the Southern Railway to boot. The road rosters seventeen ex-Southern high hood U23Bs, along with another U23B and two U30Bs. The U23Bs are the primary power, serving on both the road trains (typically in sets of three) as well as the local switchers (usually a single unit). It's not a tremendously active railroad, though. I spent 2 1/2 days on the line, and only managed to find one moving road train. Still, it's a sight (and sound) not to be missed, and I figure I'll be back there in the near future.
Since I had the better part of a day to kill before flying out of Jacksonville, I decided to spend the time at the Folkston railfan platform. The town has built a wonderful spot for fans right by the tracks, with a number of amenities like a built-in scanner, fans, lights, and internet access. Add to that the 60ish trains that CSX pushes through the area every day (all north-south CSX traffic to Florida passes through the "Folkston Funnel"), and you have a great railfan hotspot. I've included a sampling of the 22 trains I saw in just about six hours there on Wednesday as the six and final chapter in the report.