In addition to model railroading, many of our members like to take advantage of any of several sites around Birmingham that are excellent for train watching. Listed below are several of these sites, along with Google maps to the sites, aerial photos and some pictures by local SCD members to show you just how close you can get to the action. Click on any image on this page to enlarge it.
Sitting beside the Norfolk Southern mainline headed west out of Birmingham is the Bessemer Hall of History, located in the former AGS Depot in Bessemer. The museum presents the history of the area through photographs, machinery, books and many other artifacts. Adjacent to the main depot is the “1,000,000th Freight Car” built by the Pullman Standard Company and which is now home to an HO scale model railroad depicting Bessemer in 1948. The layout was built by the Wrecking Crew Model RR Club of Birmingham.
The 21st and 22nd Street viaducts in downtown Birmingham cross over the Norfolk Southern and CSX mainlines in what was once called the 'Railroad Reservation'. You can park on either bridge (there are parking meters) and watch the trains run under you. If your timing is right you may see one of the Crescents at the Amtrak Station from the 21st Street bridge. If they are on time one should be there around 11:50am or 2:25pm.
Sloss Furnace as a great place to tour, but it's also an ideal train watching spot. It is about a mile east of the 21st Street downtown location. The entrance road parallels the Norfolk Southern mainline and the parking lot is next to the "diamonds" where the NS and CSX mainlines cross. In addition to watching trains from the Sloss parking lot, another good spot is across the tracks from the main Sloss entrance on 32nd Street.
Another excellent spot is the west entrance to Norfolk Southern's Norris Yard. It has a covered veiwing platform that is across the street from the Irondale Cafe - made famous in the movie Fried Green Tomatos as the Whistlestop Cafe. There is a second platform across the tracks next to the red Southern caboose on display.
The next two spots are a little out of the way, but may be well worth the trip.
The first is in the small town of Helena, also called Old Town Helena. It is south of Birmingham and Hoover on State Road 261, also know as Helena Road. The CSX mainlines from Montgomery and Atlanta pass within 400 yards of each other. These lines merge about 4 miles further north before going into Birmingham . The Atlanta main is north of Buck Creek and the Montgomery line is just south of the creek and passes right next to town. The best place to watch is from the old L&N display caboose across from the Depot Restaurant next to the Montgomery tracks.
The last place on our list is Leeds, AL. It is east of Birmingham just off I-20 coming from Atlanta. In downtown Leeds is the the Leeds Historic Depot, home of the Mid-South chapter of the Railroad & Locomotive Historical Society. The Norfolk Southern mainline between Birmingham and Atlanta passes within feet of the depot. This is the same line that passes by Norris Yard and you would see the same trains, but these will be going at normal speed. You can watch from the deck outside the depot.
If you have a favorite train watching spot in the Steel City Division area that is not listed above, please contact our Webmaster and send us some information about it. Please include the address and any photos you may have.