by Leo King
A Destination:Freedom Feature
February 17, 2003 (Page 2)
Story & all photos © 2003 - Leo King
The National Corridors Initiative, Inc.
Florida East Coast train No. 101 awaits its crew in Bowden yard in Jacksonville, Fla. Conductor Ron Cooley is on his way. Not far behind is Engineer Bob Holmes.
NCI takes a ride
Amtrak, FEC await a financial outcome
Northward trains would traverse FEC rails as well but last summers fiscal nightmare at Amtrak put all of that on hold.
If Amtrak exits its fiscal woes and can restart its Florida plans, the trains will come from CSX and its Jacksonville station at 3570 Clifford Lane, which is also MP A639.4. Its CSXs A Line. They will travel about three miles southward to Beaver Street Interlocking where they will make a diverging move onto the route that connects to St. Johns River Bridge, a movable span 2,451 feet long and MP 0.0 on the FEC.
The brake test is completed and Florida East Coasts premier intermodal train is near ready to leave for Hialeah Yard in Miami, nearly 400 miles to the south.
NCI took a ride on February 4 on Florida East Coast intermodal freight train No. 101, the carriers premier intermodal hotshot from Bowden Yard.
Ron Cooley, a 39-year veteran conductor and engineer, was the conductor that day, and Bob Holmes, an engineer who is also a conductor, with 32 years on the railroad, was at the throttle. Cooley hired out when he was 19 years old, and Holmes when he was 25. Between them, they have 71 years railroad experience. Both are married with children.
Intermodal No. 101 is scheduled to leave Bowden Yard in Jacksonville (MP. 8.6) at the south-end switch, close to Baymeadows Road overhead bridge, and travel 357 miles to Hialeah Yard in Miami. It is a daily departure, except on Sundays. Todays weather was not good it was warm enough at 60 degrees, but it was raining off and on and mostly on. We wouldnt catch a glimmer of sunlight until around 6:30 p.m., which was just when the sun was setting.
Locomotive engineer Bob Holmes is right at home in a GP-40-2 cab he has been doing it for 32 years, and on the GP-9s in an earlier era. The latest FEC power is 20 SD-40-2s, also rated at 3,000 hp. They came from Union pacific.
Our train was a short one this day only 4,479 feet stretched out, with 35 loads and no empty cars (but platforms, including well cars and trailers on flats). It also weighed in at 3,210 tons with 202 axles, and carried two hazardous materials cars the TTAX 654069 and TTRX 360077, the 24th and 33rd cars, counting from the head-end.
This was supposed to be a non-stop train with no setouts en route on this day. Fate, however, dealt a different hand.
Our power was two GP-40-2s, the 424 and 441, an ex-UP SD-40-2 No. 711 completing the trio. That was 9,000hp when operating above 18 mph Cooley noted. Under that speed, they only develop around 1,500 hp.
Insert pic 4 424_CU
This 4,479-foot train means big bucks for FEC. It is the railroad's premier hotshot. At speed, the three engines will each develop 3,000hp.
The 24th car contained marine varnish, an acid, and ethylene oxide being shipped by Yellow Transportation. The truck freight operator would pick up the containers at FECs Hialeah, Fla., intermodal terminal, where the train would tie up. Yellow was also the shipper.
The 33rd car was loaded with three containers loaded with acids and adhesives. G&P Trucking would pick them up at Hialeah. They were also the shippers.
I met engineer Holmes in yardmaster Lyle Lowes tower from where he directs multiple operations. A few minutes later, Conductor Cooley came along, getting his paperwork including the days bulletin order, which contained notices of slow orders and other pertinent information.
We each had particular things to do, but I strolled downstairs to ground level and snapped a few photos of the train, waiting for us a few tracks over. A hostler had dragged it down from C Yard, the intermodal facility (between MPs 5.0 and 6.0). Eventually, we all met up on the 424, the lead engine.
We got the okay to go from the yardmaster.
Holmes started the bell ringing, gave a couple of toots on the whistle, opened the throttle a notch or two, eased off on the air, and we started rolling at 11:53 a.m. He called dispatcher Joe Stewart on the radio F-E-C One-oh-one on the move, dispatcher. Here we come.
We were snaking out onto the main, crossing the leads to A and B Yards where carload traffic is shifted.
We were close to the first signal south of the yard where it joins the main and where cab signal territory begins. Every signal has a number, and this one was 8.7. It also marks where Centralized Traffic Control (CTC) and the cab signals cut in, and where the dispatcher could see us on his display. Behind us, the rest of the train was still in C Yard, but on the move.
Stewart acknowledged the crew call, and said we would get a Form S and a slow order between CP 10 and MP 18.5. We would be running at restricted speed for 18 and one-half miles. Restricted speed on the FEC means 20 mph or slower.
We had a red over green light an approach diversion indication, and lined out onto the main as we left the last yard track. There were no trains ahead of us. By the time we got our cab signals we were moving at 17 mph.
After our train cleared the signal, Holmes could bring it up to 20.
It must have been at Shad Road, around MP 10.5, when I saw a car run around the lowered crossing gates. It was the first of five vehicles to do so that I would see that day. Scary stuff.
From the cab, someone has lined the hand-operated switches so No. 101 can leave on time. We actually left about seven minutes early. The main track lay less than one mile ahead.
We lost a few minutes because of the slow order, but were soon up to track speed, 60 mph.
FEC tells its engineers that if they can maintain speed, isolate the lead engine to conserve fuel. Its a lot quieter in the cab when they do. Holmes cut out the 424, and the two trailing units kept the train humming right along at 60 in notch 6 on the throttle (there are eight).
As we approached CP 15.6, we were required to slow down to 3 mph before we could safely pass a stop indication at an absolute signal. Its where the dispatcher can turn a power switch leading to Bayard Siding. We were lined for the main, but the dispatcher was unable to display a signal; it was stuck at stop. The crew got verbal permission to pass the red signal, but was required to travel at a slow speed until they got a more favorable indication, hopefully at the next intermediate wayside signal. The cab signals displayed the same indications.
Rain can raise havoc with signals. It had been raining in North Florida for several days, and we were stuck in a section that displayed red eyes about for some 10 miles. We lost 30 minutes off the schedule. There is rubber in the schedule, but at the end of the day, we were still late.
We passed the first of several hotbox detectors just past MP 21. After we cleared, it announced the trains length via its radio, and No defects. Have a safe day. The next handful of detectors would state essentially the same thing. None reported hot boxes nor any other defects during our trip.
Another hotshot is northward Norfolk Southern run-through No. 904 (910 on NS) en route to Atlanta.
Norfolk Southerns power hauling No. 904 thunders past No. 101.
We passed northbound Norfolk Southern run-through No. 206 at MP 33.1. The NS train was on the long siding at Magnolia Grove while we held the main, and it was enroute from Jacksonville to Atlanta. Both trains were moving, although the NS train was considerably slower than we were. A couple of miles ahead lay St. Augustine, home of FEC headquarters and where the dispatchers are located. It will also become a station stop when Amtrak service begins.
The Spanish stucco style structure was built ca. 1960, but is now a C&S storage facility. It will not be returned to passenger service. The community, along with five other Florida cities and towns, have made plans and commitments to build new stations when Amtrak gets its act together.
Husein Cumber, FECs Assistant Vice-President for Public Affairs the press officer said FEC could not even begin to think again about starting Amtrak service down Floridas eastern coast.
There is no guidance we can provide on that. Amtrak has to resolve its budgetary issues with Congress before they look at the route again, he said the next day in a telephone interview.
He said, The trains will originate elsewhere, like New York City, but not in Jacksonville.
D:F asked, Would the trains still go to the current Jacksonville station on CSX, or will FEC, Amtrak, state, or Duval County build a new, separate station elsewhere?
He deferred to Amtrak.
Thats an Amtrak question. There will not be an FEC station.
He pointed out there would be eight new stations, which Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) outlined in a press release in December 2001. It specified Amtrak will add two daily round-trip services on FECs track between Jacksonville and West Palm Beach with new stops in eight communities: St. Augustine, Daytona Beach, Titusville, Cocoa/Port Canaveral, Melbourne, Vero Beach, Fort Pierce and Stuart, and continuing on to Miami.
It has now been 32 years since a scheduled passenger train traveled on that route.
Cumber said both round-trip trains would not begin at the same time.
There will be two round-trips daily, but the second one will be phased in. No start date was ever specified for any trains, so there is virtually no timetable.
He added, Amtrak crews would run the trains.
FECs rail weight and ballast depth is sufficient, he said.
An issue though is that additional double-track needs to be built to allow several long passing sidings. Their main line track is 132-pound, continuous welded rail with concrete ties. There is also a smattering of 136-pound rail.
Our train rumbled past FEC headquarters at 1 Malaga Street in St. Augustine, but considerably set back from the tracks.
At MP 36.1, we passed over the first of several rail lubricators. The wheels pick up grease and spread it down the track to help lubricate the iron approaching sharper curves.
My impression of the railroad was that its track was well-maintained. The ride was mostly smooth even at 60, and the curves were long and graceful; it was well-engineered track, in my view. The ride got a somewhat bumpy when the lead engine was isolated, but that was because everything else behind us was shoving. Some frogs were a tad bumpy, too.
The Bunnell Turns crew is taking a break waiting for No. 101 to go by. As with all the crews this day, each crew called the other when the rear marker passed.
We passed Moultrie Jct., at MP 37, where the Bunnell Turn, No. 905, was waiting in a siding as we blasted through at 60. The local was enroute back to Bowden Yard, but still had more wayside work to do.
A track leading from the junction used to go to Palatka. By 1994, the branch had been cut back to just under 30 miles, ending at South Doreena.
We were making good time until we got to MP 89.6 when we got another cab signal hit. We slowed down to under 20, and called Otis Raines, the MJ dispatcher whos territory we were now in, and told him we had a conditional stop indication.
Raines gave us permission to pass it, but, once again, we had to slow to 3 mph first. We passed it at 2 mph.
That signal indication continued for several more miles. C&S was out checking the track, looking for a possible broken rail. Apparently everything in the bungalows checked out fine. He started walking the track.
Just as we approached an interlocking (I think it was at MP 97.7, the south end of three-mile-long Harwood siding), the cab signals and the wayside picked up.
Some nitwit had laid a metal pipe across the rails, shunting the circuit, and setting the signals to a stop indication. Its a safety feature, but some knotheads know how to stop trains.
That cost us maybe 20 or 25 minutes. Good thing theres some rubber in the schedule.
The dispatcher had allowed the Smyrna local to work New Smyrna ahead of us because he had no notion how long it would take us to get there, given our signal problems. By the time we approached the community, we could see the freight train ahead of us. A few minutes later, he was clear on the West Mainline, and we were on our way again.
Daytona Beach and its future Amtrak station site slipped by, near MP 110.
Grade crossings came and went. In some places, the whistle was virtually non-stop, the roads were so close together. Four cars had run around lowered highway gates. Th is, of the ones I saw. There may have been more.
Holmes had properly started blowing the whistle as we passed the whistle posts, upright concrete posts with the letter W embedded in them near the tops.
We passed New Smyrna Yard, which begins near MP 125 and ends one mile southward. Its a sizable facility with five yard tracks. Its also where FEC does its heavy locomotive and car repairs, with seven shop tracks, two paint tracks and a signal track. There is also a wye located there, off the West Mainline. Its virtually double-track here. The other through track is named East Mainline. The signals can display for movement in either direction the length of the railway.
It was still raining. The clouds were low to the ground.
We rolled on past NASAs Wilson Yard between MPs 151 and 152. We could see the yard and an upright rolling lift span the FEC built for the space agency, but the weather was too foul to see the Vehicle Assembly Building nor any other structures. Amtrak station Titusville, if it is ever built, will be about two miles southward on the main.
Norfolk Southern has and auto yard at MP 161. Thats where some of the run-through trains go.
Cooley was eating his lunch behind me. I dug out a couple of egg salad sandwiches and a banana from my grip. Soon thereafter, both men swapped seats so Holmes could munch his salad.
Conductor Ron Cooley, running the train while Holmes downed his salad, said he prefers to sit over there, pointing to the conductors seat, and he likes it better over here.
Were both equally qualified to do either job, Holmes said.
Cooley said he prefers to sit over there, pointing to the conductors seat, and he likes it better over here.
Holmes is a United Transportation Union member, Cooley belongs to no union. FEC work rules allow that. Its an open shop.
Cocoa, Rockledge and Port Canaveral receded. Cocoa will host an Amtrak station, too.
So, you think its easy to blow the whistle for grade crossings? That long tone, followed by another, then a short and a final long one is not so simple.
The first blast should begin just as an engineer passes a milepost, while also checking to make sure the gates are down and the lights are flashing and hope no fool runs around the lowered gates. If they are not, immediately reduce speed. The next toot should come perhaps two-thirds the distance to the crossing, followed a few seconds later by the short blast. The final blast comes a moment before reaching the crossing at grade and holding it until the lead engine clears the highway.
Over the next mile, through Melbourne between MPs 193-195, Cooley would be blowing the horn for a dozen roads, which, at times, almost became a staccato because some of the roads were so close together. The town is also another Amtrak station location. It was practice for what lay ahead at West Palm Beach.
We were making good time gain, traveling at track speed. Signals were good, no longer impediments to our journey. Because of that padded time in the schedule, we began to make up some of our lost time from those earlier signal problems.
Vero Beach lay to our left, at MP 228, and another place for tourists year-round to get off an Amtrak train someday and enjoy the Sunshine State.
We passed St. Lucie and rolled by Fort Pierce, where FEC has a large presence in its Fort Piece yard, serving that part of the state 243 miles from Jacksonville. Amtrak will also call on Fort Pierce.
Stuart has a short trunion bridge over the St. Lucie River. Sunshine began just as daylight was ending.
We rattled across a single-track trunion lift bridge, in FEC terminology, over the St. Lucie River at MP 260.93. The short vertical lift bridges approaches are built on wood open decks and steel beam spans. Over the approaches, it is 1,270 feet long, but the movable section is only 25 feet. It needed fresh paint.
Stuart, in Martin County and MP 261 will be the last Amtrak station location before diverging to the right in Palm Beach County.
Amtrak will leave FEC iron at a place named Lewis Terminals in Riviera Beach so it can return to CSX tracks and continue to Miami.
Cumber said he could not disclose who will pay whom, nor how much, if Amtrak service begins.
We have a confidentiality agreement, so we cannot discuss the terms. We may make a decision later, but for now, we cant discuss those specifics. The firm also has to answer to stockholders.
He said the total capital costs for the project is $82.5 million, of which $60.1 million comes from Florida DOT, and the eight cities are paying for the stations.
It is not clear if the agreement will have to be renegotiated.
It all depends on what Amtrak looks like after its budgetary problems have ended. The project is in a ready-state mode. We can hope that Amtrak will be able to start service to Floridas eastern coast, but its impossible for me to anticipate certain events, Cumber said.
As our intermodal train passed Lewis Terminals to our right, we could see the lead that would take the Amtrak trains back to CSX iron and their A Line. Amtraks Silver Service trains would continue southward, making stops at West Palm Beach, Delray Beach, Deerfield Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Hollywood and Miami, as they do now.
We traveled on, now approaching West Palm Beach. The main track continues down the middle of a five-track spread. Looking southward, two storage tracks are on the left, the main in the middle, a siding to the right and another storage track as well as several industrial spurs.
It was getting dark.
Rocks are big business for FEC, especially Rinker Materials Corp., which has several facilities up and down the line. Several of the trains we passed were hauling loaded hoppers as well as other commodities.
We approached Third Street, and Holmes, who was back in the seat, prepared to blow for the crossing and the 26 others that we would cross in less than three miles. This was a really tough job. I didnt see anyone running around the gates, but that doesnt mean no one did.
At the end of those, at MP 302, there was time for a short breather before we came to the next 26 crossings, between there and MP 310, and another dozen beyond.
Our headlights showed the way in the darkness.
As we approached MP 316.0, just after crossing Northeast 8th Street at about 40-45 mph by my estimate, all three of us saw a man sitting on the rail. He was on the conductors side.
Holmes started blowing the whistle again. Surely the young man had heard us blowing for the grade crossings, but as we drew closer and closer, he just looked at us with a stupid grin. I was yelling, No, no! with my face nearly pressed against the front door window.
Holmes was now dumping the air as well as frantically blowing the whistle.
The guy wouldnt move.
All three of us thought he was going to be a suicide, when we discussed it a few minutes later.
At the very last instant, the tall, white shirtless male stood up, spun around and got away. He was wearing jeans and holding what appeared to be a beer can.
He disappeared from my view, but Cooley, sitting behind me in the firemans seat, saw the man out of the side window, still very close to the train, but unhurt.
When our train finally came to a stop, perhaps about one-half mile down the track, the crew was on the radio informing the dispatcher about the event, and asking for police assistance. We lost 10 or 15 minutes off our schedule because of that incident.
All three engines were online as we started up again.
At one time, the main line ran straight ahead to downtown Miami, but now the main is a right turn at Little River to travel the last eight miles into Hialeah Yard.
After we made the right turn and left the dispatchers territory as well as cab signal territory, the Hialeah yardmaster had instructed someone to line the iron into the yard for us, so all we had to do was follow the signals and switches. He had us lined for intermodal track 1. The hand-operated yard tracks were lined up.
No. 101 usually arrives around 8:30 p.m. so the crew can spot the pigs, as railroaders call the containers and flats with trailers on them (a term left over from piggy back days) by 9:00 p.m. Truckers were already lined up, waiting to get their loads.
We were moving slowly now, around 5 mph, perhaps less.
We arrived at 9:30, some 369 miles south of MP 0.0, and 361 miles south of our starting point.
Cooley and Holms couldnt tie it down yet they still had to make some yard moves with the cars for the yardmaster. I got off, though, with all my stuff (grip and camera), and bid them goodnight.
Assistant VP Cumber was waiting for me in the yard. He took me over to a car rental agency (I had booked ahead) in Fort Lauderdale (he lives there) and made my way over to a motel, which I had also booked ahead. I hit the hay around 1:15 a.m. wiped out.
Our thanks to Florida East Coast Assistant Vice-President Husein Cumber who made the necessary arrangements for NCI to ride its freight train.
Going onto FEC is a matter of dollars
AMTRAKS board chairman, John Robert Smith, holds out some hope for Amtrak service to begin along the Florida East Coast Ry. and the states eastern shores, but its all pegged to dollars or lack of.
The plan, as envisioned in the Network Growth strategy, was to split all of the Silver Service trains in Jacksonville. Thus, south of Jacksonville, there would be six daily trains, as opposed to the current three, he told D:F, and Two of the six trains would operate over the FEC. They would stop at eight communities along the East Coast.
Smith, who is also NCIs chairman, is the mayor of Meridian, Miss., as well as a pharmacist in that community.
Smith told D:F on Friday in an exclusive interview, There are no current plans to serve the old station in downtown Jacksonville, although there are several local elected officials that are trying to raise funds for a study to determine the capital costs associated with that idea. Jacksonvilles Union Station was once home to FEC, Southern and Seaboard Air Line, but it is now the Prime Osborne Convention Center.
All this is moot of course, because of the loan agreement (which prohibits startup or any new service that is not projected to cover its full operating cost), Smith said.
As for the salient points of Amtraks agreement with FEC, the agreement with the freight railroad says that in order for the service to begin operating, approximately $50 to $60 million needs to be invested in the FEC for double-tracking, crossing improvements and the like. Its about $50 million for track and $10 million for stations.
He pointed out Last year, Governor Bush announced that he would support the project and committed up to $62.5 million over five years for this.
The bottom line remains dollars.
The first train frequency can begin operating after approximately $20 million is invested. Amtrak would have to modify several locomotives, outfitted with FEC cab signals in order to operate on the FEC.
Given the financial circumstances, If we decide to only go for one train, then well probably have to alter the agreement slightly with the FEC and the state.
Possible Amtrak and FEC service is not connected with the states high-speed rail development (See story on main page), nor is Floridas High-Speed Rail Authority involved with Amtrak and FEC joining hands.
C. C. Doc Dockery, an authority board member and the driving force behind getting the state Constitutional question onto the ballot two years ago, told D:F he would not expect to see a tie-in with Amtrak, Tri-Rail or high-speed rail, but added, Im not quite sure what you mean when you say tie-in. My guess is, where possible, we would share a common station.
He noted there is no association between Amtrak and Floridas high-speed rail development. The authority and Amtrak have had no discussions about possible service.
Another northbound train passes No. 101. It rained all day, until No. 101 approached West Palm Beach
Looking at a time-line that still might make it
In May 2001, when Amtrak and Florida East Coast stated publicly they had made a deal, then-Amtrak president George Warrington observed it would provide an attractive alternative to ever-more crowded highways.
FEC president John D. McPherson noted, We took the time necessary to ensure that the operating plan addresses safety issues first and foremost, that on-time service will be possible for both carriers, and that the business terms are fair to both parties.
Before the new agreement could be implemented, both railroads and the communities involved needed to secure funding for station construction and infrastructure improvements including signal work, and track and siding installation. The companies worked with the Florida DOT and the affected communities to find cash needed to accommodate passenger operations.
A joint press release from both railroads stated, Once a commitment for funding is secure, the first phase of capital improvements can begin. Phase I would take approximately 10 months to complete, after which the first train would begin operation. Should the first phase begin this July, service would begin approximately one year from now. Additional improvements and a second coastline service between Jacksonville and West Palm Beach would be phased in over three-years.
The Jacksonville-West Palm Beach expansion was to be part of a larger Amtrak plan to restructure and increase service in Florida the press release stated.
It could still happen if the Congress funds Amtrak with the $1.2 billion it so desperately needs.
When facility improvements are completed, Amtrak will operate six daily north-south roundtrips within Florida, doubling the current three that now operate via CSX.
By December 2001, Floridas governor asked the Florida DOT to fully fund Amtrak-Florida East Coast Ry. passenger rail service from Jacksonville to Miami.
Gov. Jeb Bush said, The total capital cost for the project is $82.5 million, which would include building about 23 miles of additional tracks to allow for several long passing sidings, and the new stations.
Making reference to the September 11, 2001 attacks on our country showed us that we must fully develop alternative modes of transportation in and out of Florida, Bush said, adding, This restored passenger rail service is just the ticket.
Project funding is to be done in phases, the first of which would allow the improvements necessary to operate one train per day in each direction. The total Florida DOT contribution for track and station improvements is $23.5 million. With $15.5 million in state funds already available, the department would have funded $8 million more in fiscal 2002-2003.
Completion of the second phase was to be deferred until fiscal 2005-2006, when the remaining $37.6 million state contribution would be programmed. That was before Florida and virtually all other 49 states were hit by the current recession, which resulted in a large tax receipts shortfall.
The plans are on hold.
Florida East Coast Ry. is online at www.feci.com.
Amtrak is online at www.Amtrak.com
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