Florida railroads date back to nearly the beginning of the industry
itself. In 1834 the little mule-powered Tallahassee Railroad was
chartered by the state of Florida to build a 22-mile line connecting
Tallahassee (the then capitol of the Florida territory, before it was
actually a state) with St. Marks, a Gulf Coast port town. Two years
later, by 1837 the line had been completed and was in operation. The
railroad would eventually become part of the Seaboard Air Line system
and would remain in operation through the Seaboard Coast Line merger and
even after the formation of the Seaboard System in the early 1980s.
However, in 1983 the Seaboard wished to abandon the line and today much of the route is preserved as the Tallahassee-St. Marks Historic Railroad Trail State Park. In any event, not long after the Tallahassee Railroad opened, Florida's railroad network began to grow rapidly and by 1880 boasted over 500 miles of track. During the industry's heyday, Florida was home to six major railroads, one of which is still operating. For a more in-depth look at Florida in terms of rail mileage over the years please refer to the table below. As you see, during the state's peak years with trains it featured a rail network consisting of more than 5,200 miles. However, today that number has fallen under 2,800 miles, or about a 45% decline. This number is not that unusual and quite consistent with what many other states have lost since the golden years of the 1920s.
The Southern Railway's Florida operations were limited only to the
northeastern corner of state where it reached Jacksonville
(although it did extend as far south as Palatka). Likewise, the Frisco
and Louisville & Nashville only reached the extreme western regions
of Florida. However, the Atlantic Coast Line, Seaboard Air Line, and
Florida East Coast had extensive operations in the state and made up the
majority of its trackage.
The FEC is the state's most well known railroad and still in
operation as a Class II, regional. It has not changed much since it
began services in the late 19th century, operating a main line along the
Atlantic coast between Jacksonville and Miami, which along the way
served such well known locations as Daytona Beach,
St. Augustine, Fort Lauderdale, and New Smyrna Beach. The railroad
also once had a few small branches serving Benson Junction, East
Palatka, and Lake Harbor (the latter of which is still in use). It's
most famous extension was to Key West via its Key West Extension. Unfortunately, the 1935 Hurricane ransacked this line and today what is left is mostly used as fishing piers.
The Atlantic Coast Line operated all over the south between Richmond,
Virginia and Birmingham, Alabama. Its lines in Florida reached
Jacksonville, Copeland, Naples, Lake Harbor, St. Petersburg,
Gainesville, and numerous other western cities in the state. Most of
the ACL's lines were concentrated in central/western Florida and were
thanks to its takeover of the Plant System in 1902. This railroad was
named for owner Henry Plant, who was the mastermind behind its creation.
It began with the Savannah & Albany Railroad, chartered on
December 25, 1847 and later became the Savannah, Albany & Gulf
Railroad in 1858. The railroad would stretch throughout southern
Georgia and northern Florida. After successfully purchasing several
other smaller systems Plant renamed his company the Savannah, Florida
& Western Railway. The SF&W would likewise go on to purchase or
control several smaller systems before itself was taken over by the ACL
The Seaboard Air Line was a smaller company than the ACL although it provided its counterpart stiff competition for many years. Interestingly enough, the railroad dated back to the Portsmouth & Roanoke Rail Road of 1832, which was chartered to connect Portsmouth, Virginia with Wheldon, Virginia. By the late 19th century the SAL reached Florida and would serve such cities as Jacksonville, Tallahassee, Miami, St. Petersburg, Fort Myers, Sarasota, and others. Today, many of the former ACL and SAL lines continue to play an important role in the CSX system.
Along with CSX, Norfolk Southern, and the FEC, Florida is home to several shortlines. These include the Florida Central, Florida Midland, Florida Northern, Port of Manatee Railroad, Bay Line Railroad, First Coast Railroad, Florida West Coast Railroad, Georgia & Florida Railway, Seminole Gulf Railway (which also offers excursion train services), South Central Florida Express, Inc., Talleyrand Terminal Railroad, and the Apalachicola Northern Railroad. Freight trains aside, Florida is also jumping on the commuter train bandwagon. Most recognized is Tri-Rail, a 72-mile commuter railroad that serves Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach and currently dispatches 40 trains a day. The railroad also connects with another commuter system, the Miami-Dade Transit Authority's Metrorail system which is a 22-mile system serving Miami.
Amtrak also has a significant presence in Florida. It's Silver Meteor and Silver Star trains terminate in Miami and Auto Train serves Sanford. Passenger and freight rail aside Florida includes a host of
museums and tourist lines. These include the Central Florida Railroad
Museum, Flagler Museum, Florida Gulf Coast Railroad Museum, Gold Coast
Railroad Museum, Largo Central Railroad, Railroad Museum of South
Florida's Train Village, Seminole Gulf Railway, Southwest Florida Museum
of History, Tampa & Ybor City Street Railway Society, and Winter
Garden Heritage Museum. All in all, Florida railroads offer plenty in the way of variety
for either the railfan or vacationer simply looking for something
to see and do. Besides just the beaches, sunshine, shopping, and
entertainment the Sunshine State is worth the trip to see its railroads.
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