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Clearing Casey Jones' path

By Ed Brock

Strange orange machines clanked and rumbled on the train tracks outside the Road to Tara Museum that occupies the old train depot in Jonesboro.

"Our visitors loved it. We couldn't pry them off the windows," said Stacey Dickson, president and CEO of the Clayton County Convention and Visitors Bureau that has its office in the depot.

The machines were part of a "tie and servicing gang," sent there by Norfolk Southern Railway to perform some regular maintenance on the tracks, said Norfolk Southern spokeswoman Susan Bland. But that didn't make them any less novel to at least some Clayton County residents.

"I've never seen one before, so I watched it for a couple of minutes," said Jeff McCann, a salesman at Saturn of Southlake on Jonesboro Road, near where the gang was working Wednesday.

The machines were replacing the wooden "tie" beams along the track.

"It looked like they just picked up the track and slid the wood in under it," McCann said.

Two gangs have been on the job since Jan. 4, Bland said, beginning in Macon and working their way up to Atlanta. Along with replacing the ties they are preparing some of the road crossings for an upgrade of material to make the ride over the tracks smoother.

The tie and servicing gangs will be finished in about a week but Bland said another kind of crew would return to finish the work on the road crossings.

City administrators in Jonesboro were informed of the work.

"They came in to tell us that it might affect traffic patterns," said Jonesboro City Manger Jon Walker.

The work has nothing to do with plans to create a commuter rail line between Atlanta and Macon. Those plans have been under discussion by the Georgia General Assembly.

Dickens said she had been hoping that was what the work was for.

"We'd like to think that where we are will someday be a part of the Jonesboro commuter rail station," Dickens said.

Some people have called Dickens wondering if the ties left by the side of the track are free for the taking. Bland said they are most assuredly not.

Anything on the tracks or the right-of-way around the track is the property of Norfolk Southern.

"I guarantee you if we find you with ties in the back of your pickup truck you will be in trouble," Bland said.

The ties are used again on other tracks with different levels of use or they are recycled. Some are sold to companies that then resell them for use in landscaping.