A Day On The St. Mary's Railroad

November 18, 2014 24 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

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.

Interchanging At Kingsland

The only connection to other railroads along the 11 mile route is to the First Coast Railroad at Kingsland.  The First Coast Railroad (reporting mark FCRD) is a class III railroad operating in Florida and Georgia, owned by Rail Link Inc.

The FCRD was founded in April 2005 to lease 32 miles of a former Seaboard Air Line Railroad from CSX. It stretches east from Yulee to Fernandina Beach, Florida and north from Yulee to Seals, with a connection at Yulee to CSX.

The north-south line, formerly the SAL main line before it was abandoned by the combined Seaboard Coast Line Railroad in favor of the ex-Atlantic Coast Line Railroad main line to the west, connects to the St. Marys Railroad at Kingsland. The line is abandoned north of Seals.

Remnants of the former SAL main line, including this sign indicating 599 miles to Richmond, VA, still exist in Kingsland.

Interchange infrastructure determines the capacity that a railroad can send/receive freight from other railroads.  Having long sidings at the interchange allows railroads to handle the longest trains.  For example, a 90 car unit train spans over a mile long.  Small interchanges amount to stoppages and congestion on the main line, making it less timely in getting customers their freight.

At the Kingsland Yard, we dropped off our cars for First Coast Railroad and proceeded to pick up a new shipment for a St. Mary's Railroad customer.

Today, it's hard to imagine that this track once had trains running up to the Northeast at 79mph.

With our new load, we head back to pick up the rest of the Metro Jacksonville crew and head back to the St. Marys yard.

Crossing South Lee Street in Kingsland, GA.  With 12,305 residents, Kingsland is the largest city in Camden County and 35.9 miles north of Jacksonville.  A recent annexation has expanded the city's borders to 44.3 square miles, making it the seventh largest city in the state of Georgia by land mass.

Kingsland has been selected by the Oprah Winfrey Network as the setting for a new original series to premiere later this year, Lovetown, USA. After a nationwide search, OWN and BBC Worldwide Productions have selected Kingsland,Georgia to be transformed into "Lovetown, USA."

Nearing the end of the line back in St. Marys.  The railroad was acquired by Birmingham, AL-based The Boatright Companies in 2007.  In addition to Georgia-Pacific, the railroad has a contract with the U.S. Navy to transport items to the Kings Bay naval base, including ballistic missiles for submarines.

At the end of the line, Theater by the Trax is located in the railroad's former locomotive service facility at 100 Osborne Street.  Originally, locomotives entered the rear of the building onto elevated rails that allowed workers to get underneath and change oil, grease axles and other service work.

Highlighted in red, the St. Marys Railroad operates between St. Marys and Kingsland, GA.  In Kingsland, it interchanges with the First Coast Railroad, which interchanges with CSX at Yulee.

Article and photographs by Ennis Davis, AICP & Sarah Gojekian. Video by Ryan Rummel.

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