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By Jack M. Turner

Atlanta Photos by John C. Turner

    Our July 2011 travels took us on a pleasant driving tour of the southeast and included a number of railroad related activities.  Our trip took us to Atlanta; Boone, NC; and Eastern Tennessee.  Reports on some other activities may be found in other feature stories by the author and available on TrainWeb. 

    Along the way we passed through numerous locations served by Amtrak which would make this an easy journey to duplicate over the course of a few days.  These sights can be visited just as easily in reverse order and a few other worthwhile sights have been included for the reader's convenience.  It is important to check days and hours of operation before visiting many of these attractions.

    A great place to start a tour of the Deep South is Atlanta.  Amtrak's daily Crescent links the Northeast and New Orleans via Georgia's capitol city, serving Atlanta at convenient hours in both directions.  The former Southern Railway Peachtree Station is located on the city's near north side and visitors can easily rent a car from the Avis location on Courtland Street which offers courtesy transportation between the station and their office.  Hotels are plentiful in this city with the suburbs typically offering the lowest rates.

    There are many sights in Atlanta that will interest both rail fans and non-rail fans thus it is worth spending a couple of nights to enjoy Atlanta's diverse offerings.  Sports fans will enjoy professional baseball, basketball, football, and hockey while college sports fans can feast upon a variety of sporting events featuring local universities.  During our visit in July we enjoyed an Atlanta Braves baseball game at sparkling Turner Field which hosted the 1996 Summer Olympics.  The stadium is located just south of downtown Atlanta and has excellent sightlines, a variety of dining options, and activities such as batting cages and a Cartoon Network attraction to suit about any age. 

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The entrance to Turner Field, home of the Atlanta Braves

Warren Spahn statue in front of Turner Field

A pregame tribute to the Baltimore Orioles history

The Orioles bat

The Atlanta Braves celebrate a home run

Chipper Jones bats for the Braves

    The Georgia Aquarium has deservedly earned a reputation as a premier aquarium with its impressive collection of whale sharks, manta rays, sea otters, sea lions, penguins and a variety of marine life in a beautiful habitat.  Visitors are amazed by the glass tunnel that carries them right through the largest marine tank and the huge glass wall that gives the impression of being right in the tank with the sharks, rays, and colorful fish.  Adjacent to the aquarium one will find The World of Coca-Cola which spotlights the history and worldwide popularity of the many varieties of that soft drink.

The Georgia Aquarium

This tunnel takes visitors through a giant marine tank at the Georgia Aquarium

A close up of a shark passing the tunnel

Visitors get a close up view of sea life from a giant glass wall on the side of the tank

One of several whale sharks at the Georgia Aquarium

A penguin in the polar habitat

Colorful fish in a small tank

A coke ad used in Japan

Olympic torches displayed at The World of Coca-Cola

The Chick-Fil-A Bowl is one of Atlanta's many popular sports events.  Shown here are the Florida State Seminoles taking the field before their 26-17 win over South Carolina on December 31, 2010.

    The Southeastern Railway Museum and the Stone Mountain Railroad are rail related attractions on the eastern side of the city that will require an automobile to access. Another activity sure to interest rail fans and bound to be of practical use to visitors is the MARTA light rail system.  MARTA trains on one line link the airport with the city's north and northeastern suburbs while the intersecting route connects Atlanta's eastern perimeter with its western perimeter.  The airport line parallels rail lines used by Norfolk Southern and CSX and interconnects with a modern people mover system that connects the airport with nearby convention facilities.  The MARTA station serving the airport is right inside the terminal rather than requiring users to navigate around parking garages, and other obstacles as in many cities.

A MARTA rapid transit train prepares to depart the Atlanta airport

A new people mover train links the Atlanta airport and a convention center

Approaching downtown Atlanta on MARTA

The Georgia capitol building.  Georgia Railroad passenger trains once departed from close to this building

Riding The Hiwassee Loop Line

    About three hours north of Atlanta one will find the Hiwassee River Rail Adventure excursion train operating between Etowah, TN and Copperhill, TN which stands at the border with Georgia. 

    This rail line was chartered in 1887 and was originally planned to link Knoxville with Murphy, NC.  Land acquisition issues eventually nixed that plan and the railway was built southward to Blue Ridge, GA.  From there the railroad continued on to Marietta and Atlanta.  A separate line would connect Blue Ridge with Murphy from which a Southern Railway rail line continued on to Asheville, NC.  

    The steep grade at Bald Mountain required the use of switchbacks which posed an operational nightmare for trains.  In 1898 the railroad opened a new loop around Bald Mountain to simplify operations by looping the mountain and running the rail line above itself via a timber trestle.  This loop came to be known as the "Eye" in what was referred to as the "Hook and Eye" line.

    The route was purchased by the Louisville and Nashville Railroad in 1902 but its winding mountain route was not conducive to efficient movement of freight trains.  Thus, two years later the L&N began construction on a faster route from Etowah to Marietta via Carterville, GA.  Upon completion of that line, the route via Hiwassee Loop became known as "The Old Line" and its primary traffic consisted of local freight trains.  Products shipped from Copperhill and vicinity kept the line in service until 2001 when L&N successor CSX abandoned the route. 

    The railway fell into disrepair until part of the route was rebuilt a couple of years later by the Tennessee Valley Authority to assist in construction of a hydroelectric dam on the Hiwassee River.  Short passenger excursions were operated over the northern part of the line once the rails had been rehabbed.  Plans to haul iron ore over the rail line led to further rebuilding of the line in 2004 but by 2006 that service ended.  Thanks to a partnership with the non-profit Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum, excursion train service soon returned to the line, this time operating from Etowah as far south as Copperhill.

    My ride over the Hiwassee River line begins on a sultry Saturday morning as I board a bus that transports passengers from the beautifully restored L&N depot in Etowah to the train's boarding location a few miles south of town.  A CSX intermodal freight train rumbles past the station as passengers wait for the bus to depart.  My wife will drive to Copperhill to prevent the need for doubling back to Etowah on our way home to Florida. 

L&N station in Etowah, TN

    After the short bus ride, passengers are discharged at Gee Creek just inside Hiwassee/Ocoee Scenic River State Park.  The excursion train pulls up a couple of minutes later and about 60 passengers climb aboard for a relaxing and scenic ride.  The train is pulled by GP7 engine # 710 which wears the paint scheme of its original owner, the NC&SL Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis).  A Tennessee Valley snack bar coach, a Southern Railway coach, and a Central of Georgia coach make up today's train.  The air conditioning is excellent in all three cars, the broad windows are clean, and the reclining seats are inviting.  Vestibules are open for passenger enjoyment as is the rear vestibule platform.

    We ease forward at 9:35am and pass through the park's rich forests then break from the trees as we cross the Hiwassee River 15 minutes later at Reliance.  The view from the rear platform offers a vista of mountains, fields, and the cool river waters as we cross the open deck bridge.  The rail line soon enters the Hiwassee River Gorge and views of the rock strewn river come into view.  The normal track speed for the excursion train is approximately 20 mph but soon we slow to a crawl and stop.  Word soon spreads that a large tree has fallen across the tracks.  On a regular modern day passenger train this would likely necessitate a lengthy delay while a track gang is called out to remove the tree.  But this is not mainline railroading.  Soon the engineer climbs down from the engine with a chainsaw then slips on a pair of coveralls.  The conductor and the fireman join him and ten minutes after our impromptu stop, we are underway again with the offending tree left in pieces out of harms way.

Crossing the Hiwassee River at Reliance, TN

View from the rear vestibule platform crossing the Hiwassee River  at Reliance

The three car train crosses a small creek along the wooded route.

A fallen tree blocks the railroad

The train crew clears the tree from the rails

Remnants of the tree after the crew's chain saw work

    Shortly after 10:20am the train slips through the Appalachia Powerhouse which uses the river to generate hydroelectric power.  Wilderness again envelops the railway as it continues to trace the river through deep woodlands.  The engine's horn sounds as we approach a couple of trails used by fisherman to access the river.  Soon we pass some fly fishermen standing knee deep in the river a couple hundred feet from the end of that trail.

The rocky Hiwassee River near a favorite spot for fly fishermen

The rail line cuts between the rocky mountainside and the river

    The only remaining siding on the line comes into view at 10:50 and in two minutes we cross Highway 68 on an overpass.  This siding is where the ore trains that arrived in sections after climbing over the loop were combined on their trip to Etowah.  At the end of the siding we begin our two mile climb to Hiwassee Loop.  At 11:05am we pass under the railroad trestle that stands at the top of the loop.  The elevation at this point is 1220 feet.  Two minutes later the tracks we had just traversed come into view about 100 feet below on our left as the train loops around Bald Mountain.  The top of the loop is reached at 11:09am as we cross the trestle we passed beneath 4 minutes earlier.  The track elevation now is 1400 feet and we have circled the mountain almost twice.

Appalachia siding where ore trains used to reassemble after doubling the mountain

Passing above Highway 68

Looking back at the bridge over Hwy 68

The trestle at Hiwassee Loop

Track that we traveled over just two minutes earlier as the train spirals up Bald Mountain

Crossing the trestle at the top of Hiwassee Loop

View of the track below.  The train traveled over this stretch two minutes earlier.

Looking back after crossing the trestle

    The impressive Appalachia Dam appears through the trees on our left at 11:13 and a few minutes later we roll through Farner where a rail yard was used for unloading freight cars for dam and pipeline construction in the 1940s.  The train pauses briefly at Ducktown to detrain passengers who will enjoy rafting on the Ocoee River.  Twenty minutes later we stop in a rail yard on the north side of Copperhill to allow our engine to uncouple and run around the train so it is situated on the proper end to lead the return trip to Etowah in a couple of hours.  With switching completed, the train backs down a mile into Copperhill where passengers will detrain to enjoy shopping at various antique and retail stores or dine at one of the restaurants located in the community.  As we ease to a stop, we are just a hundred or so feet from another excursion train run by the Blue Ridge Scenic Railroad which runs from Blue Ridge, GA to Copperhill.

A rock cut near Farner

The vestibule provides a great view for these young boys

Another little boy enjoys watching the view from the rear platform

Inside one of the classic coaches

The GP7 engine runs around the train north of Copperhill

An interesting track arrangement where the engine crosses over to couple onto the rear of the train

The Hiwassee River Railroad excursion train has arrived in Copperhill, TN.  A Blue Ridge Scenic Railroad train from Blue Ridge, GA stands just behind our train.

The Blue Ridge Scenic Railroad excursion train at Copperhill.

    More information about Hiwassee River Railroad excursions is available at the link below.  Trips to Copperhill operate only on certain dates as most trains operate only as far as the loop.  It is worth noting that Etowah has only limited lodging though nearby Athens, TN, located along I-75 about 15 minutes northwest of Etowah, has a broader selection of hotels, restaurants, and shopping. 

Other Rail Attractions in the Region

    Numerous other railroad related attractions dot the Georgia/North Carolina/Tennessee region.  These can easily be combined into a circle trip that includes as many or as few of these as desired.  It is important to check the web sites provided below as most have varying days of operation.

    In western North Carolina Tweetsie Railroad features working steam locomotives on a three mile trek around a mountain outside Boone.  The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad offers a variety of trips along rivers and the Nantahala Gorge operating out of Dillsboro and Bryson City.  The Biltmore House in Asheville was the magnificent home of  rail baron Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt and the estate remains one of America's grandest mansions.

    Eastern Tennessee features a number of railroad related sights including the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum in Chattanooga, the Three Rivers Rambler in Knoxville, the Doe River Ministries camp and narrow gauge line near Hampton, and the Hiwassee River excursions.

    Northern Georgia features the Blue Ridge Scenic Railroad, the Southeastern Railway Museum outside Atlanta, and light rail lines on Atlanta's MARTA system.

For a Slide Show of all photos from this report in Large Format, Click Here.


Hiwassee River Rail Adventures (Etowah,TN To Copperhill)
Hiwassee River Rail Adventures (Etowah to The Loop)
Doe River Gorge Ministries (Hampton, TN)
Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum    (Chattanooga, TN)
Three Rivers Rambler (Knoxville, TN)
Secret City Scenic Excursion Train (Oak Ridge, TN)
Tweetsie Railroad (Boone, NC)
Great Smoky Mountain Railroad (Dillsboro, NC)
Georgia Aquarium (Atlanta, GA)
World of Coca Cola (Atlanta)  
Atlanta Braves Major League Baseball
MARTA Light Rail (Atlanta)  
Southeastern Railway Museum (Duluth, GA)
Blue Ridge Scenic Railroad (Blue Ridge, GA)

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