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A Day On The St. Mary's Railroad

While the greater Jacksonville region is the well known home of major railroad companies such as CSX and Florida East Coast, there are also several smaller class III railroad operations that call the First Coast home. Today, Metro Jacksonville takes a look at the behind the scenes operation of the St. Mary's Railroad.

Published November 18, 2014 in Transit      24 Comments    Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article


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Just across the state line, St. Mary's Railroad is is an 11 mile railroad that has been in operation since 1865.  Today, it operates as a Class III shortline based out of St. Marys, Georgia connecting with the First Coast Railroad at the small town of Kingsland, to the west.  Metro Jacksonville's day with the St. Marys Railroad would include picking up freight cars from a St. Marys rail customer and taking those cars to Kingsland where they would be dropped off for pick up by the First Coast Railroad.  At Kingsland, we would pick up a new shipment to take back to St. Marys.



What Is A Class III Railroad

A Class III railroad, as defined by the Surface Transportation Board, is a railroad with an annual operating revenue of less than $20 million (1991 dollars). The term only applies to United States railroads, but is sometimes applied to other countries.  Class III railroads are typically local short line railroads, serving a very small number of towns or industries; many Class III railroads were once branch lines of larger railroads that were spun off, or portions of mainlines that had been abandoned.



The History of the St. Mary's Railroad


The Gilman Paper Company on July 22, 1999.  Image courtesy of Alan Cressler. Several large wells supplied water to the mill during its operation.  When the mill closed for good, the wells were turned off and water levels in the Upper Floridan Aquifer increased several feet. There were once again flowing wells in the St. Marys area.

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The St. Marys and Kingsland Railroad was founded in 1865 by Captain Lemuel Johnson. It received its charter from the state of Georgia, and its first two locomotives purchased were #207 and #308.

The SM&K eventually became the Atlantic, Waycross and Northern Railroad. After the death of Johnson in 1918, the railroad was sold to the Southern Fertilizer and Chemical Company in Savannah, Georgia with the sale being completed on January 24, 1918. The AW&N was sold in 1939 to Gilman Paper Company-St. Mary's Kraft Corporation and became the St. Mary's Railroad. The SM purchased its first diesel locomotive #500 in 1945 which was nicknamed the "Goat." Ten years later the railroad constructed a 4 mile spur to service the US Army's Kings Bay ammunition storage facility which is now the Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay.

The SM was merged into the Gilman Paper Company on January 11, 1999, and operated initially under the Gilman name. The Gilman Paper Company separated the railroad by establishing a limited liability corporation operating under the name of Saint Marys Railroad, LLC. On December 17, 1999, the paper plant and railroad were purchased by the Durango Paper Company (changing its name in 2000 to the Durango-Georgia Company) and the railroad was renamed the Durango Railroad. All federal reporting requirements for the railroad were filed under that name. The company declined to change its reporting marks however, thus the locomotives and rolling stock continued to use the St. Marys Railroad name.

The Durango Paper Company closed its doors in 2002 after two industrial accidents at the plant resulted in nearly $200,000 in fines from OSHA. All employees of the paper plant lost their jobs, putting the future of the railroad in doubt. The railroad continues to operate and the St. Marys Railroad right-of-way and assets remain intact. The railroad has always maintained its own locomotives and cars with a fully equipped shop facility in St. Marys.

In January 2007, the St. Marys Railroad, LLC was purchased by the Birmingham, Alabama-based Service Rail Group. The railroad continues to be fully operational with no change in its reporting marks.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Mary's_Railroad



2002, would be an event changing day for the City of St. Marys, Ga and its namesake railroad.  This was the year that the Durange-Georgia Paper Company, one of Camden County's largest employers since 1941, shut down all operations, putting 900 people out of work. Mexico-based Durango Paper Company purchased the mill from Gilman Paper Company in December 1999, two years after the former owner, Howard Gilman, died.  At the time, Gilman Paper Company was the largest privately owned paper mill in the United States, producing 2.6 million pounds of paper per day.  During the mill's heyday, it employed 1,600 and was the lifeblood of the railroad, shipping and receiving hundreds of railcars each day.  In addition, the waterfront mill site included a dock where it used to receive shipments of timber via barge.

The mill's downfall would come after an accident that killed two mill workers leading to an investigation by the U.S. Labor Department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

In 2006, Jacksonville-based LandMar Group purchased the site for $42 million with the intent to redevelop the property as a 2,200 unit mixed-used development.  Soon after LandMar demolished the plant, the company went bankrupt, leaving the site's future up in the air.

At the time, the +700-acre site was one of the largest, privately owned, deep water, rail served sites remaining in Coastal Georgia that was also served by public utilities; including water, sewer, electricity and natural gas.  With these assets in place, Camden County Development Authority believed that the site could become Georgia's third ocean port.

That dream appears to be coming true. In a recent Florida Times-Union article, developer ASM Capital intends to purchase the property and develop it into a deepwater barge port. If successful, the development could be a huge financial boost to the St. Mary's Railroad.



Next Page: A Visual Tour of the St. Mary's Railroad



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24 Comments

Noone

April 23, 2012, 06:41:02 AM
What a neat experience. Enjoyed the tour.

ben says

April 23, 2012, 07:09:42 AM
How often do they run? How much does it cost? Where does it go?

BridgeTroll

April 23, 2012, 07:52:40 AM
I hope Ock did not miss that...

aclchampion

April 23, 2012, 07:55:19 AM
Terrific article. Thanks for sharing guys!

thelakelander

April 23, 2012, 08:03:43 AM
Ock set it up. He was like a kid in a candy store out there.

aclchampion

April 23, 2012, 08:11:41 AM
I know Richard Long, the engineer. Used to work for Seaboard, then Amtrak, then he retired from there. Has a ride around model railroad in his yard. He was engineer on the Sunset Limited when it ran from Jacksonville to New Orleans in the good old days. Super nice man.

Wacca Pilatka

April 23, 2012, 08:51:36 AM
Great photos, even by MJ's high standards.

BridgeTroll

April 23, 2012, 10:06:15 AM
Ock set it up. He was like a kid in a candy store out there.

Good to hear...

Ocklawaha

April 23, 2012, 11:49:02 AM
Yes, I was there, standing in the engine cab observing the operation and opportunities to increase business. It's always a bit entertaining to watch people with no railroad background or experience get their first taste of what it feels like to manage 248,000 pounds, 1,200 horsepower, 600 gallons of fuel and 35,000 pounds of tractive effort. You get a real appreciation for these crews when it dawns on you that you might not be handling the locomotive and that the locomotive might be handling you!

To answer one of the questions, "how much did it cost?" It only cost years of rubbing elbows with these guys, a railroad with some needs, and a proactive media group that usually has a lot of answers. We may be talking about MJ excursions in the future, when that happens, we'll post the fare.

A bunch of these railroaders go way back with me, Richard Long is one of them. We hadn't seen each other for about 30 years... or as Richard put it, a whole lot of pounds ago.

Creative business ideas is the key to the St. Mary's survival, and that port would be the key to it prospering again.

BOB

Ocklawaha

April 23, 2012, 11:50:31 AM

Yes, I was there, standing in the engine cab observing the operation and opportunities to increase business. It's always a bit entertaining to watch people with no railroad background or experience get their first taste of what it feels like to manage 248,000 pounds, 1,200 horsepower, 600 gallons of fuel and 35,000 pounds of tractive effort. You get a real appreciation for these crews when it dawns on you that you might not be handling the locomotive and that the locomotive might be handling you!

To answer one of the questions, "how much did it cost?" It only cost years of rubbing elbows with these guys, a railroad with some needs, and a proactive media group that usually has a lot of answers. We may be talking about MJ excursions in the future, when that happens, we'll post the fare.

A bunch of these railroaders go way back with me, Richard Long is one of them. We hadn't seen each other for about 30 years... or as Richard put it, a whole lot of pounds ago. It was like a family reunion, really great to see Richard and catch up on each others railroad adventures.

Creative business ideas is the key to the St. Mary's survival, and that port would be the key to it prospering again.

BOB

BackinJax05

April 25, 2012, 01:38:56 AM
Another great story.

And once again: Abandoning the S-line was one of the stupidest things CSuX has ever done.

nomeus

April 27, 2012, 03:55:45 AM
<a href="http://www.youtube.com/v/MPzZNQo8SyQ?version=3&amp;amp;hl=en_US&quot;" target="_blank" class="new_win">http://www.youtube.com/v/MPzZNQo8SyQ?version=3&amp;amp;hl=en_US&quot;</a>


On the train you get smaller, as you get farther away
The roar covers everything you wanted to say
Was that a raindrop in the corner of your eye?
Were you drying your nails or waving goodbye?

billy

April 29, 2012, 01:19:50 PM
Cool!
I noticed some limited work on part of the S Line greenway on the east side of Main Street recently.

Ocklawaha

April 29, 2012, 01:41:06 PM
Sorry Billy, but anything east of Main on the old 'S' could only be more of the bike trail. There's a school right smack in the middle of the old 'S' and THAT will force any streetcar/rail use of a future 'S' to round the curve near Moncrief and Davis then jog north onto the Norfolk Southern right-of-way to get east of Main. Fortunately the city already owns the land, unfortunately at this moment, if you want to see rail transit development in Florida, drive south to Orlando. Jacksonville is digging it's own grave in the race to become a first tier 'world' city.

Ocklawaha

April 29, 2012, 01:42:13 PM
VERY COOL VIDEO, NOMEUS!

billy

April 29, 2012, 02:29:22 PM
Sadly, I am aware no real transit is planned.

nomeus

April 29, 2012, 03:48:57 PM
VERY COOL VIDEO, NOMEUS!

appreciate it bob :)

JayBird

November 18, 2012, 04:37:24 PM
Great article!  Love the videos and so jealous of those who got to enjoy the experience.  Luckily I have been in NYC for the past few months on business and have had the immense pleasure of riding subways, commuter rail and even their new BRT (They call it Select Service, it is great ... limited stops, easy access, hope JTA can achieve same) but can only imagine what its like sitting behind the "wheel" of those locomotives!

So my hypothetical from this is "in a perfect world where JTA has taken on the true spirit of rapid transit and has figured that people in Georgia do actually work in Jax, would this line serve as a light rail from St Marys (maybe even Kings Bay Naval Base) to Kingsland where they can access commuter rail and AMTRAK, or would this be an actual through service connection of the commuter rail, such as has been talked about for Fernadina from Yulee?"

Ocklawaha

November 18, 2012, 10:32:42 PM
Jay Bird, the first thing you need to understand is that NONE of this, not Subways, not the St. Mary's Railroad, First Coast Railroad, CSX or Amtrak, is light rail. It's not you fault for not knowing this, today's media is so ignorant of rail operations they scarcely know a coach from a crossing.  Light rail is often used as-if it were "conventional rail done light," but it's nothing like conventional rail. To further muddy the water, one of the benefits of light rail is that the physical plant actually CAN BE rail done light.  Rail is measured in pounds per yard, and traditionally the rails used in these projects have been in the 80 - 130 pound range. Modern freight rail usually runs from 120 - 156 pounds per yard.

Rail breaks down like this:

Streetcar (old and new), slightly smaller, vehicles, typically along or in road right-of-ways, usually electric powered



Sacramento, CA..  Light Rail, larger vehicles which might on first glance be confused as "big streetcars," much faster and generally grade separated from other traffic, usually electric powered.



Conventional Rail, Regional Rail, Commuter Rail, are all variations of a typical Amtrak or commuter train. Usually diesel powered except in congested urban areas where electric locomotives take charge.



BART in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Heavy Rail, Subways and EL's which require mountains of cash to build and have unbelievable capacity, typically electric powered.




Monorail, Single on solo beam vehicles or suspended from beam, electrically powered and usually dedicated purpose such as airport or theme park or downtown applications. BTW, monorails ARE NOT, the trains of the future, in fact there is evidence that they are as old as conventional rail. Had monorails held economic promise, we would have laid the golden beam rather then the golden spike.



In a perfect world it is not very likely that commuter rail would reach all the way into Kings Bay or St. Mary's. There is a remote possibility that at least a few daily runs could end in Kingsland, likewise Fernandina Beach could be a terminus for a couple of daily trains each way. Yulee is the most likely as it will have a station right off of the interstate, US 17 and SR200 easy to get to from Fernandina Beach, Kingsland or Callahan.

The trains would likely be self powered (diesel) conventional rail cars such as rebuilt Budd RDC's or the new DMU types.

The route has no connectivity to either Amtrak or the Florida East Coast's "All Aboard Florida" trains until they reach the old Jacksonville Terminal (The Prime Osborn to the unwashed masses) in downtown Jacksonville. There could be no "through" service on the Yulee/Kings Bay/Fernandina Beach lines as they are all dead end branchlines.

Lastly there is also a remote possibility that Southeast High Speed Rail would use the former Seaboard Air Line Railroad's abandoned right-of-way between Savannah and Kingsland, and upgrade the remaining line from Kingsland to downtown Jacksonville as it is considerably shorter then the current Amtrak/CSX route through Jesup.

JayBird

November 19, 2012, 07:17:19 AM
Thanks Ock for the clarifications, I am definitely one of the "unwashed masses" however I do call it Jacksonville Terminal because it is not, nor has it ever been a convention center.  Looking through MetroJacksonville, Jax has some real Rail Heritage, I would even dare to say more than the "rail-dependent" northeast ... yet it has been brushed aside for roads and buses.  I had drinks with a city planner for New York City Transit (they operate the MTA subways and buses within the city limits) and was showing him your site.  The biggest thing he noticed was Jacksonville's space.  The high potential to plan a city around rapid transit instead of the other way around as most have to do.  So this got me to thinking, maybe the best thing for Jax is to get rid of Jax people.  Bring in the "outsiders" and see what ideas they have.  Currently in NYC they are spending billions to build the 2nd Avenue Subway ... a plan that has been there since the 1930's.  Jax definitely needs to change something before the chance to grow costs the taxpayers a lot more.

thelakelander

September 22, 2013, 09:40:38 AM
Quote
St. Marys Railroad to begin passenger excursions

ST. MARYS | As a child, Paul Pleasant used to wake up his parents early.
He cried because he couldn’t see the L&N train rumble past their backyard in Milton, Fla. They moved his crib over to the window, and the problem was solved, he said.

Now Pleasant, who left the Navy as a master chief, does more than watch. He’s at the controls as the general manager and engineer of St. Marys Railroad, which hauls freight for some manufacturers in St. Marys and makes heavy deliveries to Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base.

Soon, he’ll be hauling passengers when the St. Marys Railroad begins an excursion train service between Theatre by the Trax in St. Marys and a turnaround in the woods to the north. The first excursions are Oct. 5 during the annual Rock Shrimp Festival in St. Marys.

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The Oct. 5 trips will leave St. Marys at noon, 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.

On Oct. 12, the train will leave at 10 a.m., noon, 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.

Tickets are $17 for adults, $11 for ages 3 to 12 and free for ages 2 and younger.

Other trips are planned for Christmas, Mardi Gras in March and July 4.

http://jacksonville.com/news/georgia/2013-09-21/story/st-marys-railroad-begin-passenger-excursions

thelakelander

November 18, 2014, 12:30:00 AM
A natural use for the old Durango-Georgia paper mill site in St. Mary's.... :)


Former Durango-Georgia paper mill site in 2012.

Quote
ST. MARYS | A developer says his plans for the former Durango-Georgia paper mill site will be built in phases over a 10-year period and will dedicate 1,000 feet of the waterfront to barge berths and will include some light industry.

Christopher Ragucci, president of Worldwide Group, said during a Monday news conference that he will be the development advisor for Knights of the Green Shield, a company that is working on an agreement with bankruptcy trustee Mike Newsom to buy the 700-acre site.

Quote
Among the needs for development are remediation along the waterfront including the construction of a 5,000-foot bulkhead along the North River, Ragucci said.

That waterfront work alone could cost $20 million to $50 million, and the site also needs a lot of work because of the rubble left behind by the demolition of the old mill, waste on the site, ponds and other disturbances of the land.

The site is ideal for barge traffic because it is only eight miles from the deepwater port at Fernandina Beach and it has possible links with CSX Transportation and Norfolk Southern railroads, he said.

“This is one of a few properties that includes the opportunity for deepwater, rail and industrial usage,’’ Ragucci said.

Full article: http://jacksonville.com/breaking-news/2014-11-17/story/st-marys-barge-port-development-will-take-10-years-cost-20-million-50

Noone

November 18, 2014, 06:34:45 AM
Railexciting in my book. Good reuse and the spark of an economic node of infill that will spur future organic growth and development for that area.

Redbaron616

November 18, 2014, 07:21:10 PM
I have to say that the tracks did not seem to be in very good repair. Not sure if they were just unused sidings or what, but there were places where the ties looked to be in an advanced stage of decay. I certainly hope this is not the condition of the main line and wish the railroad all the best.
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