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Stunning Things Are Happening As Florida Goes Rail

The announcement from Florida East Coast Industries of a new private passenger rail service is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. In an article that started as the mere musings of a retired railroad consultant, Metro Jacksonville blows the lid off huge changes in the Sunshine State. This is bigger than Jacksonville, bigger than 'All Aboard Florida' - this is just the start of an epic change in thinking as Florida goes rail.

Published April 10, 2012 in Transit      12 Comments    Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article


A Brief History of the "Speedway to America's Playground."



Historically to board a train to the east coast of Florida from any point in America, involved a trip through the massive Jacksonville Terminal. It was said at that time, the impressive station made one feel as if he had entered Jacksonville like a Greek god. A short history of Passenger Rail on the Florida East Coast Railway, a destination for most of these grand old trains is in order here.

Built primarily in the last quarter of the 19th century and the first decade of the 20th century, the FEC was a project of Standard Oil principal Henry Morrison Flagler. The story goes that Flagler originally intended only to develop world class hotels, resorts and industries in Florida, until the narrow gauge Jacksonville and St. Augustine Railway decided to charge exorbitant amounts to carry his construction materials. Flagler bought the railroad, extending it all the way from Jacksonville to Key West and never looked back.

After the death of its benefactor, the Florida East Coast made only 25% of its income from passenger service, which represented 75% of its operations.  Regardless of 30 years of weak financial performance, the FEC RY was still seen as the premiere passenger railroad in the south, indeed it was known as "The Speedway to America's Playground." The railroad played host to many of America's finest and fastest passenger trains, a legacy that probably would have continued had Jacksonville's own Ed Ball not decided to take on the railroad labor unions.

Love him or hate him, the late Mr. Ball converted the FEC RY into what might be termed America's first modern 'super railroad.' Passenger trains were swept aside as Ball's philosophy of 'Negate the negative, accentuate the positive,’ started to take effect. In 2007 the railroad was purchased by, Fortress Investment Group, which acquired it for over US$3 billion (including non-rail assets). Fortress owns Flagler Development and for the first time in years, the famed development monolith and the railroad are back in the same hands.

Keep in mind that FECI, Flagler and Florida East Coast Railway are separate companies. The State of Florida, Port Canaveral, Sunrail, Tri-Rail, The Southeast Florida Corridor Project, CSX and Norfolk Southern ultimately, will all be players.


The FEC RY has experience in doing the impossible as evidenced by the Bahia Honda Bridge on Flagler's railroad across the sea.(Photography-Match.com)



Was FEC sending a subliminal message when they recently rolled out locomotive 714 in the classic passenger colors of the past? (Kevin Andrusia Photo)

From the news release: “All Aboard Florida is unlike any other rail project proposed in the last several years.  It is a private passenger rail venture that will be privately owned, operated and maintained with no risk to the state.”


What I suspect the Project is, and what it is not.

“It is incorrect to refer to All Aboard Florida as a high-speed rail project.”


“All Aboard Florida will be a privately owned, operated and maintained passenger rail system. The existing Right of Way and track infrastructure All Aboard Florida will be operating on is privately owned. It is not owned by the State.”

Don't get caught up in the tricky wording in the mainstream media, what FECI is saying is they will manage the project at no risk to the taxpayers. They never said they would own the right-of-way between Cocoa and Orlando, just “the existing right-of-way.” FECI is not going out on a limb in a venture this risky unless there are some solid guarantees and in following my hunches, I have found the collective dividends will be huge. Rapidly growing real estate markets near the tracks is a strong incentive for a company like Flagler Development.

Nowhere in the press release do I actually read the words; FECI will own the right-of-way, tracks, or even the trains, (again except for the historic Miami-Cocoa portion which is owned by sister company FEC RY). All of the indicators point to heavy state involvement in zero risk infrastructure improvements. All Aboard Florida, could easily own the operating rights, maintenance contracts, staffing, and through the complex family tree, 200 miles of the Florida East Coast Railway itself, without really owning the balance of the 40 extra miles of new right-of-way between Orlando-Cocoa, or the tracks, or even the trains.



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12 Comments

Garden guy

April 10, 2012, 05:26:54 AM
For many years i have been staying on an historic island down in the keys for a week that was home to the mens who took the tracks to key west..its called Pigeon key. Those boys from new york worked their butts off. Anyone interested in rail history should visit. Historic society members are allowed to sleep in the formans house. The tiny island  is full of history. That was 1900...too bad we havent seen even more rail.

aclchampion

April 10, 2012, 07:43:54 AM
Nicely written article.

jaxlore

April 10, 2012, 08:59:44 AM
good stuff very informative.

JeffreyS

April 10, 2012, 07:52:19 PM
A nice peek behind the curtain. If Jacksonville will open the terminal downtown you will see that route to Jax happen quickly. I bet.

Ocklawaha

April 10, 2012, 10:55:38 PM
I agree JeffreyS, Jacksonville simply HAS TO get off it's collective caboose and kick into step with the rest of this state. It's either do it now, or Jacksonville is going to be the 'new' Biloxi.

Moreover, Jacksonville's Mayor and business council's could easily host a pre-train conference, where the mayors or representatives of all of the FEC RY cities, Amtrak Florida stops as well as Valdosta - Tifton - Macon - Atlanta. I think when we get Miami, Jacksonville and Atlanta in the same room all we'll have to do is jump out of the way because this is going to happen.

OCKLAWAHA

simms3

April 10, 2012, 11:05:32 PM
This was very interesting and well researched/well written.  I hope for all of this progress to be made.

thelakelander

April 10, 2012, 11:44:57 PM
Great article.  I hope the FECI project is a success.  It could end up being a huge boost for Brevard County, with the closing of the shuttle program.  Also, whatever success it has, quickly opens up the door for market rate expansion into Jacksonville.

BackinJax05

April 13, 2012, 12:19:55 AM
Great story. This could benefit Amtrak, too. If the S-Line was rebuilt from the St. Marys River to Savannah, Amtrak could run their NY-Miami trains on it saving time, money, and fuel. The Jesup stop would be eliminated, but does anyone go there?
Imagine a NY-Miami train on the FEC line from Miami-Jax, then the CSuX S-Line from Jax-SAV, then on to NYP. This train wouldnt stop in Orlando, but a link to Orlando could be at Port Canaveral. This would help Port Canaveral with not only people going to Orlando & Disney, but also cruise ship passengers.
As for Amtrak running Miami to Atlanta on FEC/NS, this has been needed for over 40 years! Maybe one day that train could be extended to Nashville, Louisville, Indianapolis, & Chicago.
All wishful thinking, but as flying and driving become more difficult the train is the best alternative.
Some people are critical of Amtrak, but as a seasoned Amtrak passenger I can say Amtrak really does the best with what they have.

Ocklawaha

April 13, 2012, 01:06:04 PM
Reconstruction of the entire 'S' line north of Jacksonville would be a Godsend for Southeast High Speed Rail AND for Amtrak. The 'S' is many miles shorter then the route CSX retained between Jacksonville and Savannah, running along the edge of the coastal marshes.

Look for this to be upgraded between downtown and Yulee or Gross within the next few years as the new Blount Island Terminal connector (to Waycross) is relaid between Callahan and Yulee or Gross (the maps say they'll use the Gross cut-off, but the older Yulee - Callahan route would benefit Jacksonville more as it is shorter.

Amtrak could easily mix or operate (as they do now) the first of the corridor trains on SEHSR, currently running Charlotte - Raleigh - NYC.

As for extensions north of Atlanta, there is always a push for Nashville - Louisville - Chicago, but the Norfolk Southern Route runs Atlanta - Chattanooga - Knoxville (west) - Frankfort - Cincinnati. This was once the route of the FEC-Southern Ry, 'PONCE DE LEON' and 'ROYAL PALM'. I believe it holds a huge benefit over the other route, and that benefit is the Cincinnati Union Terminal. At Cincinnati (not unlike Jacksonville) the trains can be split with sections operating:

Cincinnati - Indianapolis - Chicago
Cincinnati - Dayton - Toledo - Detroit
Cincinnati - Columbus - Cleveland and even Buffalo if the desire is there.

OCK

BackinJax05

April 14, 2012, 12:00:16 AM
Hey, Ock! Been reading your posts for quite some time now.

As I've said before, pulling up the S-line was one of the stupidest things CSuX has ever done. And they wonder why there's so much traffic on the A-line.

The NS route from Atlanta-Cincinnati would probably work, too. The Royal Palm and Ponce De Leon were before my time, but Ive always been a fan of the old Southern Railway. Thanks to EBay, Ive managed to find quite a few items from when Southern ran passneger trains. SCL, ACL, SAL, & FEC, too.

Anyway, the track improvements you mentioned for Blount Island will benefit freight traffic and hopefully, add new jobs to the area.
Reconstruction of the entire 'S' line north of Jacksonville would be a Godsend for Southeast High Speed Rail AND for Amtrak. The 'S' is many miles shorter then the route CSX retained between Jacksonville and Savannah, running along the edge of the coastal marshes.

Look for this to be upgraded between downtown and Yulee or Gross within the next few years as the new Blount Island Terminal connector (to Waycross) is relaid between Callahan and Yulee or Gross (the maps say they'll use the Gross cut-off, but the older Yulee - Callahan route would benefit Jacksonville more as it is shorter.

Amtrak could easily mix or operate (as they do now) the first of the corridor trains on SEHSR, currently running Charlotte - Raleigh - NYC.

As for extensions north of Atlanta, there is always a push for Nashville - Louisville - Chicago, but the Norfolk Southern Route runs Atlanta - Chattanooga - Knoxville (west) - Frankfort - Cincinnati. This was once the route of the FEC-Southern Ry, 'PONCE DE LEON' and 'ROYAL PALM'. I believe it holds a huge benefit over the other route, and that benefit is the Cincinnati Union Terminal. At Cincinnati (not unlike Jacksonville) the trains can be split with sections operating:

Cincinnati - Indianapolis - Chicago
Cincinnati - Dayton - Toledo - Detroit
Cincinnati - Columbus - Cleveland and even Buffalo if the desire is there.

OCK

JohnBalzer

April 23, 2012, 01:17:06 PM
This rail project is exactly what Florida needs to help spark the economy. The benefit to Floridians is obvious and all of this happening with private money is wonderful. I cannot wait to get on one of these new trains and be able to ride from Miami to Jacksonville in comfort.

BackinJax05

April 25, 2012, 01:52:00 AM
Same here. I especially cant wait to FINALLY ride across the FEC railway bridge. That's worth buying a ticket by itself.
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