Seaboard Air Line
Wilmington to Hamlet Terminal
This is a portion of our self-guided tour of today's CSX mainline from the Atlantic Ocean port of Wilmington, North Carolina, to Atlanta, Georgia. This route is that of the Seaboard Air Line, which is merely one part of many others which make up today's giant CSX railroad. Keep in mind, however, that the Seaboard Air Line was a major railroad in its own right, and this route was a vital component of the "Seaboard." The Introduction to the over-all tour is here. This segment stretches from the deepwater port of Wilmington to the Hamlet Terminal, East Junction, a distance of about 113 timetable miles. The entire segment is now complete.
Please note that the Hamlet terminal and Hamlet - Athens, GA, sections are finished, so you can do a continuous tour of about 368 miles. This may not sound like a lot of miles, but you can very easily do a full weekend trip along this route. If you want to do some comfortable, "wait-'til-they-come-to-me" train watching, you can spend far more than a weekend along this route.
As you start your tour, you're in the flat, relatively featureless coastal plain, and train-watching along this route is fairly easy, as most trains are v-e-r-y s-l-o-w, so take it easy and enjoy yourself. You'll see coal trains, merchandise trains for the Port, and several local trains. This may be the bucolic south and all that, but there is a lot of industry on this line, and it generates a lot of traffic. Actually, I suspect there is more rail traffic today here than at any time in recent years.
Contents And Navigation
Peter Furnee, CSX logo
SGT Robert A. Wukich, Sr., USMC, provided some clarifications, suggestions, and corrections in February, 2005.
Tony Hill, retired Frograil webmaster and content provider
Train Gifs. All train gifs used within this tour are from the Ed Bindler's train gifs site, which is here.
If you'd like to contribute to this, or any other tour, please contact me at email@example.com, and let me know what you'd like to do. We'll work together: You supply the data/info, and I'll do the HTML stuff and upload it. You'll get a chance to review the fruits of your efforts before the general public sees the finished product, so you can let me have your corrections, additions and changes.
The Railroad: Actually, you might consider this tour segment to be a tour of two different railroads, not because of geographic considerations, but because of traffic volumes. Between Wilmington and Pembroke, there are perhaps 4-8 trains per day, not including the large volume of industrial switching activity in and around the Port of Wilmington and nearby industries. Most of the Port and other industries are on ex-ACL trackage, and are not covered within this tour. From Pembroke to East Junction in Hamlet, traffic off the A-Line south from Rocky Mount joins the Hamlet - Wilmington line, and more than doubles the volume of traffic. Probably, 14-20 trains per day ply between Hamlet and Pembroke.
For the entire length of this 113 mile segment, you are in the Coastal Plain of North Carolina. The soil is sandy, pine trees predominate, and everything is almost dead flat. That makes for lots of swampy lowlands. While such lowlands can be seen almost everywhere along the way, the Cape Fear basin area of Wilmington, and the Lumber National and Scenic River near Lumberton, are quite spectacular, and certainly places worthy of a visit in and of themselves. Railfanning is really easy along most of the route, as the lack of hills necessitates neither cuts, fills, or curves. In fact, the longest continuous tangent (straight) track in the United States is between Old Hundred (MP SE261.99) and East Arcadia (MP SE340.85). Amazingly, 78.86 miles out of the total of 113 miles in this tour is a dead straight line!!
The swampy nature of the ground does make access to several parts of the line almost impossible, and the tour does not include any roads or cross-country excursions requiring 4-wheelers or helicopters. A sedan, pick-up or SUV will have no trouble anywhere along the route.
If you have not read the Introduction to Frograil's Tours, you should do so before you start out on this or any other tour. You will be in fairly remote places in at least a few instances, and you should be prepared with supplies, maps, and common sense. Go here to review the Frograil Tour Guide.
Life Support: In the far eastern part of the tour, once out of the Wilmington area, there are several areas that have no convenience stores, gas stations, etc. Before departing on the tour, it is suggested you fill tank and tummy, and not have to worry about such things. Beyond Clarkton life support is plentiful all the way to Hamlet. There are hospitals in Wilmington, Lumberton, and Hamlet. Between Wilmington and Hamlet, the best area for motels and decent restaurants is definitely in Lumberton, as I-95 goes through there.
Mapwork: While much of the tour is straightforward, the area between Wilmington and NC-211, some 30 miles or so, is downright bewildering. Roads are named by MapQuest and DeLorme differently, and when you get on the ground, the name may be different than both of them. Some obvious roads on the map do not exist on the ground, and you'll also see definite roads that do not exist on your maps. You must do your homework, and know where you need to go, before you hit the road. I definitely recommend you get a DeLorme Atlas & Gazetteer, study it before your trip, and copy pertinent pages for your field work. You can find information here about Railfan Maps that are available.
Wilmington, NC to Hamlet, NC -- Railfan sites:
Wilmington -- SAL Yard Location. The logical place to begin the tour is at the Seaboard Air Line's yard in Wilmington. This would be the easternmost point on the SAL in Wilmington, and would make an ideal jumping off point for this tour towards Atlanta. However, some history is in order. Both the Atlantic Coast Line and the Seaboard had relatively small, almost adjacent yards in the far northwest corner of Wilmington. As the consolidation from separate railroads through Seaboard Coast Line, through Family Lines, and finally (for now, anyway) to CSX Corporation, took place, there was a great degree of rationalization which took place. One very important item was the construction of Davis Yard, which was not only west, but across both the Cape Fear and Brunswick rivers, respectively.
Because of the presence of the new yard, you won't see any yard work or trackage here, but for historic purposes, it's a recommended spot. From the corner of Market Street (U.S. 17 Business), go north on 7th Street to Chestnut Street. Turn right on Chestnut, and after less than a block, turn left to go north on McRae Street. Go under the CSX tracks (ex-ACL), and continue north to a T at U.S. 117/NC-133. Take a left, and in a very short while, you'll go up and over a junction. If you look south, you'll see a distinct set of tracks going southeast, and two sets of tracks going southwest. The tracks going southwest are the ex-ACL tracks going south down along the Cape Fear River and the "old port." The southeast-heading tracks are those of the ex-SAL and ACL (shared trackage), which shortly entered the SAL yard, and carried the ACL just a little further east to its yard.
Take your first right past the overpass, and slither down towards the junction. Park close to the Yellow Cab facility and walk down to the tracks. Be careful, as there is all manner of dangerous stuff underfoot. Looking south under the underpass, you can see the junction, but all yard tracks are long gone. To the north the tracks (in the past, this was joint ACL/SAL trackage leading to crossings of both of the big rivers) lead to the crossing of the Cape Fear and Brunswick rivers. There really isn't much reason to try to do any railfanning here, as the sight lines aren't very good, the overpass is noisy, and you're trespassing. However, its advised to at least walk down and glimpse, if only for a few minutes, what was the most important junction in Wilmington for probably a full century.
Wilmington -- Terminal Road. Retrace your way back to U.S. 117/NC-133, and continue southwest. Follow the road as it curves around, and then follow the signs to the large bridge over the Cape Fear River (Parsley Street) and to U.S. 421/NC-133. Parsley Road will end at U.S. 421, and you need to turn right and go north on U.S. 421. Just before going up and over the tracks, you can turn right into South Terminal Road, but you can't get to the tracks from South Terminal because of a ditch (really a nasty moat). Therefore, go over the tracks on U.S. 421, and turn right onto North Terminal Road (Terminal Road is cut at the tracks, by the way, contrary to most maps). Viewing is excellent from the north, but the light is in your face all day. There is quite a bit of industrial activity in the area, and a scanner would be your good buddy here. Otherwise, you can spend a lot of time doing nothing, which is fine if you've got a good book, or just want to be away from humanity for a while. Incidentally, North Terminal Road has the darnedest road striping you have ever seen -- guaranteed.
Navassa. Get back on U.S. 421 headed south (back the way you came). In short order, you'll pass the battleship USS North Carolina (highly recommended tourist attraction -- WOW), and come to the large bridge that carries U.S. 17/74/76 over the broad Cape Fear River. Take the first exit (NC-133), but go north, rather than south onto NC-133, by turning right at the bottom of the ramp. Continue north until the second traffic light, which will be Navassa Road (there is a poorly maintained sign saying "Navassa"), and go right towards the tracks. When you get there, park off to the right on the south side of the tracks.
According to the DeLorme Atlas and Gazetteer, there should be two tracks here. The first is the ex-ACL peeling off to head towards Chadbourn, North Carolina, and Mullins, South Carolina. The Atlas is out-of-date, here, however, as this track is long gone. You'll notice a dirt road going to the east towards the industrial activity towards the river. This is the ex-ACL track site. Just to the east of here is where the joint ACL/SAL track, in years gone by, from Wilmington split to separate the two railroads.
This is an excellent railfan location -- a lawn chair and cooler spot. You can sit here and really unlax and enjoy a quiet, peaceful location, with an occasional train or two. Your scanner will be your friend here. If you look down the CSX (ex-SAL) tracks to the west, you'll see Davis Yard in the distance. You are at the best location for railfanning all traffic heading east out of Davis Yard. Be aware that the entire area is posted with warnings that remote control operations are in effect, so be alert.
Eastbrook -- Davis Yard. From the Navassa Road location, head back the way you came for less than 1/4 mile to take the road just south of the tracks westward. This is Old Mill Road. You will parallel the remnants of the ACL line towards Chadbourn. Perhaps a mile or so west of Navassa Road, you'll see a sign to the CSX yard on the right (north). There is a sign stating that this road is an emergency entrance only. You will also note that the ex-ACL tracks have magically re-appeared. The lead from the yard to the old ACL tracks was re-located when Davis Yard was built, and it eliminated half of a double track crossing via Navassa Road. You can drive in and take a look around, but the entire yard area is extremely well posted, and there is a bulk terminal (which means lots of in-a-hurry truck traffic whizzing about). Unless you want to ask for specific permission to watch trains at a specific location, it is not advisable for you to be here. [This is Mile Point (MP) SE359.0.]
Power is mostly 4-axle, 3,000 hp, GP40-2's, and there are plenty of cars in the yard, indicating a pretty active yard. Also, everything is very neat and orderly, so whoever runs the place knows how to run a business, apparently. The advice is to drive in, look to the right and the left, and drive out. This is not a railfan location.
Eastbrook -- Mt. Misery Road. Continue west on Old Mill Road. You will gradually be getting away from the railroad. At Lincoln Road in the crossroads of Leland, turn right and go north. Lincoln will end at Mt. Misery Road, and you'll turn right, and go north to the tracks. [By the way, how this road got its name is a mytery, because everything here is dead flat. There certainly is no "mount" misery!]
Cross the tracks, and park next to the road on either side. Walk back to the tracks. Immediately to the west of the crossing is a flange greaser. Immediately to the right of the crossing is a dirt road which follows the tracks as they open up into the western end of Davis Yard. Maybe 30 feet east of the crossing, a paved road crossing goes over the tracks, and continues on the north side of the tracks as a paved road. To the south of the dirt road is a parking area which would be a great place to sit and unobtrusively watch trains (with excellent photo light all day), but all to the east of the crossing is well posted. Here's a suggestion: Go to the yard office and ask for permission to park to the east of Mt. Misery Road. Explain that you'll stay well back from the tracks and south of the dirt CSX road. Who knows: The worst they can do is say no. If you're a shareholder, the suggestion is you write to the shareholder office and request permission for one day, during a specific period only, and you might get permission. All traffic in and out of Davis Yard from Hamlet enters the yard here.
Also of note is the U.S. 17 bypass will be coming through this area soon. Mt. Misery Road is supposed to receive a realignment and bridge. The old road will still be a railfan location, though.
Northwest -- Mt. Misery Road. Continue north on Mt. Misery Road, and you'll rapidly get away from the tracks. The road will make a rather long northwest - southwest arc as is goes well north of the tracks. This may be part of the longest tangent trackage in the United States, but that certainly doesn't apply to the roads we need to use to get trackside! Eventually, you'll get back to the tracks, but you want to park before crossing them. There is a (private) dirt road along the tracks, but it is narrow, so don't park there. The viewing is excellent from the south.
Riegelwood -- East. Just south of the crossing, continue straight from Mt. Misery, which turns into Northwest Road, and continue west. At the Columbus County line, this road again changes names to Fertilizer Road and after the county line, the first major road to the right (north) is Neils Eddy Road. You'll come on this road very quickly, and if you get to the Yield sign, you've gone too far. You will see a moderate-sized industrial plant in front of you, and over the top of that plant to the north west, you'll see the stacks of what is obviously a very large industrial facility. Go north (right) on Neils Eddy Road, and park anywhere at the crossing. There is a spur to the closest industrial plant, and really, really nice viewing from the southeast and southwest quadrants of the crossing.
Riegelwood. Continue west on Northwest Road, which ends at NC-87. Turn right on NC-87 traveling northwest. You will cross the tracks, and you will see the east end of a siding to the west. Immediately over the tracks in the northeast quadrant is the tiny station for "East Columbus". This is now a public library, and has an old boxcar, a speeder and a speeder trailer. There is a dirt road which you can use to walk down to the tracks. Just east of here is a complete wye giving access to the huge International Paper mill just north of here, but there are trees close to all track areas, so this is not a railfan location.
There is an important piece of history is crossed over just before reaching NC-87. The abandoned tracks that are cut off just after crossing Fertilizer Road are the remants of the old ACL access tracks that connected Federal (now International) Paper with the Wilmington-Florence line near the intersection of U.S. 74 and NC-87. The track just north of where the diamond was is still a locomotive storage track to be out of the way of the wye. The old CSX building there is a former crew facility, which was just replaced with a manufactured singlewide portable office building. The area is well marked with "No Trespassing" signs. Thanks to aron McLamb for this June 2013 update.
Acme. As you leave Riegelwood, you'll see the road to the mill itself off to the right. It's not obvious that this is the road into the mill, but there is a sign at the traffic light on the left stating such, however. Do not take it, but continue west and you will shortly come to Old Lake Road on the left. Turn onto Old Lake, and you'll head back towards the tracks. Before getting to them, however, you'll notice more International Paper facilities. Old Lake Road will swing towards the west and there will be a wye, with Federal Road continuing straight, which crosses the tracks and enters the plant.
Continue along Old Lake until you reach the crossroads of Acme. There is a school here, Acme-Delco school. Go south (left) on Sand Hole Road and cross the tracks. Dubar Street is to the left, but is narrow, and you need to park elsewhere. There is excellent viewing all along the early part of Dubar Street. MP 344 is just east of Sand Hole Road, and the Acme defect detector is at MP 343.9, just west of Sand Hole Road.
Armour. Get back up to Old Lake and continue west. You'll soon have to take a 90° turn left (south), and then another 90° turn right (west) after crossing the tracks. This takes you through the Armour area and to a stop sign at NC-11. You can turn right onto NC-11 and take it to the tracks, but the crossing is not a railfan location.
East Arcadia. Continue west on Old Lake Road. You'll pass Woodyard Road, which has a crossing with the railroad, but it's not a railfan location. You'll pass Bryant Road, and the next real road to the north (Unmarked in March 2001, and unnamed by DeLorme) you want to take to the tracks. This is the east end of the East Arcadia siding. The southwest quadrant has just been logged, so should give good viewing for a few years, and there is a dirt road on the southeast quadrant which gives good photo access. At this point, the railroad continues in a straight line for 78.86 miles -- the longest tangent trackage in the United States
Rosindale. Beyond East Arcadia, Old Lake Road steadily goes farther away from the tracks, until it finally intersects with NC-211 well to the south. When you hit NC-211, you will not see a sign on Old Lake Road. You have to look to the right to see the NC-211 marker. Turn right on NC-211 and travel back towards the northwest. Eventually you'll get back to the tracks. When you get to the tracks, NC-211 turns 45° to the west, crosses Elwell Ferry Road, and then parallels the tracks. Elwell Ferry road is at the first curve NC-211 after turning onto it from Old Lake Road.
After a little less than 4 miles, you'll come to Rosindale Road. Take a right and head (slowly) towards the tracks. Note the property on your right. This must have been quite a lovely place at one time. Even though overgrown today, some of the trees are magnificent, and the building, while primitive and very old, must have been the grandest for many a mile. The crossing itself is pretty good for photos. This is the end of the "Bladenburg DTC Block" and the beginning of the "Rosindale DTC Block."
Emerson. From NC-211, go north on White Plains Church Road. Note that "Emerson" is shown on the DeLorme Atlas, but White Plains Church Road is not! The crossing itself is so-so at best, with viewing from the south as poor, but the north offers good views, but poor lighting. The Rosindale defect detector is all of 30 fee to the southwest of the crossing.
Elkton. As you continue west on NC-211, you'll pass Elkton Road and Bluefield Road, both of which cross the tracks, and are alright if you have to get trackside in a hurry, but they really don't offer much in the way of a decent photo location.
Clarkton. This is the first real town we've encountered since leaving Wilmington, and I hope you got plenty of food, drink and fuel back there, because Clarkton is pretty small. What it lacks in size, however, it more than makes up in railfan pleasure. As you come into town on NC-211, take any street to the right and go north to the tracks. There are streets (named North Railroad and South Railroad) which parallel the tracks pretty much through the entire town. Further, as you leave town to the west, South Railroad Street becomes a semi-primitive street which follows the tracks another 1/2 - 3/4 mile to past Clarkton and the to a joining with NC-211.
Almost any place through the entire town is a great place to set up the lawn chairs, get out the coolers, and let the kids run around. You'll want to use your scanners here, of course, cuz there aren't a whole lot of trains.
Abbottsburg. Continuing west on NC-211, you are still on the south side of the tracks, but at Abbottsburg, you will cross them. However, just to the south of the crossing, Bradshaw road goes off to your left (southwest). This is a dirt road, and offers excellent viewing virtually any time of day, except perhaps for early morning westbounds.
Bladenburg -- Elm Street. As you continue west on NC-211, you'll come into Bladenboro, and will see NC-211 bear off to the northwest. Instead, take NC-211Business into town. At 4th Street, turn left, and go south over the tracks. Then, take an immediate left onto Elm Street, and drive to the beginning of a siding. This is the west end of the Bladenburg siding (MP SE311.2). It is also the end of Butters DTC Block, and the start of the Bladenboro DTC Block. There is pretty good viewing all along here.
Bladenburg -- Station Area. Retrace your drive back to 4th Street, go back over the tracks, and then take your first left onto Railroad Street. Go through the "downtown" to the small station (now the magistrate's office), and park. This is a fairly odd looking station, but J. Kelly Baldwin, a 40-year resident of the town, informs us that what you are looking at was the freight warehouse. It was connected to the larger passenger portion of the station, complete with white and colored waiting rooms. Mr. Baldwin states: "Mr. Woodie Hilburn was the agent and I can see him right now using the telegraph." To the immediate west of the station, past the fence, is a large, open area. This is a nice place to get out the lawn chairs, coolers and picnic lunches, as the kids run their little legs off.
Life support has been very sparse ever since leaving Wilmington, and you and your spouse may be getting on each others' nerves right about now. Also, Betsy may be running out of gas. There is a gas station, pizza place, and small grocery store on the west end of Bladenburg, and, while I don't know for sure, I expect the NC-211 bypass may have quite a bit more to offer. Be that as it may, we're getting pretty close to Lumberton, so hang on there, Sloopy!
Leaving the station area, you will come to the end of Railroad Street, and need to turn right onto Ash Street, which will take you to Seaboard Street (you gotta love the name!). Take a left on Seaboard, which is NC-211Business, and continue west through town. As you leave the town, the road will veer to the northwest from the tracks. If there aren't a lot of leaves, etc, you can see the MP308 sign at this point.
Allenton. As you continue west on NC-211, you encounter yet another confusing facet of the DeLorme vs on-the-ground geography. The crossroads community of Allenton is supposed to have a fairly major road named "Burnt Island Road." We totally missed it. On the other hand, a road which did not show south of NC-211, "Old Allentown Road" did exist, and took us down to the tracks. While the crossing is non-descript and not a railfan site, the medium sized, white building on the northwest quadrant of the crossing was fascinating. What was that building? Station, general store, school, or what? Please e-mail me via the Frograil home page if you know.
Lumberton -- Weatherspoon Plant. Continue on NC-211, somewhat away from the tracks, into the eastern part of Lumberton. In the east edge of town Carolina Power and Light has a power plant, named the "Weatherspoon Power Plant." From the junction of NC-72 and NC-211 in the southeast quadrant of town, go south on NC-72, cross the CSX main, and almost immediately turn left (east) on Old Whiteville Road. After about 3/4's of a mile, you'll cross the tracks leading down to the power plant (forget trying to get into the plant itself -- Fort Knox would be easier). There is obviously a lot of traffic in and out of here, but the best way to fan the interesting unit movement, is to simply be there and use your scanner. When it's time, it's time. The junction of the Wilmington Subdivision and the CP&L lead is MP SE297.2.
Retrace your steps back to NC-72, and go back north over the tracks. Take your first left (west), which is, again, Old Whiteville Road. You'll enter a quiet neighborhood, and the drill here is to simply keep turning left to stay ever closer to the tracks. You'll see more and more industrial trackage as you drive west. While many of the industries between NC-72 and the downtown Lumberton area are defunct, there are a few which seem to be booming, and require significant numbers of railcars. [NOTE: A bulldozer is a mighty asset to community planning, if you ask your friendly webmaster, and this comment is certainly not limited to Lumberton!]
You can keep schlepping westward, using your railfan nose, or you can turn north (right) on almost any street to B Avenue. Turn left on B, and you'll swing to the north and become Rozier Street. From Rozier, turn left (west) on Coree, and go to Chippewa. Take a left (south) on Chippewa, and find a place to park near the tracks. Here is the site of the old CP&L lead (long gone) to the power plant, as well as the lead to the branch line to St. Pauls and Duart. You'll probably want to walk around here, as the old and current tracks trace a fascinating web of interest for any railfan: Where were these tracks going? Why were these tracks here? Are these tracks still in use? This is railfanning at its most basic, and is something we should do more often. Have a good map here, and spend some time. You'll be rewarded.
Lumberton -- Downtown. Go back to your car and drive north on Chippewa to East 1st Street. Turn left (west) and go to Walnut, and turn left (south) and drive over the tracks and park. You'll note two signs on the tracks looking west which read: "Begin Grady DTC Block" and "End Norton DTC Block." To the west, at the intersection of the tracks and the next major street (Chestnut, which is one-way north) is the station, which is modern, and rather utilitarian in appearance. The station is MP 297.2. There is a local job based here, and you'll frequently see a GP40-2 or some such engine idling here, close to the cement plant. Further east, you'll see some storage tracks.
All along here, remember, street direction and this that and the other thing may change, but the railroad does not. This is still part of the longest stretch of straight track in the United States. Everyone knows this, but if you keep it in mind, it will make your railfan efforts much simpler. Sometimes we make railfanning more complicated than it should be!
Lumberton -- Lumber River. The Lumber River is a designated Natural and Scenic River or some such thing, but make no mistake about it, it is really special. First of all, everything down here is flat, so swampy areas abound. The Lumber kinds of snakes from one swampy area to the next. What's more, the river itself is almost jet black -- it's like no river most of us have ever seen. It's more evocative of the Okefenokee than North Carolina, and it's really worth some study. Here's a place to study the river, and catch the occasional train, to boot.
From the SAL station downtown, go north on Chestnut to 3rd Street (NC-41/NC-72), and turn left (west) on 3rd. Continue on NC-72 as if you were going out of Lumberton. When you cross the Lumber River, there is an embankment to the south of the tracks, running along the river, for "artsy" photos. Park anywhere along here and walk to the south of the tracks. Besides the river area itself, there are lots of off-railroad areas for good pix. Trains tend to crawl through here, so don't feel like you have to rush.
Lumberton -- Tyner Road Siding. Continue west on NC-72, and stay on it as NC-711 branches off to the southwest. We'll be on NC-711 in a little while. As you leave the town itself, you'll cross the tracks, and as you get out into more of the countryside, you'll cross them a second time. At this latter crossing, there will be a Budweiser Grey Eagle beer distributorship on the southwest quadrant of the crossing, and a Willamette Industries corrugated products plant on the northeast quadrant. Willamette is a big railroad customer.
Your next real intersection past the crossing is at Pine Log Road, and you want to go left (south). Shortly, you'll come back to the tracks. Turn right (west) on Tyner Road, and drive along the tracks to Lowe Road. Between Pine Log and Lowe Road is a relatively short passing siding of about 1/2 mile in length. The east end of the siding is at milepost 292. It is not on the station list I've got, but the rails indicate that it's obviously in regular use. There are locals through here, so that's logical. Obviously, if you see a local in the hole here, something is about to happen. There's a large, apparently fallow field south of the tracks, so photography should be quite good here.
At the corner of Tyner and Lowe Road, a tee intersection, turn left (south) on Lowe, and you'll shortly come to NC-711. Take a right (west) and drive on into Pembroke. In the town, NC-711 is Third Street.
Pembroke -- A-Line Crossing. As you enter from the east on Third Street, you really have no inkling of what's in front of you until you're right on top of it all. Here, from the north, all north-south CSX traffic comes down the CSX A-Line from Richmond, and goes in one of two directions: Continuing south to Charleston, Savannah and Jacksonville, or heading west to Hamlet/Charlotte/Atlanta. Of course, our tour will take us further along the tracks these latter trains take, as we're on our way to Hamlet, Monroe and Atlanta, but first, we need to talk about this fascinating town and railroad attraction.
Pembroke is considered by many to be an Indian town, and in fact, the first college for American Indians was established here. Over the years, the college grew and prospered, and is now the University of North Carolina at Pembroke. It is an important economic and cultural asset for the entire region. Lumbee indians still make up a substantial portion of the student body.
The town itself is historically draped around the crossing, and the crossing and the adjacent trackage is, by far, the most important geographic feature in the town. There are probably 60 or more trains a day through here, so the residents are seldom more than a few minutes away from horns, bells and trains. The town is small, some 2,300 souls, so it's easy to imagine how the railroad and it's activity dominate the whole town. That said, however, you seldom see a stopped train here for very long, as there is no yard or even siding trackage here. Why?
Before CSX, this was the crossing of the Seaboard Air Line Wilmington - Hamlet main line and the Atlantic Coast Line's Richmond - Jacksonville main line. These railroads were fierce competitors, and both had other lines to get to north - south or east - west. Therefore, this crossing was that and only that: A crossing.
The crossing itself is reached by continuing west on Third Street, going over the tracks (this is the A-Line just south of the actual crossing), and then turning right (north) on Main Street, which ends at the crossing. The crossing is slightly elevated here, and you may have to park on the opposite side of Main, but pictures are probably going to be OK. You will, however, miss the Richmond - Hamlet traffic, as it diverges from the A-Line north of here, and joins the Wilmington - Hamlet line a few blocks west of here. This is a small town, but not one you can zoom around in while chasing trains. There are better places in town to see trains.
PembrokeJunction -- North. The actual junction is best reached by going back over the tracks on Third Street, and turning left (north) on Union Chapel Road. Union Chapel will cross the Wilmington line, and parallel the A-line north. Between the street and the railroad is a grassy, maintained area with some decorative trees. The area between the trees and the tracks is well posted, close to the tracks, and the trains (especially Amtrak) can be very fast. Railfanning is therefore not recommended. Continue north on Union Chapel, pass West Wardell Street, and the area will open up a little. If you want morning pix of the combined A-line and Hamlet traffic, this might be the place, but it's outside the scope of this tour. We need to get back to Wilmington - Hamlet.
As you go north on Union Chapel, go left (west) on West Wardell, cross the tracks, and then go south on your first left. This is Bonnie Street, but there will probably be no sign. You are on the west side of the A-Line here, and the junction is just a little south. The tracks are fairly elevated here, and there is an industrial strength ditch between the road and the tracks, so here's what you want to do: If at all possible, drive a van or pick-up. Sit on the top of the van or in the bed of the truck, after parking on the right (west) side of the street. With some prior thought and a little effort, you could even build a platform over the sides of a pick-up or the top of a van. Bonnie is a very quiet street, and even becomes a dirt road just south of the junction.
Pembroke -- UNCP. We're now going to get back on our Wilmington - Hamlet tour, but first, you need to keep a few things in mind. From here west, the traffic levels have gone from several trains a day east of Pembroke to as many as 20-24 per 24 hours. This line was historically a fairly lightly traveled railroad, because the north-south traffic went from Columbia/Florence/Atlanta through Hamlet, and on to Raleigh/Petersburg/ Richmond. When CSX cut that route (as being "redundant") north of Norlina, the traffic coming down the A-Line and then on to Hamlet ballooned immediately. During the 1990's the traffic continued to grow, and the Conrail merger has added even more traffic.
Today, this is a single track line with only two sidings between Pembroke and Hamlet -- a distance of 30 miles. Further, these 2 sidings are entered and left at 5 mph. This is a very, very slow piece of railroad, and it appears to be either at, or above, capacity. There have been discussions between Virginia, North Carolina and CSX about reopening the Petersburg - Norlina line north of Raleigh, and allowing Amtrak, NCDOT, VDOT, and CSX intermodals all to use the line. This is the long term solution to the capacity problem on the Wilmington Subdivision, but without a commitment by all concerned fairly soon, CSX is going to have to do some major work between Hamlet and Pembroke.
On Bonnie Street, continue south until it ends and goes 90° to the right (west). Continue until you reach Vance, and turn left (south) and go over the tracks. This is approximately the point where the trains leaving the A-Line join the Wilmington Subdivision. Take your first right, and go west -- you'll be south of the tracks. You'll soon be joined by NC-711, and you'll see large parking lots which are part of the university. Don't park here, as you need a UNCP sticker. However, just west of here is a broad, mown, open area between NC-711 and the tracks. This is an excellent place to watch Wilmington - Hamlet trains. You'll not get the traffic on the A-Line, of course, but who cares? This is a lovely place for a family picnic, or where several buddies can meet and swap ridiculous railfan lies.
Maxton. Continue west on NC-711, which will leave the tracks and veer to the south. After a few miles, NC-710, will go off in an even more southerly direction. Take NC-710, which will take you shortly to U.S. 74. Take a right on U.S. 74, and head west towards Maxton. As you approach town, the Maxton/Laurinburg by-pass will go off to the north. Don't take it -- stay on U.S. 74Business into town. This street will be East Saunders Street. At 5th Street, go right (north) to Central Street. Central parallels the railroad all the way through town. Take your time and enjoy this drive. As you go through town, the white building with the "Maxton, NC" sign on it was the SAL freight station, and further along, you'll see the lovely SAL passenger station on your right. Continue right on through town, go south one block at the west end, and get back on U.S. 74Business.
Between Maxton and Laurinburg, you'll hug the tracks (which are to the north). This is a great drive, and remember, the trains here are generally very slow, so if you see a headlight, you'll probably have plenty of time to find a good photo location well off the road.
Laurinburg -- East Laurinburg. As you approach Laurinburg, you'll see a huge industrial complex south of U.S. 74Business. This is obviously a railroad customer, but it's on your left, and the tracks are to the right. What's going on? Besides the fact that the CSX Wilmington Subdivision bisects the town east - west, Laurinburg also hosts the short line Laurinburg & Southern Railroad. LSR has a lot of industrial business in the area, and interchanges with the CSX, of course, but it's best known as a lessor of second-hand switch engines. More on that later, but as we come into town, it's important to keep the various tracks identified so we know what's going on.
As you enter town, U.S. 74Business will swing slightly southwest, away from the tracks, and become Andrew Jackson Street. You want to continue straight next to the tracks on Railroad Street. All along here, you will have noticed a two track "yard" which is for local CSX customer traffic and LSR interchange. Just after Andrew Jackson splits off, you'll cross the connecting track from the LSR. This area is on the map as "East Laurinburg," but apparently is now part of Laurinburg. At the center of East Laurinburg, the name of Railroad Street becomes Commonwealth Avenue. As you continue westward, you'll come to an interesting industrial complex, and be forced away from the tracks for a short distance. However, the area where Commonwealth tees into South Caledonia is a good place to catch a train.
Laurinburg -- Caledonia Road. At this intersection, Caledonia runs NE-SW. Just before turning onto Caledonia, cross to the south side of Commonwealth and park in the gravel parking area. To your immediate south are the LSR tracks, and they're well used. To your right, and just north of Commonwealth is the CSX Wilmington Sub. If you know a train on either line is moving in the area, or is coming into the area, you're almost certain to catch it here. This is a busy location, and with three busy streets in the area, it's not an ideal place to watch trains. The lure of the LSR is powerful, however, and the places you can photograph it are limited.
Do you remember that there was an "interesting industrial complex" ahead? Well, here's what I was talking about...
Laurinburg -- L & S area. Normally, I try to stick to the railroad line being toured, but this is within a block of the CSX, and no visit to Laurinburg would be complete without taking a look at this menagerie. At the corner of Commonwealth and South Caledonia, go south (left) on S. Caledonia. Take the first right, which is McKay Street, and then the next right (north) on James Street. All along this route, pay attention to what's on your right. You'll see a rather amazing collection of switch engines -- it's a veritable museum. These are the engines which LSR leases out to elevator complexes, short lines, and other industrial customers. Access is a little difficult, but there is some photo possibility through the fencing. Better yet, find a human or an office, and ask for permission.
Continuing north on James Street, you'll cross the CSX Wilmington Sub, and James will end in another part of the LSR. Here, the line going up to Raeford has left the CSX interchange area, and is heading north. You'll often find an engine or two, or at least parts of them!
Laurinburg -- West. Go back south across the CSX tracks, and turn right (west) on Railroad Street. Warning: MapQuest, and perhaps other maps, do not show this street, but it goes all the way to the U.S. 15/U.S. 401/U.S. 501 By-Pass. As you drive west along the tracks, in the far west part of town, there is a large, off-property area between the street and the tracks. This is an excellent place to watch trains, and it's a place for the lawn chairs and coolers. Bring the kids and let 'em run around and have fun. This is the best railfan location in Laurinburg.
Railroad Street will continue all the way to the service road on the west side of the By-Pass. At this intersection, turn right (north), and cross the tracks. As you cross the tracks, look to your left, and you'll see the east end of the Elmore siding. There are no signals, so you kind of have to know it's there. Trains enter and leave at 5 mph, so if you see a train in the hole, find a good place to the east, north of Railroad Street, and relax. Things seldom happen fast here.
For shopping, motels, restaurants, and about everything else you need, go here: From the intersection of either service road and Railroad Street, head south to Sneads Grove Road, and get on the By-Pass going north. The By-Pass will meet U.S. 74 in a couple of miles, and you'll find all the commercial establishments you could want.
Laurel Hill. From the intersection of Railroad Street and the east service road at the By-Pass, go south on the service road to U.S. 74Business. Take a right (west), and continue on. The tracks will be hard on your right most of the way to Laurel Hill. As you come into the village, a Hardees will be on your left, and a gas station on your right. Immediately past the gas station is Church Street. Take a right (north) onto Church, cross the tracks, and park. This is a really pretty little town, and this location is a nice place to see the trains on the Wilmington Sub.
Your kids have room to run around here, but it is noisy, as it's very close to U.S. 74. One piece of advice. If you see a headlight to the east, go over to Hardees, get a couple of sandwiches, eat them, wash up, and come on back. The train will probably be getting close by then.
Continue west on U.S. 74, and you'll be fairly close to the railroad all the way to Hamlet. However, the coastal plain, which has been your railfanning friend all the way from the Atlantic Ocean, is ending at Hamlet, and the railfanning will immediately get much more difficult. In fact, even though you're very close to the tracks as you enter Hamlet, you'll not be able to easily get to them. At the eastern edge of Hamlet, we approach East Junction, and the Hamlet Terminal. This is the end of our tour from Wilmington, and the end of the CSX Wilmington Subdivision. To continue the tour westward, go here.