Telling stories

For the Love of Trains

Posted by southwrite on June 29, 2014

The northbound stack gliding through the Folkston funnel. (Photo: Dylan Jones)

The northbound stack gliding through the Folkston funnel. (Photo: Dylan Jones)

(The second  of a two part series on the romance of trains and trainwatching.)

Many people love trains, but for some it’s an obsession. (At least it might seem so to family members and by-standers with less passion for the big machines.)

Collecting model trains is a well-established hobby, but one of the most exciting aspects of trains is seeing the real thing – as up close and personal as possible.

If you like watching trains, there are many placed to see them. Across the country towns large and small have set aside viewing platforms and refurbished depots to accommodate the hobby of  trainwatching (or railfanning as some call it.)

That’s especially true in Georgia. Trains go through big cities and small towns alike. Atlanta, along with many other communities, owe their very existence to the railroad. Austell, Blue Ridge, Cartersville, Cordele, Macon, Marietta, Manchester, Savannah and a host of other cities are great train viewing locations. Few of these places are stops anymore, but many still offer the thrill of seeing a crossing guard fall and a long precession of metal come rumbling through.

While some regard trains as a nuisance – nobody likes waiting at a noisy crossing guard – some communities have embraced trains as a tourist attraction and created venues to make viewing easier and safer.

No place has done more to make itself a “railfan” capitol than the tiny town of Folkston on the Georgia border just 40 miles northwest of Jacksonville.

The viewing platform for train watchers in Folkston.

The viewing platform for train watchers in Folkston.  (Photo John A. Leynes)

Here two CSX lines from Savanna and Jesup merge to form the “Folkston Funnel” The tracks run parallel until they split again in Florida running toward Jacksonville and Baldwin. As many as 40 to 70 trains a day hurtle through town. The traffic includes Amtrack passenger trains and the “Tropicana Juice Train” with its loads of orange juice bound for America’s breakfast tables.

It makes for quite a spectacle and frequently blocks traffic although an overpass near the depot has eased transit.

The town’s old depot has been preserved and a few years ago the city built a covered viewing platform next to tracks in the center of town. It’s outfitted with lights, chairs and other amenities. A web cam even streams train images over the Internet.

Driven by word of mouth among fans, Folkston attracts thousands of people from across the country to watch the trains each year. It’s also been recognized with media coverage by press ranging from CBS News to the Wall Street Journal.

Locals say this fascination with trains also has a definite economic impact. Over the years the increased tourism has helped fuel the opening of new shops and restaurants.

In fact, it’s made this little town in South Georgia the closet thing to a trainwatching Mecca you’re likely to find.


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