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  Trip Report: Georgia and Florida 2007 - Chapter 6
  A Day at the Folkston Funnel
Wednesday, 31 Jan 2007
  From: Georgia and Florida 2007
Dates: 7 Feb 2007 Author: Nathan Holmes

Since on Wednesday, 31-Jan-2007, I only had about a half day before needing to head to JAX for the flight home, I decided to stop at the famous Folkston Funnel. Folkston, a small town about four miles north of the GA-FL border on US 1, is one of the premier CSX hotspots of the south. All north-south CSX traffic going in or out of Florida passes through this point before the two former ACL routes diverge going north - one northwest to Waycross and Atlanta, and the other up the Atlantic seaboard via Jesup and Savannah.

The fine city of Folkston has traditionally billed itself as the "Gateway to the Okefenokee Swamp," but several years back they recognizing that railfans were also naturally drawn to town. As such, they started promoting themselves to folks like us as well. The centerpiece of this is a viewing platform, constructed in 2001 on the east side of the tracks with an excellent view of the line. The platform has lights, fans, a built-in scanner with very good reception, and wireless internet access - particularly handy for reading Trainorders or loading up ATCSMon to figure out what's coming your way. Once the sun moves through its zenith and trains become backlit from the platform, you can migrate to a park behind the old station, about half a block north and on the other side of the tracks. You won't get that killer calendar shot from Folkston, but it's a friendly, relaxing, comfortable place to watch trains where fans are welcome, and there's plenty of CSX action to keep anyone entertained. Plus, it's only 34 miles north of Jacksonville International Airport, so it's a great place to blow part of a day while you're waiting on your flight home. Remember they do this to attract more tourism, so be sure to drop a little money in town - lunch, gas, etc - to provide something in return for creating such a great place to watch trains.

The platform has actually had quite a bit of press coverage. Of the folks that stopped by while I was there, only three were really hard-core railfans. The rest were either curious as to what it was, or had a casual interest in trains and had seen mention of it either in USA Today or other major newspapers (such as here), or had seem a blurb done on CBS Sunday Morning back in May 2006. The Okefenokee Chamber of Commerce even promotes on it their website. It's great to see a town that not only recognizes railfans but actively welcomes them as a form of tourist.

'Twas a bit cold the day I visited, though, so I'd have to recommend going some time a bit warmer. The frequency of trains more than made up for it, though, and only in the couple of lulls did I really notice that I was freezing. I guess that's a lesson for next time - bring something with long sleeves, and bring more than just a light jacket. In the five hours I was there, I managed to catch 22 trains. Trains down here will call out their symbol and lead motor as they call out signal indications. It comes in very handy for identifying trains, and now I finally understand how you Easterners seem to know the symbol of every train that runs past you. There are also detectors on both sides of Folkston, and they're very loud and annoying on the platform scanner speakers, but at least there's pretty much no chance you'll miss a train. If that doesn't rattle you out of your slumber, there are grade crossings on each side that will trigger before you can actually see the train from the platform. Just wait for the bells, if the horn and radio chatter don't wake you up. I've included a sampling of what I managed to photograph - both in terms of trains and a few interesting freight cars that went past the platform.



Photo 91
Folkston, Georgia - home of the famous "Folkston Funnel", where nearly all CSX traffic for Florida (northbound and southbound) funnels down to one double track route. The town built this railfan platform in 2001 with a state grant.
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Photo 92
Literally within minutes of arriving in Folkston on Wednesday morning, CSXT 673 and 612 showed up with a southbound stacker
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Photo 93
Next up is Q601 at 0946h, led by CSXT 9033.
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Photo 94
Trailing behind 9033 on Q601 is SD40-2 #8394 in "dark future" paint
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Photo 95
At 1001h, this is the Silver Meteor, Amtrak train 97, running over two hours late.
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Photo 96
I didn't catch the symbol on this one, but it's lead by 5338 and nipping on Amtrak's heels - it's only about three minutes behind.
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Photo 97
This is one of the very few YN1 painted units that I've ever seen (CSXT 7588)
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Photo 98
At 1013h, here's CSX 333, 772, and 465 with a southbound coal train.
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Photo 99
Probably about half of this train consisted of these freshly painted 70-ton hoppers. These things look *good*.
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Photo 100
Here's Q155 southbound through town at 1017h. Power on the front is CSXT 7863, trailed by CSXT 7922 (an ex-LMS unit)
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Photo 101
It's a southbound Herzog ballast train, lead by CSXT 8060 and CSXT 43 at 1034h.
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Photo 102
If I got my scribblings correct, this is Q456 northbound through Folkston.
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Photo 103
I know, I know, I promise I'll stop showing you photos of the trailing units. This one's special, though. It's an ex-BC Rail unit (BCOL 740), and thus to me is a bit like seeing an old friend. I really do miss the BCR...
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Photo 104
A father and son look on as a southbound stacker slides through town at 1109h. They were some of quite a few folks dropping by the platform over the course of the day.
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Photo 105
Traffic slowed up a bit, with nearly an hour between CSXT 7562 south and this southbound coal train, lead by CSXT 543, 526, and 8508.
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Photo 106
Here comes another hot freight with CSXT 9006 up front. The train is mostly stacks, but up front are a few returning Tropicana refrigerated cars.
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Photo 107
Here's a better look at one of the Tropicana cars. These are used to haul fresh juice out of Florida plants.
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Photo 108
Another southbound manifest at 1240h, this one lead by CSXT 7377, an ex-Conrail 8-40CW.
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Photo 109
At 1302h, I notice the light is really getting unusuable from the platform when CSXT 678 north arrives.
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Photo 110
Before I can get moved over to the park on the west side (behind the old depot), more trains show up. Here's CSXT 140 and 33 southbound with a coal train at 1309h.
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Photo 111
And at 1320h, these odd visitors show up - a pair of Canadian National SD75Is (5773 and 5754) lead Q237-29.
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Photo 112
After the CNs, I finally decide to get off my butt and switch sides. I didn't get much of a break between trains - this is Q121 with CSXT 635, 7327, and 7553 in the lead. The signals in the background control the double track junction that brings together the lines from Waycross and Jesup.
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Photo 113
As 635 is passing, CSXT 4824 comes up from the south, for a meet right in front of the railfan platform.
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Photo 114
A few minutes before, a logging truck had torn off the gate at the Martin Street crossing and screwed up the signal a bit. The other guys at the platform called it in (I didn't see it from my position), and within minutes there was a maintainer on site fixing it and all trains were getting a form EC1 slow order. This guy is just barely creeping through town.
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Photo 115
You don't see many of these - four truck (eight axle) tank cars. Big tankers are one of my favorite freight car oddities - learn all about them on Mike Palmieri's RailWhales site.
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Photo 116
Next up is what I believe was V109, lead by CSXT 395 at 1413h.
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Photo 117
395 passes the Folkston watertower, proclaming its claim to fame as the "Gateway to the Okefenokee". They're really going to have to add "Railfan Mecca of the Southeast".
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Photo 118
At 1432h, another ex-LMSX 8-40CW comes by with K939 in tow. This is a wider view of the park behind the old depot, just a block down from the platform.
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Photo 119
It's now nearly 1515h, and I really need to be heading for the airport in Jacksonville to catch my flight home. I decide to stay for just one more, though. Here it is, the last train of my stop at Folkston, lead by CSXT 5396 and two trailing BNSF SD40-2s.
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Photo 120
One last shot of the northbound passing the platform in the background.
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Creative Commons License This work is copyright 2007 by Nathan D. Holmes (maverick@drgw.net), but licensed under a Creative Commons License. This allows and encourages others to copy, modify, use, and distribute my work for non-commercial purposes (only), without the hassle of asking me for explicit permission or fear of copyright violation. I encourage others to consider CC or other Open Content-style licensing of their original works.

All photographs in this trip report were taken with a Canon EOS 20D using either a Canon 24-105mm F4 L IS/USM or a Canon 75-300mm f4-5.6 IS/USM.