Stunning Things Are Happening As Florida Goes Rail

April 10, 2012 15 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

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.

Think conservative and act liberal

Environmental considerations, right of way purchase and speed of implementation all point to the state owned, former high-speed rail right-of-way. All Aboard Florida will use conventional passenger trains operating over the Florida East Coasts speedway and the new link between Cocoa and Orlando.

Lastly, 2014 is an election year, and Governor Scott performed poorly in this part of Florida in 2010. Scott came up short in Orange, Osceola, St. Lucie, Palm Beach, Broward, Hillsborough, Pinellas and Dade Counties. He knows he must win these voters over to have a chance in the next election. Anyone who has driven in Southeast or Central Florida, and heard the Republican rhetoric typically pro highway and anti rail will instantly understand why we're getting the High Speed Rail (HSR) route, without the ‘HIGH SPEED’.  To be honest, this time it will be done right. Far right.  Oh, and one more thing, IT IS NOT HSR, it is conventional regional corridor service, something the HSR project should have been from the start.

But keep in mind, it’s much, much more then that,  this is freight rail, a tonnage connection between Port Canaveral’s north container terminal and CSX freight moving east out of St Petersburg, Tampa, Orlando. And an alternate route for those Orlando Utilities Commission coal trains currently running through downtown Orlando.

“Results from the feasibility studies currently underway will determine if this project will be viable and if Florida East Coast Industries (FECI) should continue forward with the initiative.”

Actually to have the trains running by 2014, chances are they are on order or under construction right now. Railcar orders at a record high with waiting lists counted in years, so I’d bet the decision to move ahead has already been made.

What alignment will the tracks use?

“Inferences to the double-tracking of existing track lines between Miami and Cocoa and the new corridor alignments are speculation. FECI is conducting the necessary engineering studies and due diligence research that will help determine next steps on existing and new track infrastructure and corridor options.”

Metrojacksonville's railroad pundits “speculation,” is that from Orlando, the existing state owned Sunrail/CSX route would be used to get trains from the Orlando Central Business district south to the vicinity of Sand Lake Road where it intersects with the Orlando Utilities Commission Railroad, which loops south of the Tradeport Drive area and the south end of Orlando International Airport (OIA). If I am correct, until the long delayed south terminal is constructed at OIA the Orlando Airport Station would be in the vicinity of the intersection of Wethebee Road/CR-530 and Boggy Creek Road. If this alignment were chosen it would cross the Tosohatchee State Reserve and the St. Johns River parallel and contiguous to the Beachline Expressway, but not in the median.

Besides following the Beachline to the Florida East Coast tracks in Cocoa there is another possible alignment one that would cross the Beachline Expressway where it turns southeast after the interchange with State Route 407. The route would continue east staying north of the Canaveral Groves Subdivision until crossing Interstate Highway 95 where it would turn southeast crossing the intersection of Canaveral Groves Boulevard and Grissom Road. This alignment would then turn south entering the Florida East Coast right-of-way near Cidco Road. Either way, it appears that the former, 'new' Florida East Coast Railway station at Cocoa-Rockledge, northern most on the coastal route might get a new lease on what had been a prematurely, truncated life. The balance of the Florida East Coast route will almost certainly see capacity increases.

Long term, if the line is ever extended to Tampa, FECI tracks could easily carry both the passenger trains and the Florida East Coast Railway’s freight trains, as well as those of business partner Norfolk Southern.  However, don’t expect to see Flagler’s ‘gandy dancers’ laying track out  on I-4. It is much more likely the State already worked something out quietly in the aftermath of the HSR collapse to sensibly use the CSX tracks to service Tampa from Orlando. My guess is Scott tossed the ‘S’ line cities of Gainesville (Waldo), Ocala and Dade City, under the train and cut a deal to keep passenger rail off of the ‘S’ in exchange for a free hand on the ‘A’ line Tampa-Orlando-Jacksonville.

Lest you think I jest about some 'hidden' Port Canaveral Intentions

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