The Florida East Coast Railway is a locally based company that operates 351 miles of mainline track between Jacksonville and Miami. While we've discussed the potential of using the city's S-Line right-of-way for urban commuter rail, FEC's rail line through the Southside is a critical segment to the overall plan as well. This photo tour is intended to visually make an argument for JTA moving forward with a commuter rail feasibility study before it's to late.
THE VEHICLE: THE DIESEL MULTIPLE UNIT RAILCAR
DMU = Diesel Multiple Unit: A self-propelled diesel railcar, which can be run in multiple combinations of unpowered coaches and powered cars.
Seating capacity: 218
Maximum operating speed: 90 mph
Minimum station spacing: 0.5 to 2 miles
Frequency of service: every 30 minutes (peak hours), 1 to 2 hours (off-peak hours)
75% less noise than a locomotive
72% less pollution than a locomotive
THE FEC RAIL CORRIDOR PHOTO TOUR
Potential Route Map
This photo tour covers the FEC rail corridor from Downtown Jacksonville to St. Augustine's Historic District. JTA's planned southern BRT corridor is highlighted in "purple" to show it's relation to FEC's existing railroad right-of-way. The "green" route represents the city owned S-Line, which was covered in a previous Metro Jacksonville photo tour
click to see S-Line tours:
1. Prime Osborn
The FEC line conveniently ties in with the city owned S-Line right-of-way at the Prime Osborn, which is planned to be converted back into a transit hub. Here, regional rail riders could transfer to take the skyway, trolleys, Amtrak, and regular JTA buses to access various areas of town. With this set up, regional rail feeds the skyway, rather than competing against it.
2. Atlantic Blvd (San Marco Square)
One major positive about FEC's tracks, is the fact that they're already double-tracked from the Prime Osborn to just south of the Avenues Mall. Currently, JTA plans to purchase right-of-way parallel to these tracks for the southern BRT route.
While difficult to see in the background, San Marco Square is only about 3 blocks from this crossing, while the proposed Publix development is only one, making it the perfect spot for a potential rail transit station. Current BRT plans have no stops in this area, meaning the buses will cross through, but riders won't be able to get off until they reach Emerson Street.
3. Walmart (Emerson at Phillips Highway)
While it may be difficult to see, the railroad tracks lie on the other side of the new Walmart parking lot, along Phillip's Highway, just south of Emerson Street.
4. Phillips Highway at University Blvd.
The southern BRT route running parallel will use mix in with regular vehicular traffic on portions of Phillips Highway, meaning it will still be subject to regular traffic conditions. One the other hand, the rail line is already grade separated from most major highways in the Southside.
In certain areas, the busways will be constructed skyway style to avoid regular gridlock. While leaders tout BRT's flexibility, that argument quickly loses steam when bus system construction estimates start to exceed the cost of light rail.
5. JTA Park n Ride (Phillips at JTB)
JTA already owns this park n ride facility, which could easily serve as a park n ride rail stop with express bus routes to serve the office buildings and hotels in the Southpoint area.
6. Phillips at Baymeadows
FEC's tracks run adjacent to multiple commercial developments at this major intersection. A stop in this area could be designed to allow direct access to Lowes, BJ's Wholesale Club, Winn-Dixie, and this new retail center in the old GM Warehouse Building. By comparison, the southern BRT route will terminate about a mile to the east of this intersection, at the I-95 off-ramp at Baymeadows Road.
In this photo, Baymeadows Road cross over the tracks. The reason commuter rail would cost hundreds of millions less than busways, is the fact that the infrastructure is already in place.
7. The Avenues
A stop in this area would be a must. Commuter rail would put transit riders within short walking distance of the Avenues Mall, as well as Avenues Walk. BRT, on the other hand, is not planned to reach or serve this area.
7a. Avenues Walk
Avenues Walk is a major mixed use development proposed across the street from the Avenues Mall and directly adjacent to the FEC rail corridor. When complete, the 160 acre project will include 50,000sf of class A office space, 600,000sf of retail and over 1,000 condos, apartments and townhomes centered around a 22 acre lake. This development serves as the perfect example of what type of infill projects can come on line, adjacent to rail. The BRT system, as currently planned, will not go south of Baymeadows, meaning this area will not be served by rapid mass transit.
8. Flagler Center
Flagler Center is a 1,022 acre mixed use project being developed by Flagler Development, the real estate operation of Florida East Coast Industries (also the parent company for FEC rail). It's currently the home of Baptist Medical, Citicorp, Nuvell, and Baker Distribution and entitled for over 2.7 million sf of office, industrial and retail space. The potential of this business park would increase dramatically if it were served by commuter rail. Undeveloped plots of land, such as the piece shown in this photograph, would also have potential for high density residential TOD use.
ST. JOHNS COUNTY
By implementing commuter rail, not only will it cost hundreds of millions less, stimulate economic development, and serve as a means of transit not integrated with regular vehicular congestion, it is also simple to expand this type of system to neighboring counties. Furthermore, by bringing neighboring counties into the mix, it decreases the overall costs for all public entities involved and further solidifies the connection between Jacksonville and it's suburban neighbors.
9. US Hwy 1 at CR 210 (Nocatee)
10. US Hwy 1 at World Golf Drive (Palencia)
Northern St. Johns County is in the midst of a building boom that road expansion alone will not be able to handle future gridlock in this corridor. Between Nocatee, Bartram Park, Twin Creeks, and Durbin (only 4 of several major planned developments), they'll combine for nearly 30,000 housing units and millions of square feet of retail, industrial, and office space.
Commuter rail would offer these future residents and St. Johns County an enhancement in their quality of life by giving residents an alternative choice of transit and stimulating quality transit oriented economic development.
11. Historic St. Augustine
One advantage of potential commuter rail is that our existing rail lines fall within walking distance of several local attractions, which is an important factor in attracting ridership. In this case, a potential end point could be the St. Augustine Historic District. This would add a new segment of the market to mass transit.... the tourist. Furthermore, it would introduce the possibility of transit oriented development on a large track of FEC owned land, just to the west of US Hwy 1 and north of King Street.
To learn more about commuter rail and why Jacksonville should take a serious look at it, visit Metro Jacksonville's BRT vs. Commuter Rail study: