Return of the Golden Spike

by Bernard McCormick Tuesday, September 24, 2013 No Comment(s)


The engines were lined up back to back, or nose to nose if you prefer, and you will not find trains as clean looking very often. After all, this was a public relations event, and a pretty important one, so CSX, Tri-Rail and the Florida East Coast Railway brought out their best-looking engines for the job. Tri-Rail was showing off a new, more streamlined design, and the FEC for the occasion chose to go back to the bright yellow, red and silver engine (shown above) that the line used back in the days when it last ran passenger trains.

Apparently they are repainting their current, mundane, blue prime movers to celebrate a historic event – the return of passenger traffic to Henry Flagler’s pioneering railroad for the first time since the 1960s. The fancy colors were displayed last week on the FEC tracks near Croissant Park in Fort Lauderdale, and the three engines symbolized another piece of history – the union of three railroad entities to bring passenger service back to the track where it belongs, the same FEC rails that built Florida’s East Coast cities more than a century ago.

The plan has been hinted at for years, but last week the official blessing of all involved was given. The idea is utterly sensible. Some of the slow-moving freight traffic on the FEC will be switched to the more westerly CSX tracks, which has far fewer traffic stopping grade crossings than the FEC. In turn, Tri-Rail, which now uses the CSX tracks, will switch some trains to the FEC, where they will be vastly more useful as they bisect the busy downtowns along the route. It is not a massive construction job. Tracks connecting the two railroads already exist.

Thousands of commuters will be able to walk from the station near Broward Boulevard to their downtown Fort Lauderdale jobs. And people living as far north as Jupiter will be able to commute fairly quickly to Fort Lauderdale and even Miami. In short, our area is going big-time, doing the kind of traveling that New York, Philadelphia and Chicago have had even before Henry Flagler’s days. And he died in 1913. HEAT fans will be able to take a train from Palm Beach and Broward counties to the front door of the American Airlines arena. That same track will actually pass through Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International airport. What could be more convenient?

Although it was not part of last week’s celebration, it is known that Amtrak is also considering  using the FEC tracks, which come straight down the East Coast – as opposed to the current route that makes a time-consuming loop through Central Florida enroute to our coastal cities.

It is hard to exaggerate the long-range impact of this combine. As we have noted before, the FEC has large land holdings along its track. It is planning a large development on its yards in Miami, and passenger traffic will open up numerous opportunities farther up the coast. You can expect some impressive redevelopment in cities such as Fort Lauderdale. It already has considerable new apartment construction on the east side of the FEC in the downtown area. These units will be mostly walkable to the new service. But there is plenty of land on both sides of the tracks, now lined with small old buildings housing small businesses, that would be natural sites for high-rise structures.

Not so long ago we complained of all the construction underway in downtown Fort Lauderdale, without planning for the increase in traffic sure to follow. This announcement of railroad cooperation is a game changer. The people buying or renting in the downtown area had little choice in getting in and out. But now they will. This may not be quite as historic as driving in the golden spike in Utah on the transcontinental railroad in 1869, but it will do until something better comes along.

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