Homeless Trains in Atlanta

What happens to trains when they are no longer needed? Planes go to airplane graveyards, cars get recycled (unless they are in the deep south, in which case they might just rust in the front yard!), but what about trains?

At the Southeastern Rail Museum in Atlanta, Georgia, homeless trains that are no longer in service are open to the public for touring and exploring. Many of these rail cars sit in the open and continue to slowly decay through the harsh Atlanta summer.

I love photographing trains and I love photographing abandoned things, so a visit to the rail museum seemed like a must-do trip. I packed up my camera and headed out on the best day of the year for such adventures - Black Friday!

While the majority of Americans were canvasing department stores for the best deals of the season, I walked through 30 acres of abandoned rail cars, searching for the stories that each car held. Some cars were passenger cars during the 40s and might have carried troops in World War II. Other cars were more modern and designed for freight. Each car, however, held one thing in common - they were all homeless and these cars would never be used to travel across America ever again. 

I mentioned seeking out the stories that each car held - stories from their past travels. Let's explore some of the stories I found:

This freight car, used by the Southern rail company, was rusting, decaying, and was sitting in a field of tall grasses. It seemed like a sad funeral for a car that had probably transported goods across this country for a number of years. This car caused me to pause and debate how this one car impacted the American economy before it retired. I thought this print really symbolized the retirement of this car in the dense grass field.

As you can see, this was a beautiful day to be outside and the sky was a rich blue. The colors of these abandoned rail cars really popped to me against the bright sky but I wanted to capture a series of cars and colors. Rather than do a typical panorama, I took this one by walking. This print is actually a series of six photos stitched together as I walked parallel to the rail cars. The texture really spoke of a homeless rail car that was just wilting away in the elements. After all, nothing says 'abandoned' like a little bit of rust. 

This rail car made me giggle. Thirty years ago, the passengers of this car probably didn't think that their seat would one day be a photo opportunity. Thirty years from now, will someone be standing at the back of the Delta plane I took to Atlanta and photographing that abandoned seat? I was drawn to the pastel colors of the seats that clearly need a deep cleaning!

This was one of my favorite passenger cars. When we think about mass transportation options these days, the mental image most of us have does not involve a plush leather seat and nice window. In fact, my mental image of mass transportation involves screaming children kicking the back of my seat..... For being so much more technologically advanced than we were 50+ years ago, it feels like we've taken several steps backwards in terms of comfort!

This print really resonated with me because of the familiarity of it. It was the iconic "closed for business" print - an Amtrak train that is no longer in service with a heavy chain blocking the stairs and thick grass starting to grow up into the car.

On some of the cars, I thought the way they were decaying was more interesting than the car itself. On this car, the rust pattern was long and droopy, making me think the car was slowly crying knowing it has travelled for the last time.

This rail car really had a feeling of Americana. That plaid pattern on the seats is very representative of the 1970s (I think my parents had a couch from the same fabric). What Americans had travelled in this car?

The mail car was one of my favorites. We've become so used to instant tracking of our mail via the internet that the idea of having your mail travel via a train like this is laughable. I loved the wood textures in this car and the bright green mail slots. Further down the car are the mail bags and the hooks used to grab mail bags while the train travelled around the country. 

I liked the little details that train manufacturers used that we don't have anymore. Stepping over the plane door threshold on my Delta flight, I didn't see a brass sign that said "Boeing"..... the little details to make these cars more inviting were fantastic!