Florida Trains


What Will the Panama Canal Do For Florida East Coast Railway?

The 48 mile-long international waterway known as the Panama Canal allows ships to pass between the Atlantic Ocean and Pacific Ocean, saving about 8,000 miles from a journey around the southern tip of South America. A project is underway to build new locks as well as wider and deeper channels that is expected to double the canal’s capacity. This will allow megaships to move through the Canal.

Though traffic continues to increase through the canal, many oil supertankers, huge container ships and aircraft carriers can not fit through the canal. There’s even a class of ships known as “Panamax,” those built to the maximum capacity of the Panama canal and its locks. the Panama Canal expansion project will allow ships double the size of current Panamax (“Post-Panamax”) to pass through the canal, dramatically increasing the amount of goods that can pass through the canal.

The expansion project is a little off target and will not be completed until April 2015. What does this expansion mean? The Panama Canal will then accommodate post-Panamax vessels that carry 12,600 containers, compared to today’s ships carrying 4,500 containers. Shipping containers through the Canal on these larger ships could reduce costs by as much as $75 to $100 per container per voyage, which adds up quickly! When such ships are able to pass through the Panama Canal, business will consequently pick up along both the U.S. Eastern and Gulf coast ports because the ships can take an “all-water” route from Asia to the U.S. East or Gulf coast—bypassing West coast ports and the roads and railways now used to transport goods across the U.S. However, these ships require depths of up to 50 feet of water to navigate. As a result, port authorities along the U.S. Eastern seaboard and Gulf coast are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to dredge the bottoms of their bays and river bottoms to deepen harbors to accommodate the larger ships.

Progressive Railroading has been covering the East Coast ports plus the connecting railroads. As the $5.25 billion Panama Canal expansion nears its 2015 completion to allow supersize, Post-Panamax cargo ships to pass through on their way to markets farther north, eastern U.S. ports and a number of railroads are gearing up for an anticipated increase in international intermodal traffic in the coming years. East and Gulf Coast port authorities are developing and deepening their harbors in preparation for the influx of giant ships, and eastern railroads are building or expanding on-dock rail facilities, building intermodal centers or advancing other plans to accommodate an expected increase in freight traffic.

Among railroads anticipating a bump in intermodal traffic after the bigger canal opens is Florida East Coast Railway L.L.C. (FEC), the only rail provider to south Florida’s ports. Based in Jacksonville, Fla., the 351-mile regional is working withPortMiami and Port Everglades to build on-dock rail facilities as part of their expansion programs, which FEC execs view as a big part of the railroad’s strategy to grow intermodal traffic. “By summer 2014, we’ll have the on-dock rail facility fully operational, which means that from PortMiami we can hit 70 percent of the American population in a matter of days,” says PortMiami Director Bill Johnson. “It will allow us to double stack containers directly to Jacksonville in under nine hours, and connect to Norfolk Southern Railway (NS) and CSX directly to the heartland of America.”

FEC is partnering with both Port Miami and Port Everglades (Fort Lauderdale) to build on-dock rail facilities to provide faster and more cost-effective service to intermodal customers. In addition, the Port of Miami is engaged in the FEC Rail Reconnection Project. The Project has four phases: (1) reconstruction of the Florida East Coast Railway (FEC) Port Lead, (2) rehabilitation of the bascule bridge that connects Port Miami and FEC, (3) the construction of an on-port rail facility, and (4) modifications to FEC’s Rail Yard to accommodate the increase in intermodal traffic. The rail reconnection project is actually part of a larger infrastructure investment program taking place at Port Miami. The other two projects are the Miami Access Tunnel and the 50-foot dredge.


Tri-Rail in South Florida (at the beginning)

By December of 1988 an orange, green and blue train – South Florida’s first commuter railroad – is scheduled to make weekday runs along existing tracks beside Interstate 95.

The sight will be a new one for commuters battling auto traffic and construction detours as I-95 is rebuilt. Having visited Florida for the last fifteen years, I can testify to the growing congestion as each year passes.

But transportation planners hope the commuters will not only get used to looking at the passing commuter trains. They hope the drivers will leave their cars at home and get used to taking the train to points between West Palm Beach and Miami.

The commuter line, called Tri-Rail to reflect the fact that it is a mutual development of Palm Beach, Broward and Dade counties, will be the most visible early evidence of transportation planning that is dealing with more than highways.

It and other plans for public transportation are needed to head off an often-quoted scenario in which I-95 would have to be widened to 44 lanes to handle increased traffic expected along certain stretches by the year 2020.

Among the officials who cite that grim highway prediction regularly are the proponents of a second railroad, a high-speed train that planners want to operate between Miami, Orlando and West Palm Beach by 1995.

Two private firms have submitted plans for building the $2 billion railroad and providing the sleek, 150-mph trains to run on it.In addition, the firms have proposed taking advantage of liberal development opportunities the state plans to offer with the right to build the railroad.

One firm, headed by AmeriFirst Development Corp., has proposed building new towns as large as 20,000 acres and hotels, offices and industrial parks to help raise the money to build the high-speed railroad.

The French TGV Corp., operators of a successful high-speed line that links Paris and Lyon, is competing against AmeriFirst for the state’s permission and assistance in building the high-speed line. TGV differs with its rival on whether the railroad can be financed by private development and says it will ask the state to help pay for building the high-speed train’s track if the firm is selected to operate the train.

In March the two firms paid $35,000 apiece in application fees and submitted bulky reports outlining their proposed train and land developments in the first step toward winning the right to build the train system.

Transportation, development and environmental planners throughout South Florida are examining the two proposals as part of and evaluation process that could take until 1991. Within the last few years, an indication of passenger train possibilities has been observed by watching the popularity of the “Silver Palm”. This train started as a state subsidized AMTRAK run between Miami and Tampa. As many passengers boarded from the small towns south of West Palm Beach as from Miami. One reason for this train’s popularity was that it took half the time of the bus.

The Tri-Rail commuter train, meanwhile, was envisioned by state transportation planners as a temporary alternative to I-95 while the highway undergoes a three year renovation program starting in 1989.

Tri-Rail will run on the CSX (ex Seaboard Coast Line) route that goes from Wildwood to Miami. Running parallel to CSX is the Florida East Coast from Jacksonville to Miami. This is the route that once went to Key West before a bout with a hurricane in 1935. Now it is a model of efficiency: no passenger service; two-man freight crews; well-built 554 mile roadbed; CTC and no cabooses. The dispatcher at New Smyrna Beach has the entire Florida East Coast under surveillance of CTC and radio, also hot box, dragging equipment, and shifting load detectors. FEC’s work rules have eliminated the labor intensiveness that has become such a burden on the other Class 1 railroads. The road is sort of a super short line – service when it is needed.

South Florida officials, however, have embraced the proposal and hope to draw 7,000 passengers to the train each morning and evening to make it successful enough to continue and grow after the three-year trial period.

Estimates of how many people will ride the train have varied from a low of about 2,000 for Broward County to 7,000.

Eighteen bilevel cars similar to those used by GO Transit in Toronto are under construction. Five “F40PHL” locomotives are being created by Morrison-Knudsen. They have 16-cylinder, 3200 HP engines and are built with parts of old trade-ins. The net effect will be four trainsets in operation.

The train’s tentative schedule calls for nine trips each weekday morning and evening along various lengths of the 70-mile track between Miami and West Palm Beach.

County busses and private vehicles are scheduled to ferry passengers from each of the railroad’s 15 stations to the businesses or airports that are their destinations.

Currently, three airports are located in this section of Florida: Miami, Ft. Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. Maybe good rail service will allow the airlines to discontinue flights between these airports. Sounds ridiculous, but a Delta flight from Hartford lands in Ft. Lauderdale, takes off and lands in West Palm Beach – just a few miles away.

Port Everglades cruise ships look like a growing industry in the 1990’s and need a good access path – why not rail? The Port of Miami would also benefit from a rail tie in. Currently, freight tracks there serve a container terminal.

Some stations including Delray Beach are undergoing renovation. Free parking lots are being expanded at other stations. There will be 400-foot-long covered platforms at the stations. There will be six stations in Palm Beach County, six in Broward County and three in Dade County. Six of these are now AMTRAK stops.

Miami’s METRORAIL should tie in nicely with Tri-Rail and the proposed high-speed service. This is a new light-rail operation running through the center of Miami. The southern terminus of the commuter rail line will be near the Miami International Airport where riders will be able to transfer to METRORAIL.



Old picture post card of the train station station in Jacksonville, Florida


Florida Railroad History

The history of railroading in Florida spans almost 170 years and is closely linked with the state’s development and growth.

Between 1834 and 1837, Florida’s first railroads begin operation. The Tallahassee-St. Marks is the first to be incorporated on April 10,1834; however, the St. Joseph-Lake Wimico line is the first to be in service on April 14, 1836.

1850 – Senator David Yulee promoted the Florida Railroad from the port of Fernandina to the Gulf of Mexico at Cedar Key. While built to speed shipments between the Atlantic seaboard and gulf coast destinations, the line also encouraged the development of interior north Florida. Parts of this line are still in use today.

In 1855, the Florida General Assembly passed a law giving incentives to railroads to build in Florida.

In 1860, The Florida Railroad, the first cross-state line, links Fernandina on the East Coast with Cedar Key on the West.

Prior to the Civil War, the Atlantic and Gulf Central Railroad line extended from Jacksonville to Tallahassee and by 1874 was extended to River Junction near Chattahoochee. In 1883, the Louisville and Nashville line from Pensacola made the connection at River Junction.

The proceeds from the Disston Land Purchase (1883) established the Internal Improvement Fund. The fund was used to assist the construction of new rail lines.

In 1886, needing railroad service for a great hotel he built at St. Augustine, Henry M. Flagler bought the first transportation link in the chain of railroad and hotel properties he built down the East Coast to Key West.

Henry Plant’s rails pushed south from Jacksonville along the St. Johns River to Sanford then southwest through Orlando to Tampa. The University of Tampa now occupies Plant’s hotel at the end of the line. Henry Sanford’s lines penetrated the interior of the state.

Henry Flagler acquired the Jacksonville, St. Augustine and Halifax River Railway, and advanced construction south along the east coast arriving in the settlement of Miami in 1896.

In 1911 – Flagler’s Florida East Coast Railway goes to sea and the first train arrives in Key West.

Major hurricanes in 1926 and 1928 abruptly ended the land boom. Both the Florida East Coast and the Seaboard, burdened by the expense of rapid expansion in Florida, entered receivership.

The Hurricane of 1938 wiped out the railroad to Key West. Except for World War II, Florida’s railroads suffered a decline.

Two events marked railroading’s rebirth. First, the oil crises of the 1970’s highlighted the inherent energy efficiency of rail. Second, the federal Stagger’s Rail Act of 1980 deregulated the industry, allowing railroads to compete in the transportation marketplace and to abandon unprofitable lines. At the same time, growing highway and airport congestion drew attention to a renewed role for rail passenger service.

In 1988 – The Florida Department of Transportation purchased the South Florida Rail Corridor, the former Seaboard line between West Palm Beach and Miami from CSX Transportation.

See a list of Florida railroad museums by either railroad or by city/town.

See Florida of the Railroad Barons

The South Florida Railroad Museum is a good history source for south Florida.

Atlantic Coast Line & Seaboard Air Line Railroads Historical Society has a lot of historical material because these two railroads were important in the development of Florida rails.


Florida Cities Served by Amtrak

1. Bradenton, FL (BDT)
2. Chipley, FL (CIP)
3. Crestview, FL (CSV)
4. Dade City, FL (DDE)
5. Deerfield Beach, FL (DFB)
6. Delray Beach, FL (DLB)
7. Deland, FL (DLD)
8. Daytona Beach, FL (DYA)
9. Fort Lauderdale, FL (FTL)
10. Fort Myers, FL (FTM)
11. Hollywood, FL (HOL)
12. Jacksonville, FL (JAX)
13. Kissimmee, FL (KIS)
14. Lakeland, FL (LAK)
15. Lake City, FL (LEC)
16. Madison, FL (MDO)
17. Miami, FL (MIA)
18. Ocala, FL (OCA)
19. Okeechobee, FL (OKE)
20. Orlando, FL (ORL)
21. Palatka, FL (PAK)
22. Port Charlotte, FL (PCH)
23. Pensacola, FL (PNS)
24. Sebring, FL (SBG)
25. Sanford (auto Train Station Only), FL (SFA)
26. Sarasota, FL (SRA)
27. St. Petersburg, FL (STP)
28. Tallahassee, FL (TLH)
29. Tampa, FL (TPA)
30. Waldo, FL (WDO)
31. West Palm Beach, FL (WPB)
32. Winter Park, FL (WPK)
33. Winter Haven, FL (WTH)
34. Wildwood, FL (WWD)
35. Lakeland – To/from Points South, FL (LKL)
36. Gainesville, FL (GNF)

Florida Railroad Grand Plan



Above and below: Stations at the Palm Beaches




The railroad used to run here. Not anymore, the Hurricane of 1935 wiped out the railroad and the causeway was rebuilt as a highway.



Old picture post card of the Atlantic Coast Line station in Fort Myers



Old picture post card of the train station station in Hollywood, Florida


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