FEC EMD E7 No. 1020 at Boca Raton, FL in 1958.

This photo is for sale. Click on image for more information.

 (Dan Pope Collection / RMP Archive)

 

Florida East Coast Railway herald.

FLORIDA EAST COAST RAILWAY

The Florida East Coast Railway (reporting mark FEC) is a former Class I, now Class II railroad operating in the U.S. state of Florida, currently owned by Grupo México.

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 Flagler. He originally visited Florida with his first wife, Mary; they sought assistance with the health issues she faced. A key strategist who worked closely with John D. Rockefeller building the Standard Oil Trust, Flagler noted both great potential and a lack of services during his stay at St. Augustine. He subsequently began what amounted to his second career, developing resorts, industries, and communities all along Florida's shores abutting the Atlantic Ocean.

The FEC is possibly best known for building the railroad to Key West, completed in 1912. When the FEC's line from the mainland to Key West was heavily damaged by the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935, the State of Florida purchased the remaining right-of-way and bridges south of Dade County, and they were rebuilt into road bridges for vehicle traffic and became known as the Overseas Highway. However, a greater and lasting Flagler legacy was the developments along Florida's eastern coast.

During the Great Depression, control was purchased by heirs of the du Pont family. After 30 years of fragile financial condition, the FEC, under leadership of a new president, Ed Ball, took on the labor unions. Ball claimed the company could not afford the same costs as larger Class 1 railroads and needed to invest saved funds in its infrastructure, the condition of which was fast becoming a safety issue. The company—using replacement workers—and some of its employees engaged from 1963 until 1977 in one of the longest and more violent labor conflicts of the 20th century. Ultimately, federal authorities had to intervene to stop the violence, which included bombings, shootings and vandalism. However, the courts ruled in the FEC's favor with regard to the right to employ strikebreakers. During this time Ball invested heavily in numerous steps to improve the railroad's physical plant, and installed various forms of automation. The FEC was the first US railroad to operate two-man train crews, eliminate cabooses, and end all of its passenger services (which were unprofitable) by 1968.

Today, the company's primary rail revenues come from its intermodal and rock trains. In 2018, Brightline, an inter-city rail route, began using FEC tracks between West Palm Beach and Miami.

The FEC was historically a Class I railroad owned by Florida East Coast Industries (FECI) from 2000 to 2016, FOXX Holdings between 1983 and 2000, and the St. Joseph Paper Company prior to 1983.

 

A map of Florida East Coast Railway's historic network, with current lines (red) and former lines (dark red).

(Wikimedia maps | Map data © OpenStreetMap contributors)

 

History

Henry Flagler: developing Florida's east coast

Henry M. Flagler

(J. J. Cade, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

The Florida East Coast Railway (FEC) was developed by Henry Morrison Flagler, an American tycoon, real estate promoter, railroad developer and John D. Rockefeller's partner in Standard Oil. Formed at Cleveland, Ohio, as Rockefeller, Andrews & Flagler in 1867, Standard Oil moved its headquarters in 1877 to New York City. Flagler and his family relocated there as well. He was joined by Henry H. Rogers, another leader of Standard Oil who also became involved in the development of America's railroads, including those on nearby Staten Island, the Union Pacific, and later in West Virginia, where he eventually built the remarkable Virginian Railway to transport coal to Hampton Roads, Virginia.

Flagler's non-Standard Oil interests went in a different direction, however, when in 1878, on the advice of his physician, he traveled to Jacksonville, Florida, for the winter with his first wife, Mary, who was quite ill. Two years after she died in 1881, he married Mary's former caregiver, Ida Alice Shourds. After their wedding, the couple traveled to St. Augustine, Florida, in 1883. Flagler found the city charming, but the hotel facilities and transportation systems inadequate. He recognized Florida's potential to attract out-of-state visitors. Though Flagler remained on the Board of Directors of Standard Oil, he gave up his day-to-day involvement in the firm in order to pursue his Florida interests.

When Flagler returned to Florida, in 1885 he began building a grand St. Augustine hotel, the Ponce de Leon Hotel. Flagler realized that the key to developing Florida was a solid transportation system. At the time, St. Augustine was served by the Jacksonville, St. Augustine and Halifax River Railway (JStA&HR), a 3 ft (914 mm) narrow gauge railway that began service in 1883 between South Jacksonville and St. Augustine. While the JStA&HR was used to transport building materials for the hotel's construction, Flagler found it was poorly constructed and its passenger services would be inadequate for patrons to reach his hotel. Flagler joined the board of the JStA&HR on December 10, 1885, before fully purchasing the line three weeks later. Flagler then rehabilitated the line to his standards, purchased new rolling stock, and converting the track to standard gauge.  He built a modern depot facility as well as schools, hospitals and churches, systematically revitalizing the largely abandoned historic city.

The Ponce de Leon Hotel opened on January 10, 1888. By April of that year, Flagler acquired a second hotel in St. Augustine, the Casa Monica Hotel, which he renamed Cordova. He then built a third hotel, the Hotel Alcazar, which opened in 1898.  With the success of his three St. Augustine hotels, Flagler incorporated the Jacksonville Bridge Company to build a bridge across the St. Johns River and connect the JStA&HR to the rest of Jacksonville's railroads. Passengers needed to ferried across the St. Johns River in Jacksonville to access the line at the time, which was a time-consuming process. Construction began in 1889 and the bridge opened on January 5, 1890, allowing a direct connection for private railcars and Pullman coaches to reach St. Augustine.

By 1888, Flagler was interested in expanding his network beyond St. Augustine. He acquired three additional railroad that year to expand further south. He acquired the St. Johns Railway, which ran from St. Augustine west to the St. Johns River at Tocoi Landing. The St. Johns Railway first opened in 1858 and Flagler purchased the line from New York millionaire William Astor. Flagler also acquired another railroad from Astor, the St. Augustine and Palatka Railway which ran from Tocoi Junction (about halfway between St. Augustine and Tocoi Landing) on the St. Johns Railway and ran southwest to East Palatka. Finally, Flagler acquired the St. Johns and Halifax River Railroad which opened in the early 1880s from East Palatka southeast to Ormond Beach and Daytona. It was extended west into Palatka after the completion of a bridge over the St. Johns River in 1888. In addition to expanding the network, the acquired railroads gave Flagler two additional accesses to the St. Johns River at Tocoi Landing and East Palatka, as well as additional connections to other railroads in Palatka. Continuing to develop hotel facilities to entice northern tourists to visit Florida, Flagler bought and expanded the Ormond Hotel in Ormond Beach.

Flagler created the Jacksonville, St. Augustine and Indian River Railway Company in 1892 as a holding company for his railroad network. 

 

The Florida East Coast Railway depot in Sebastian. The structure was built in 1893.

(https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:FEC_Depot_Sebastion_FL.jpg, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

 

Expanding further south

Beginning in 1892, when landowners south of Daytona petitioned him to extend the railroad 80 miles (130 km) south, Flagler began laying new railroad tracks; no longer did he follow his traditional practice of purchasing existing railroads and merging them into his growing rail system. Under Florida's generous land-grant laws passed in 1893, 8,000 acres (3,237 ha) could be claimed from the state for every mile (1.6 km) built. Flagler would eventually claim in excess of two million acres (809,371 ha; 8,094 km2) for building his railroad, and land development and trading would become one of his most profitable endeavors. Flagler obtained a charter from the state of Florida authorizing him to build a railroad along the Indian River to Miami, and as the railroad progressed southward, cities such as New Smyrna and Titusville began to develop along the tracks.

The railroad reached Fort Pierce January 29, 1894.  By March 22 of the same year, the railroad system reached what is today known as West Palm Beach. Flagler constructed the Royal Poinciana Hotel in Palm Beach overlooking the Lake Worth Lagoon. He also built the Breakers Hotel on the ocean side of Palm Beach, and Whitehall, his private 55-room, 60,000 square foot (5,600 m2) winter home. The development of these three structures, coupled with railroad access to them, established Palm Beach as a winter resort for the wealthy members of America's Gilded Age.

Palm Beach was to be the terminus of the Flagler railroad, but during 1894 and 1895, severe freezes hit all of Central Florida, whereas the Miami area remained unaffected, causing Flagler to rethink his original decision not to move the railroad south of Palm Beach. The fable that Julia Tuttle, one of two main landowners in the Miami area along with the Brickell family, sent orange blossoms to Flagler to prove to him that Miami, unlike the rest of the state, was unaffected by the frost, is untrue. The truth is that she wired him to advise him that "the region around the shores of Biscayne Bay is untouched by the freezes." He sent his two lieutenants, James E. Ingraham and Joseph R. Parrott—now famous in Florida history—to investigate; they brought boxes of truck (produce) and citrus back to Flagler, who then wired Tuttle, asking, "Madam, what is it that you propose?" To convince Flagler to continue the railroad to Miami, both Tuttle and William Brickell offered half of their holdings north and south of the Miami River to him. Tuttle added 50 acres (200,000 m2) for shops and yards if Flagler would extend his railroad to the shores of Biscayne Bay and build one of his great hotels. An agreement was made and contracts were signed. On September 7, 1895, the name of Flagler's system was officially changed from the Jacksonville, St. Augustine and Indian River Railway Company to the Florida East Coast Railway Company and incorporated. The Florida East Coast Railway reached Fort Lauderdale on March 3, 1896. On April 15, 1896, track reached Biscayne Bay, the site of present-day downtown Miami. At the time, it was a small settlement of less than 50 inhabitants. When the town incorporated, on July 28, 1896, its citizens wanted to honor the man responsible for the city's development by naming it Flagler. He declined the honor, persuading them to retain its old Indian name, "Miami." The area was actually previously known as Fort Dallas after the fort built there in 1836 during the Second Seminole War. To further develop the area surrounding the Miami railroad station, Flagler dredged a channel, built streets and The Royal Palm Hotel, instituted the first water and power systems, and financed the town's first newspaper, the Metropolis.

In 1903, Flagler extended the main line an additional 12 miles from Downtown Miami southwest to access much of the unsettled lowlands near Cutler Ridge which he felt could generate agricultural traffic. This proved successful and the following year, the line was extended to Homestead.

 

A 1913 print advertisement extols the many advantages of traveling on the Florida East Coast

Railway, the "New Route to the Panama Canal". Click to enlarge. 

(Last Train to Paradise by Les Standiford., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

 

Labor issues

Throughout the 1880s and 1890s, the fledgling rail empire extensively employed convict labor from largely African-American convicts. While most Southern states employed a form of convict lease at the time, renting prisoner's labor to various businesses, Florida's version of convict lease was considered "especially violent" compared to the others.

According to historian Joe Knetsch, reformers and muckrakers exaggerated charges of peonage regarding construction of the Florida East Coast Railway in 1893 to 1909. Flager and his lawyers defeated all legal challenges and neither the company or its employees were ever convicted in court. However, there were many reports harsh working conditions and forced indebtedness to the company, and malfeasance by labor agents who hired men for the railway. Knetsch concludes that "Flagler in fact provided health care for his employees and was a far better employer than the press alleged.

 

Train en route to Key West. The Florida East coast Railway takes to the water with its Key West extension. No. 85 southbound, "The Havana Special" goes out to sea about four years after the right of way's completion in 1912. To the right of the viaduct is the Atlantic, while the Gulf of Mexico is to the left. This railroad, badly wrecked by a hurricane in 1936, was abandoned and a highway was laid over it.(["The Havana Special" over the water]photograph1912; (https://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth28862/m1/1/accessed August 17, 2023), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, https://texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Museum of the American Railroad.)

First Florida East Coast Railway train arriving in Key West. (https://www.floridamemory.com/items/show/39321, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

 

Key West extension

Once the railroad reached Homestead in 1904, Flagler then sought perhaps his greatest challenge: the extension of the Florida East Coast Railway to Key West, a city of almost 20,000 inhabitants located 128 miles (206 km) beyond the end of the Florida peninsula. He became particularly interested in linking Key West to the mainland after the construction of the Panama Canal was announced by the United States in 1905. As the closest deep-water port in the United States to the canal, Key West was positioned to take advantage of significant new trade with the west that would be enabled by the opening of the canal – this, in addition to the city's existing involvement with Cuban and Latin American trade. Key West was a major coaling station for ship traffic between South America and New York. Flagler thought it would be profitable for coal to be brought by railroad to Key West for coaling those ships. Though, by the time the extension was finished, the range of ships had been extended to such a degree that they no longer stopped in Key West for coal.

The construction of the Overseas Railroad required many engineering innovations as well as vast amounts of labor and monetary resources. Many considered the Key West extension a folly as it was one of the most daring infrastructure ever built exclusively with private funds. At one time during construction, four thousand men were employed. During the seven years of construction, three hurricanes threatened to halt the project. This included the 1906 Florida Keys hurricane, which killed 135 of Flagler's workers.

The Key West extension cost of $50 million and the lives of hundreds of workmen. Workers toiled under conditions sufficiently cruel and harsh that the US Justice Department prosecuted the FECR under a federal slave-kidnapping law. Journalists also chronicled conditions of debt peonage wherein immigrant labor was threatened with prohibitive transportation fees to leave Key West after seeing the unsafe and disease-ridden conditions, essentially forcing them to stay.

Despite the hardships, the final link of the Florida East Coast Railway to Trumbo Point in Key West was completed in 1912. The first train, a construction engineers' train, arrived in Key West on January 21, 1912. The next day, which is considered the first day of service on the new route, a proud Henry Flagler rode the first passenger train into Key West, marking the completion of the railroad's oversea connection to Key West and the linkage by railway of the entire east coast of Florida. The completed extension was widely known as the "Eighth Wonder of the World". Upon his arrival in Key West, Flagler stated "Now I can die in peace" with pride in his achievement. Flagler died 16 months later in May 1913.

 

FEC through the years:

Effect of the Florida land boom and Great Depression

The Florida East Coast Railway benefitted greatly from the Florida land boom of the 1920s, which led to increased traffic. By 1923, the FEC was running five daily passenger trains roundtrip between Jacksonville and Miami. Two of these trains, the Havana Special and the Key West Express continued to Key West. The following year, the number of passenger trains between Jacksonville and Miami increased to eight with two continuing to Key West. In response to the land boom, the FEC made investments to their network to increase capacity. Within the decade, FEC built Bowden Yard in Jacksonville and the Miller Shops in St. Augustine.  In 1923, the FEC built the Miami Belt Line, a freight route that ran from Little River through Hialeah that reconnected with the main line in Larkin (near Kendall), bypassing downtown Miami. A yard was also built in Hialeah.  In 1925, the Moultrie Cutoff was built to shorten the distance between St. Augustine and Bunnell (just north of Ormond Beach) on the main line by bypassing its turn towards Palatka.  The main line was also expanded to double track from Jacksonville to Miami in 1926, along with the installation of automatic block signaling. Many of the bridges were rebuilt when the main line was expanded to double track, including the original bridge over the St. Johns River in Jacksonville which was replaced by the current Strauss Trunnion Bascule Bridge. By the end of 1926, the number of passenger trains from Jacksonville to Miami increased to 12, with some continuing to Key West.

Due to the prosperity of South Florida during the land boom, the Seaboard Air Line Railroad brought competition to the region by building a line from Central Florida to West Palm Beach (built by the Seaboard's Florida Western and Northern Railroad subsidiary) in 1925. This line was extended by their Seaboard-All Florida Railway subsidiary to Miami and Homestead on a route nearly parallel to the FEC two years later.

The Stock Market Crash of 1929 and Great Depression were harsh on the FEC. The railroad declared bankruptcy and was in receivership by September 1931, 18 years after Flagler's death. Bus service began to be substituted for trains on the branches in 1932. Streamliners plied the rails between 1939 and 1963, including The East Coast Champion (from New York), The Florida Special (from New York), City of Miami (from Chicago), Dixie Flagler (from Chicago) and South Wind (from Chicago), all of which were jointly operated with the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad.

 

Damaged Florida East Coast Railroad train from 1935 hurricane. (State Archives of Florida)

 

Locomotive No. 447 several weeks after the storm at Islamorada. (State Archives of Florida)

Labor Day Hurricane of 1935

The Key West extension was heavily damaged and partially destroyed in the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935. An FEC rescue train which, with the exception of steam locomotive 447, was overturned by the storm surge at Islamorada. 42 miles (68 km) of track were washed away by the hurricane, two miles of which ended up washing ashore on the mainland at Cape Sable. The FEC's Long Key Fishing Camp was also destroyed in the storm. Traffic was immediately embargoed south of Florida City after the storm while the Florida East Coast Railway decided whether or not to restore the line.

The Florida East Coast Railway quickly determined that it was financially unable to rebuild the destroyed sections. The roadbed and remaining bridges south of Florida City were then sold to the state of Florida, which built the Overseas Highway to Key West, using much of the remaining railway infrastructure. A rebuilt Overseas Highway (U.S. Route 1), taking an alignment that closely follows the Overseas Railroad's original routing, continues to provide the only highway link to Key West, ending near the southernmost point in the continental United States. The remaining Long Key Viaduct, Seven Mile Bridge, and Bahia Honda Rail Bridge that once carried the Key West extension still stand and are on the National Register of Historic Places.

 

This FEC ink blotter mentions the railway's connection with the West India Fruit and Steamship Company

and it's fleet of railroad car ferries between Palm Beach, FL and Havana, Cuba.

(Florida East Coast Railway, W. Lenheim Collection)

 

Change in ownership

In the early 1960s, Edward Ball, who controlled the Alfred I. duPont Testamentary Trust, bought a majority ownership of FEC, buying its bonds on the open market, allowing the FEC to emerge from bankruptcy following protracted litigation with a group of the company's other bondholders, led by S.A. Lynch and associated with the Atlantic Coast Line which had proposed an alternate plan of reorganization. That same year, a labor contract negotiation turned sour. Ball was determined to save the railroad from the bankruptcy that had continued for more than a decade. Ball was certain that if the company didn't become profitable, the equipment and track would deteriorate to the point where some lines would become unsafe or unusable and require partial abandonment. Later, in 1962, the expanded Cuban embargo added to the woes.

 

Trains such as the Florida Special helped make the state the tourist destination it is today.

(Florida Memory, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

 

Labor conflict

Having gained total control of the FEC by 1960, Ball sought to make the railroad profitable again by holding down wages and eliminating featherbedding. Despite the recommendation of a National Mediation Board convened by President Kennedy in 1962, Ball refused to grant FEC workers a 10-cents-an-hour raise, accepted by 192 other railroads, claiming that the FEC could not afford to raise wages. This led to a prolonged work stoppage by non-operating unions, beginning January 23, 1963, and whose picket lines were honored by the operating unions (the train crews).

Because the strike was by the non-operating unions, a federal judge ordered the railroad to continue observing their work rules, while the railroad was free to change the work rules for the operating unions, who were technically not on strike and thus had no standing in the federal court regarding the strike.

Ball's use of replacement workers to keep the railroad running during the strike led to violence by strikers that included shootings and bombings; a number of freight trains were derailed or blown up. Eventually, federal intervention helped quell the violence, and the railroad's right to operate during the strike with replacement workers was affirmed by the United States Supreme Court. As the strike continued, the FEC took numerous steps to improve its physical plant, installed various forms of automation, and drastically cut labor costs. Most of the nation's other railroads did not match these achievements for several years; some still had not as of 2010.

The strike continued until March 1, 1974, after a court-ordered settlement between the railroad and the unions. According to historian Burton Altman:

"After the settlement, workers were earning at least one dollar an hour less than their counterparts on other railroads. Wages were well below the industry's scale and the work force had been cut in half. When the strike began, 1,600 walked out. In time, 900 went back to work on the company's terms; others found employment elsewhere. Only about 100 stayed out until the end, and many of them could not return to work because they could no longer pass the required physical examinations or were too old to work. The end of the strike also ended their meager benefits that had enabled members to survive."

After Ball's death in 1981, Raymond Wyckoff took the helm of the company on May 30, 1984.

 

Three GP40-2s lead a southbound train through Lake Worth, Florida. (BBT609, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)

Route map. (No machine-readable author provided. Kmusser assumed (based on copyright claims)., CC BY-SA 2.5 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5>, via Wikimedia Commons)

Strike's impacts on passenger service

From the beginning of the strike, the long-distance named passenger trains rerouted over an Atlantic Coast Line Railroad route through the central interior of the peninsula south from Jacksonville to Auburndale, and the Seaboard Air Line Railroad route south from Auburndale completed the trip to West Palm Beach and Miami. The strike and the resulting interior rerouting marked the end of long-distance coastal service between Jacksonville and West Palm Beach. Any resumed service later, in 1965, was strictly intrastate trains operated by the FEC.

Passenger service became a political issue in Florida during the early years of the labor strike, which essentially lasted 14 years, from 1963 to 1977. At the insistence of the City of Miami—which had long fought to get rid of the tracks in the downtown section just north of the county courthouse—Miami's wooden-constructed downtown passenger terminal was demolished by November 1963. Although a new station was planned at NE 36th Street and NE 2nd Avenue, it was never built.

Further, while freight trains were operated with non-union and supervisory crews, passenger runs were not reinstated until August 2, 1965, after the City of Miami sued and the Florida courts ruled that the FEC corporate charter required both coach and first class passenger services to be offered. In response, FEC sold "parlor car seating" for first class accommodations in the rear lounge section of a tavern-lounge-observation car. Train service operated daily, except Sunday. This new state-mandated passenger service consisted of a single diesel locomotive and two streamlined passenger cars, which, in addition to the operating crew, were staffed by a passenger service agent and a coach attendant, who were "non-operating". The mini-streamliner operated all of the way across three previously observed crew districts (Jacksonville to New Smyrna Beach to Fort Pierce to Miami). Following the letter of the law, the passenger service was bare bones. The trains carried no baggage, remains, mail or express and honored no inter-line tickets or passes.  The only food service was a box lunch (at Cocoa-Rockledge in 1966). On-board beverage service was limited to soft drinks and coffee. Without a station in Miami, the 1950s-era station in North Miami became the southern terminus. This stripped-down service operated six days a week until it was finally discontinued on July 31, 1968.

 

Old office buildings in St. Augustine, FL. (Ebyabe, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)

 

Florida East Coast Railway EMD E8A No. 1594 at Gold Coast Railroad Museum. (Matt Howry, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)

FEC in the 21st century

Routing
The Florida East Coast Railway has operated from its relocated headquarters in Jacksonville since it sold the original General Office Building in St. Augustine to Flagler College in late 2006. Its trains run over nearly the same route developed by Henry Flagler, with the addition of the Moultrie Cutoff (St. Augustine to Bunnell), which was built in 1925 to shorten the main line south of St. Augustine.

Leadership
In March 2005, Robert Anestis stepped down as CEO of Florida East Coast Industries after a four-year stint, allowing Adolfo Henriquez to assume that position, with John D. McPherson, a long-time railroad man, continuing as president of the railway itself. By this time, the railroad had long since made peace with its workers.

In late 2007, in a move surprising to many employees and railroad industry observers alike, the FEC was purchased for over US $3 billion (including non-rail assets) by Fortress Investment Group, the principal investors who also control short line railroad operator RailAmerica. John Giles was named chairman, and David Rohal was named president. Both men were also principals with major responsibilities at RailAmerica as well, although the ownership of FEC and RailAmerica were not linked corporately, and the spinoff of RailAmerica as a publicly traded company did not include FEC.

In May 2010, James Hertwig was named as president and chief executive officer of the company effective July 1, 2010. Hertwig had recently retired from CSX, most recently having served as president of CSX Intermodal, one of CSX's major operating units.

James Hertwig retired as president and chief executive officer of the company effective December 31, 2017, and was replaced by Nathan Asplund as the railway was purchased by Grupo México and now manages it along with its other transport interests.

Operations

The FEC operations today are dominated by "intermodal" trains and unit rock (limestone) trains. Passenger service was discontinued in 1968 after labor unrest but later resumed with the introduction of Brightline in 2018.

The company's major income-earning sources are its rock trains, transporting primarily limestone, and intermodal trains. FEC freight trains operate on precise schedules. Trains are not held for missed connections or late loadings. Most of the trains are paired so that they leave simultaneously from their starting points and meet halfway through the run and swap crews, so they are back home at the end of their runs. The FEC pioneered operation with 2 man crews with no crew districts, which they were able to start doing after the 1963 strike. The entire railroad adopted positive train control (PTC) after a fatal 1987 collision caused by a crew not obeying signaling. (PTC is a safety feature long-sought by federal safety officials for all railroads).

FEC has what is called by some a "prime" railroad right-of-way. The heavy weight of the rock trains required very good trackage and bridges. The railroad has mostly 136 pound-per-yard (66 kg/m) continuous-welded rail attached to concrete ties, which sits on a high quality granite roadbed. The entire railroad is controlled by centralized traffic control with constant radio communication. Because the railroad has only minor grades, it takes very little horsepower to pull very long trains at speed. 60 mph (97 km/h) trains are a normal FEC operating standard.

 

FEC E9A 1031 at Cocoa Rockledge, FL in February, 1968.

(Photo by Roger Puta, courtesy Marty Bernard, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

 

Passenger service

The FEC was already in the freight-only business when Amtrak was created and assumed passenger operations of nearly all U.S. railroads' passenger services in 1971. Periodically, there has been speculation that the southern end of the FEC line might be used for a commuter rail service to complement the existing Tri-Rail line (which follows former CSX tracks to the west). There has also been some discussion about Amtrak or the State of Florida using FEC lines for a more direct route between Jacksonville and Miami. The company has more recently indicated that it is open to allowing commuter rail services along its lines, with potential service areas in Miami-Dade County, Broward County, and Jacksonville's First Coast Commuter Rail.

In March 2012 FEC Industries (not FEC Railway) proposed a privately owned and operated service between Miami and Orlando along its route, to be named All Aboard Florida. New high speed trackage would be built between Brevard County (the oceanside county east of Orlando) and Orlando International Airport. In addition to the new track, the main line is once again being expanded to double track from Brevard County to Miami (some of the bridges still have adequate width from the previous double track). In 2014 the very first beginnings of All Aboard Florida commenced with studies and actual construction of the first phase, and construction began in November 2014. In 2015, AAF announced they would operate the service under the name Brightline. Since 2018, Brightline has had service on an initial stretch between West Palm Beach and Miami, with a station in Fort Lauderdale in between. In 2022, two additional stations in Boca Raton and Aventura were added. A new railway extension to Orlando International Airport is set to start service in 2023, and a future rail expansion to Tampa is currently in the planning stages.

Intermodal services

The intermodal traffic includes interchanged shipments with CSX and Norfolk Southern, participation in EMP container service operated by UP and Norfolk Southern, United Parcel Service (UPS) piggyback trailers, trailers going to the Wal-Mart distribution center at Fort Pierce, and intermodal shipping container traffic through the ports of Miami, Port Everglades (adjacent to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, and the principal source of imports), Port of Palm Beach/Lake Worth Inlet, and Port Canaveral.

Additionally FEC offers "Hurricane Service" offering trucking companies the opportunity of having their trailers piggybacked out of Jacksonville to save the expensive cost of back-hauling empty trailers.

Starting in 2012 the FEC began an aggressive project to reopen direct rail service to the ports of Miami, and Port Everglades. This is in anticipation of the expansion of the Panama Canal and the expected increase of intermodal traffic. In 2013 the drawbridge at the Port of Miami was repaired and reactivated and trains began to roll. In 2014 a new container shuttle was put into operation between Hialeah Yard and the Port of Miami. Also in 2014, the new rail lines into Port Everglades were opened, allowing direct access for FEC trains into the port. Further, a new transfer facility in Hialeah Yard will add additional intermodal transfer between trains, trucks, and planes. This facility opened in 2015. Additional capacity improvements are planned at other ports as well as the FEC's mainline.

 

Produce being loaded into FEC refrigerated cars in the 1950s. (Florida Memory, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Other freight

Produce being loaded into FEC refrigerated cars in the 1950s
The FEC also hauls normal "manifest" freight to and from points along its right of way. These cars are hauled on whatever train is going that way, so intermodal and rock trains routinely have some manifest cars in their consists.

Additionally, the FEC currently transports Tropicana Products "Juice Train" cars to and from one of the company's processing facilities located on the "K" Line. The Juice Train concept was developed by Tropicana founder Anthony T. Rossi in conjunction with Seaboard Coast Line Railroad (a CSX predecessor) beginning in 1970.

Motive power

The FEC completed its "second generation" dieselization with the purchase of 49 GP40s and GP40-2s and 11 GP38-2s, ranging in the 400's. Most of these locomotives were extensively rebuilt, with others being retired. In 2002, the FEC acquired 20 ex-UP SD40-2s, which were numbered in the 700s. These ex-UP locomotives remained in their original colors with FEC markings; however, as of 2014 seven of them had been repainted into the "retro" Champion scheme. As of 2015 most of these were leased to CSXT.

In 2006 the FEC leased four SD70M-2's numbered in the 100 series (100-103), in a blue and yellow livery known by fans as the "Classic" or the "Alaskan" schemes. In 2009 when RailAmerica came into the picture, they added four more SD70M-2's (104-107) in the red, pearl, and blue scheme, which was the standard RailAmerica scheme. That brought the total SD70M-2 count to eight.

Seeking further power improvements, in 2009, the FEC leased three CITX SD70M-2's, making the count now of 11 of the big EMD's. These locomotives were numbered 140, 141 and 142; all were blue and white striped units. All of the SD70M-2's served on the railway until the end of 2014, when they were replaced with new power. The fleet GP38-2s were used principally for yard and road switching as well as the occasional local. The others were used as available in road service. Some test runs were made to observe the effect on fuel consumption of dynamic braking and combinations of new and old power.

In 2014 the railway purchased 24 GE ES44C4s, its first General Electric and AC powered locomotives. All of the GE's were delivered by the end of 2014, with the first arriving on November 21, 2014. In 2015 the railway began to experiment with LNG fuel that will help with costs and efficiency. With the arrival of the GE's the majority of the FEC's SD40-2's and a number of the SD70M-2's were temporarily leased to CSXT. As of year end 2017, all SD70M-2's had been returned to their respective leasing companies. Most of the SD40-2's remained on the FEC with the exception of leases to other companies.

LNG fuel
FEC is the only US railroad actively using liquefied natural gas, a much cleaner fuel than diesel, to power its 24 dual fuel GE ES44C4 locomotives. The locomotives are used in pairs with an LNG fuel tender between them.

Statistics

In 1925 FEC carried 979 million ton-miles of revenue freight and 261 million passenger miles on (at year-end) 849 miles of road and 1411 miles of track; corresponding numbers for 1970 were 1345, 0, 554 and 1058.

In 2005 FEC owned and operated:

351 miles (565 km) of mainline track between Jacksonville and Miami, Florida
277 miles (446 km) of branch, switching, and other secondary track
158 miles (254 km) of yard track

Flagler Development owned and operated:

64 buildings
7.4 million rentable square feet

 

Motive Fleet

Road numbers Model Notes
100–107, 140–142 EMD SD70M-2 Numbers 104–107 are painted in RailAmerica's red, pearl and blue colors; Numbers 100–103 were sold off to the Vermont Railway and Providence and Worcester. Numbers 140–142 are painted in CITX blue with white stripes. 100–107 were leased from EMD and returned by the end of 2014. 140–142 are leased from CITX and scheduled to be returned by the end of 2014. CSXT leased FEC 104–107 in 2015, but they are now in storage at the FEC New Smyrna Beach Yard. CSXT also leased CITX 140, 141, and 142 but have been returned to the leaser.
401–410 EMD GP40 402 wrecked, parts traded in for No.424. Reportedly, No. 406 was painted yellow, red and black and numbered 2000. 406 / 2000 along with the 403 left the property in 2013. FEC 2000 and 403 were the last pure GP40's left on the railway. All other GP40's have been scrapped or sent off to various RailAmerica roads.
411–414, 16–18, 20–22, 24–27, 29–38, 40 and 443 EMD GP40-2 423 rebuilt to No. 437; 426 on the cover of country musician Randy Dukes’ album Riding the Rails. 416 repainted into the 1960s "retro blue" in 2013 and a number of others have followed. FEC 434 was the very last GP40-2 ever built by EMD and is still in service on the railway. 412 and 414 have been repainted into a new livery applied by new owner Grupo México.
415, 419, 428, 439, 441 EMD GP40-3
444–449 EMD GP40-3 Rebuilt GP40s; dynamic brake equipped. Off the property.
501–511 EMD GP38-2 502 acquired by Chesapeake and Albemarle Railroad. 503 and 504 acquired by North Carolina and Virginia Railroad. 501 and 507 have been repainted into "retro blue". 505 and 506 to the South Carolina Central RR. 509 acquired by Missouri and Northern Arkansas Railroad.
701–720 EMD SD40-2 Ex-Union Pacific; Nos. 703, 711, 713, 714, 715, 716 and 720 were overhauled and repainted into a yellow, red and black scheme. These units are painted in what is referred to as the "Champion" scheme that was used on the FEC E-units. Unit 701 was completely destroyed after a derailment on May 9, 2009. All SD40 -2 units except for 711 and 715 were being used by CSX as leasers in 2015–2016 and have returned to FEC.
2000 EMD GP40 Originally numbered 406 and was a commemorative unit painted in "Champion-esque" yellow, red and black. This unit left the property in 2013.
Progress Rail 3576 & 3578 EMD SD40-2
Progress Rail 9917 EMD SD40-2
800–823 GE ES44C4 Delivered in November–December 2014; painted in the "Champion" scheme.

An FEC southbound train passing through Boynton Beach, FL led by a pair of ES44C4 locomotives in 2015.

(BBT609, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)

 

Awards and recognition

On May 16, 2006, FEC was the recipient of the Gold E. H. Harriman Award for safety in Group C (line-haul railroad companies with fewer than 4 million employee hours per year).

Corporate history

The Jacksonville, St. Augustine and Indian River Railway Company was incorporated under the general incorporation laws of Florida to own and operate a railroad from Jacksonville in Duval county, through the counties of Duval, St. Johns, Putnam, Volusia, Brevard, Orange, Osceola, Dade, Polk and Hillsborough.

Florida state law chapter 4260, approved May 31, 1893, granted land to the railroad.[citation needed] At that time, it was already in operation from Jacksonville to Rockledge, the part south of Daytona having been constructed by them. The company had just filed a certificate changing and extending its lines on and across the Florida Keys to Key West in Monroe County.

The name was changed to the Florida East Coast Railway Company on September 7, 1895.

Florida East Coast Industries (FECI) incorporated in 1983 and was made the holding company for the Railway and the Commercial Realty/Flagler Development Company in 1984. The other subsidiaries are Orlando-based carrier, "EPIK Communication" and the logistics firm, "International Transit".

FECI began operating independently of the St. Joe Company on October 9, 2000 when St. Joe shareholders were given FECI stock.

On May 8, 2007, Florida East Coast Railway Company's parent, FECI, announced that FECI would be purchased with private equity funds managed by Fortress Investment Group in a transaction valued at $3.5 billion. Fortress Investment acquired Florida East Coast Railway from Florida East Coast Industries in March 2008.

On July 7, 2017, Grupo México Transportes, subsidiary of Grupo México, completed the acquisition of Florida East Coast Railway. FECI retained their passenger trackage rights, which are now used for Brightline.

 

Family tree

Florida East Coast Railway – formed September 13, 1895, as a renaming of the Jacksonville, St. Augustine and Indian River Railroad; still exists
Jacksonville, St. Augustine and Indian River Railroad – formed October 6, 1892, as a renaming of the FC&G; renamed the Florida East Coast Railway September 13, 1895
Florida Coast and Gulf Railway – formed May 28, 1892; renamed the Jacksonville, St. Augustine and Indian River Railroad October 6, 1892
Jacksonville, St. Augustine and Halifax River Railway – formed February 28, 1881, as a renaming of the Jacksonville, St. Augustine and Halifax River Railroad; merged with the Jacksonville, St. Augustine and Indian River Railroad October 31, 1892
Jacksonville, St. Augustine and Halifax River Railroad – formed March 1879; renamed the Jacksonville, St. Augustine and Halifax River Railway February 28, 1881
St. Augustine and Palatka Railway – formed September 1, 1885; merged with the Jacksonville, St. Augustine and Indian River Railroad 1893

 

Lines

Main Line

At its greatest extent, Florida East Coast Railway's Main Line ran from Jacksonville via Miami to Key West, a distance of over 500 miles. Today, the Main Line continues to run from Jacksonville to Miami.

Prior to 1925, the main line deviated from its current route between St. Augustine and Bunnell. From St. Augustine, it ran southwest to East Palatka on the St. Johns River before turning back southeast to Bunnell. In 1925, the Moultrie Cutoff was built to reroute the main line on to a more direct route from St. Augustine to Bunnell, bypassing the inland swing to East Palatka. The original main line remained in service after the Moultrie Cutoff was complete, but it was downgraded to branch status (Palatka Branch) and is now mostly abandoned. The milepost numbers on the main line still reflect the original route, causing the mileposts to abruptly jump from 67 to 86.4 in Bunnell today.

In 1926, the main line was double-tracked between Jacksonville and Miami in response to the Florida land boom of the 1920s. Bridges were rebuilt and Automatic Block Signals were also installed at the same time.

The Key West Extension was destroyed by the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 and was not rebuilt with Florida City subsequently becoming the new southern terminus. The Overseas Highway (US 1) largely runs along the former Key West Extension right of way today.

In 1972, four years after the discontinuation of FEC's passenger services, work began to restore the main line to single track with passing sidings every 10 miles and Centralized traffic control. Also in 1972, FEC abandoned the main line from Miami south to Kendall, which included the demolition of the swing bridge over the Miami River in downtown Miami. The FEC sold the right of way of this abandoned segment to Miami-Dade Transit in 1979, who then built the southern half of Miami's Metrorail on the former right of way. Main line track from Kendall to Florida City remained in service at this time since it could still be accessed through the Little River Branch. By 1989, the remaining main line track from Kendall to Florida City (which had been the southern terminus since the abandonment of the Key West Extension in 1935) was abandoned. Today, the South Miami Dade Busway and South Dade Rail Trail run on the former right of way from Kendall to Florida City.

With the reintroduction of passenger service on the FEC via Brightline in the 2010s, the southern half of the main line is once again being expanded to double track. Track from Miami to West Palm Beach was complete in late 2017. Work is currently underway to expand the line to double track from West Palm Beach to Titusville as part of Brightline's second phase. Many bridges are also being rebuilt along this segment as part of the project, despite the fact that many of the older bridges still have adequate width from the previous double track.

 

For all other Lines click HERE.

For Historic Stations click HERE.

Flagler's Train: The Florida Keys Over-Sea Railroad

Flagler's Train is an excellent one hour documentary, produced by South Florida PBS, which chronicles the imagination and achievements of Henry Morrison Flagler, who spearheaded the development of the over-seas railway connecting Key West to the existing Florida East Coast Railway.

 

See Also:

Railroads A-Z