Posts Tagged ‘Florida East Coast Railway’

Could Brightline be Duplicated in Ohio?

April 23, 2018

The launch of the privately-funded Brightline intercity rail passenger service in Florida has some thinking about visualizing a similar service in Ohio.

Brightline, which currently operates between Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach but expects to begin service soon to Miami and, longer term, to Orlando, was the subject of the lead article in Ohio Passenger Rail News, the publication of All Aboard Ohio.

AAO said it would study the concept and its applicability to Ohio, but acknowledged that a private operator would need to step forward. It is not clear if that is likely to happen.

Although much has been made about how Brightline is a private company that does not receive public funding to cover its operating expenses as does Amtrak, AAO noted that Brightline is a public-private venture.

What makes Brightline different, though, is that as a private company it laid out its vision and business plan and then public entities helped it.

Brightline benefited from millions in state and local funds plus a $1 billion federal loan.

But what makes Brightline move is that it is as much a real estate venture as it is a transportation mode.

The genesis of Brightline began with the Florida East Coast Railway establishing a subsidiary, All Aboard Florida, which operates under the Brightline trade name.

FEC owns a freight line between Miami and Orlando that hosts Brightline trains. However, Brightline plans to build a new 40-mile stretch of high-speed track west of Cocoa, Florida, on a state-granted right of way to serve the Orlando airport.

Based on cell-phone data, Brightline projects that 500 million trips are made each year between South Florida and Orlando.

The company said if it can divert 2, 3, 4 or 5 percent of that traffic off the highways it will make a meaningful difference.

Brightline didn’t always have a clear block to implement its service, which began in January.

It was bombarded by attempts by public officials, NIMBYs and Astroturf groups seeking to derail it before it got started.

It is still fighting lawsuits from opponents of the Orlando extension.

Although the FEC has since been sold to Mexican industrial conglomerate Grupo Mexico, All Aboard Florida still has access to FEC tracks and has real estate to market.

The concept of pairing real estate development with public transportation is not limited to Florida. Numerous studies  and articles have described how public transportation arteries have stimulated commercial and residential development.

Brightline Chief Operating Officer Patrick Goddard told The Blade of Toledo that decades of studies showed the potential for rail service in a region that is experiencing population growth and is hemmed in by the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the Everglades on the other.

“There’s nowhere to go and no room for more roads,” Goddard said.

That is not, though, the situation in Ohio. Nonetheless, Goodard said the potential for a Brightline-type service exists in “any city pairs that are too far to drive and too short to fly.”

Goodard sees a high level of interest in trying the Brightline concept elsewhere where “there’s the possibility for government to intercede for mobility in the region.”

Efforts to institute corridor rail service in Ohio have fallen short.

In 1982 Ohio voters rejected a penny increase in the state sales tax to pay for development of a high-speed rail program in the state.

In 2010, Ohio won $400 million in federal funding for capital outlays associated with developing rail service in the Cleveland-Columbus-Dayton-Corridor.

The funding would have paid for track, signals, station construction and the purchase of train sets.

After defeating Gov. Ted Strickland in the November 2010 gubernatorial election, John Kasich killed the project and returned the money to the federal government.

Kasich had actively campaigned against the 3-C corridor trains, saying he didn’t want to see the state underwriting the operating costs of the service.

The same criticism was leveled in earlier years against other proposals that never came to fruition that were promoted by the Ohio Rail Development Commission and Ohio Department of Transportation to launch 3-C service, including a proposal in April 1998 to mitigate traffic congestion on Interstate 71 between Cleveland and Columbus during a 10-year rebuilding of the highway.

At the same time that Ohio was moving forward with the 3-C Quick Start project under Gov. Strickland, Florida was also planning an intrastate rail network linking Miami with Tampa vial Orlando and received federal funds to help develop it.

But newly-elected Gov. Rick Scott killed the project and returned the federal money just as Kasich had done in Ohio.

Like Kasich, Scott didn’t want the state paying for the operating costs of the service.

All of this has left Ohio with just three intercity trains, all of which operate through the state primarily between midnight and 7 a.m.

Until Brightline came along, Florida was served by two New York-Miami Amtrak trains, and the Auto Train operating between Lorton, Virginia, and Sanford, Florida.

But the Sunshine State also had commuter rail service in Miami and a new service in Orlando.

AAO sees Brightline as a potential template to kick start the long-stalled efforts to revive 3-C and promote development of other routes.

“Brightline takes us back to the past in some ways  . . . [to] the notion that transportation and real estate go hand-in-hand,” said AAO CEO Ken Prendergast in an interview with The Blade. “It has changed the dialogue about how passenger rail in this country should be going forward.”

Prendergast said transit-oriented development in several cities should encourage the belief that trains and real estate can grow symbiotically in Ohio.

He said that some “pretty remarkable development” is occurring near a bus rapid-transit corridor in Columbus, along the HealthLine busway in Cleveland, and next to the Cleveland RTA Blue Line rail station in Shaker Heights at the site of the former Van Aken shopping center.

Of course, Brightline benefited from being birthed by a railroad. There is little likelihood that either Norfolk Southern or CSX, which make up large segments of the 3-C corridor, would be as receptive to intercity rail passenger service as is the FEC.

Closer to Ohio, the Michigan Department of Transportation acquired from NS the route used by Amtrak’s Chicago-Detroit Wolverine Service trains.

MDOT owns the tracks between Dearborn and Kalamazoo while Amtrak owns the rails between Kalamazoo and Porter, Indiana.

The two agencies have been cooperating in the past few years to upgrade the line for higher speed service with a top speed of 110 mph.

Michigan’s efforts could benefit Ohio, Prendergast said, by creating a dedicated passenger corridor between Detroit and Toledo

CSX, Norfolk Southern and Canadian National have parallel routes between the two cities and consolidation of those routes would leave a line available for passenger use.

Prendergast said it is unlikely that NS would agree to allow additional passenger trains between Cleveland and Toledo so a new line for passenger trains would be needed for high-speed rail service.

He speculated that this would be an opportunity for the Ohio Turnpike and Infrastructure Commission to get involved, “now that it has the legal authority to do things other than highways along the highway corridor.”

AAO also sees potential for combining various existing underused rail lines that railroads might be willing to sell that could lead to a Columbus-Fort Wayne-Chicago corridor.

Prendergast said ORDC is soliciting public comments for a 2020 update to an Ohio rail plan, but has no funds have been set aside for passenger train startup projects.

ORDC created a plan in 2002 that it updated in 2007 for a statewide passenger rail network known as the Ohio Hub. It has never gotten beyond paper and public hearings.

As AAO looks for a private sector initiative to materialize in Ohio, Prendergast warned not to expect any help from Amtrak, which he said “only reacts in response” the efforts of others.

Aside from questions of whether a private developer is interested in a Brightline style project in Ohio – and that is a big IF – there is also the question of whether Ohio units of government would respond as they did in Florida.

“If they, or someone like Brightline, came in with a similar message, I think it would resonate,” Prendergast said.

Sampling Florida’s New Brightline Service

April 20, 2018

One of the goals of my Florida trip was to explore the new Brightline service.

On Tuesday we went to Miami and rode the train from Ft Lauderdale to West Palm Beach and return.

I had seen pictures and online reviews but, honestly, I did not expect what I experienced.

When you walk into the train station it has the look and feel of an airport not a typical railroad station.

Tickets can be purchased at a kiosk or with a smartphone app. Any large bags must be checked in just like an airline.

You scan your ticket and go through a security checkpoint to gain access to the station lounge area.

Security is similar to TSA at an airport with small bags going through a scanner but otherwise it’s not as intense as at an airport.

The passenger waiting lounge is also designed like a modern airport terminal.

Seats are comfortable and each has an electric outlet and a USB charging port. This is a nod to the digital age in which we live.

Snacks and beverages are also available along with Brightline merchandise.

Tickets are at an introductory rate of either $10 one way for Smart car service or $15 for Select service.

We rode in the Smart car. Seating is very comfortable with plenty of legroom and, again, there are plenty of outlets and USB ports available.

The trains have free 4G Wi-Fi, which was very good. It was fast and we did not experience any drop in coverage.

On the train the crew does a beverage and snack cart. Smart car customers can purchase onboard.

However, Select service customers’ snacks and beverages, including beer and wine, are complimentary. Select service also has larger seats.

The ride was smooth and took about a half hour to go the 40 miles between stations. The Brightline staff was courteous and professional throughout the process.

The only downside was that riders are not allowed on the platform until the train has arrived and is ready for boarding. For most travelers this is not an issue but might be for railfans.

I was able to get photos of the arriving train from the overhead concourse and also a Florida East Coast freight train that passed by.

Currently, Brightline operates between West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale. But the Miami station is complete and test trains are operating into it. There weren’t any running the day that we visited, unfortunately.

Eventually, Brightline will build a line into Orlando international Airport where the station has already been built.

A brand new railroad will be constructed between there and Titusville, Florida, where it will join the Florida East Coast to continue its trip to Miami.

Speeds are 79 mph and will be 110 mph on the new line. Brightline is projected to have this line open by 2020. Further expansion plans include Orlando to Tampa and West Palm to Jacksonville.

The trains themselves are built by Siemens. The engines are SC44 Chargers, which run on bio diesel fuel. Each train has two engines and four passenger cars. Each train is painted in a different color scheme.

I was very impressed by the whole operation both from a railfan perspective and also as a traveler.

Brightline is the future for railroad passenger travel and is all the more interesting because it is entirely funded by private capital.

No tax dollars are used in its construction or operation. One of my companions sadly remarked that this is what the Tri-C corridor in Ohio could have been.

Article and Photographs by Todd Dillon

Flordia East Coast Family Days

April 27, 2017

Last week I flew to Florida to help a friend drive back to Ohio. The first stop Saturday morning was the FEC family days train at St Augustine Florida.

Power was the two engines painted in the Susan G Komen find the cure for breast cancer scheme. The recently repainted St Augustine, an unnamed Observervation car and a generator car rounded out the consist.

Unfortunately due to time constraints I was only able to get some roster photos and not the train running.

Article and Photographs by Todd Dillon 

Sampling the Railroad Action of Central Florida

May 30, 2016

Amtrak’s Silver Star crossing the St Johns River at Sanford, Florida.

The southbound Autotrain at Sanford.

The southbound Autotrain at Sanford.

The Silver Meteor makes a station stop at Deland, Florida.

The Silver Meteor makes a station stop at Deland, Florida.

Florida East Coast train 101-29 at Daytona Beach, Florida.

Florida East Coast train 101-29 at Daytona Beach, Florida.

An FEC train crossing the Tomoka River at Ormand Beach, Florida.

An FEC train crossing the Tomoka River at Ormand Beach, Florida.

A Sunrail commuter train at the station in Debary, Florida.

A Sunrail commuter train at the station in Debary, Florida.


Akron Railroad Club member Todd Dillon was in Florida this past weekend and sends along these images from the Sunshine State. He caught some Florida East Coast, Amtrak and Sun Rail commuter trains.

Photographs by Todd Dillon

A Rainbow in the Sunshine State

February 26, 2014

A motive power consist fit for a champion.

As much as I like photographing in the snow – and we all know there has been multiple chances for that this year – I do like my winter break in Florida.

With a lot of family down there I usually try to head south sometime in February. This year, for the first time in a long time, I elected to drive down.

In all the years (since 1976) that I have ventured to the Tampa/Clearwater area, I never headed over to photograph the Florida East Coast Railway.

With major motive power changes looming on the FEC I decided to take a day or so and see what I could come up with as I ventured back to snowy Northeast Ohio.

On the way down I made a brief stop at Bowden Yard in Jacksonville but the heavy overcast found me taking a quick grab shot of some power before moving on.

Better luck would prevail on my return trip north. Variety is the spice of life these days on the FEC road trains.

I’ll be the first to tell you I’m looking forward to solid sets of like painted FEC consists, but for now I will take the variety that is running up and down the coast today.

My first rendezvous would be with train 101 in Holly Hill near Daytona. I had spent the morning catching some CSX in Tampa and Amtrak in Lakeland, and then rolled east in hopes I could catch this afternoon train.

With some long distance help from a friend in Ohio I was able to set up and grab this SD40-2 trio with two of the “Champion” painted units leading a Union Pacific unit.

After the 101 it was (1) a drive on the beach at Daytona then (2) a drive up to St Augustine for the night in hopes of catching some northbounds in the morning.

My hotel had the FEC main right behind it. I noticed a clear signal as I walked over to check the area out and my friend Jeff in Ohio indicated that the 107 was out and running.

It would be a race against the sun as it was setting fast. In the very last light of the day, an almost pure set of blues rolled past. I’ve shown one in color and one in black and white as the grayscale conversion seemed to tone down the orange cast of that setting sun.

Fast forward to the next morning. Information showed there were two trains coming north, a southbound local and that there was time for breakfast.

This is the first northbound train (No. 226). Having shot a “Champ” leading the day before, I was OK with the ex-Union Pacific yellow leader. The still morning made for a nice reflection.

Between the two northbounds, local No. 905 ran south. It would clear up on the former Palatka Branch in St Augustine for the second northbound.

The next move was the second Bowden bound train (No. 224?) with, count ’em, seven units.

I couldn’t get them all in one photo. One of the CITX units was leading a couple of ex UPs, the 104, the 425 in pink, and two blues.

I don’t normally do rolling nose coupled roster grabs but couldn’t resist the pink trimmed 425.

That would be all for a while in St Augustine so it was north to Jacksonville and a rendezvous with train 101 again. Right on the money it was pulled out of the yard and parked at Sunbeam Road to wait on the road crew. Colorful SD70M-2 106 had the honors.

I’ll finish this up with one of the quick photos at Bowden on my down bound trip. I wasn’t a big fan of that pole in the middle of the photo, but of interest were the two former straight GP40s (the last two on the roster) that had just been re-lettered “EMDX”, including the 2000 in Champion colors. Both have since left the property.

Article and Photographs by Roger Durfee

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It was a race against the sun to get this all-blue consist.

The black and white version of that late day train.

The black and white version of that late day train.

That's right! This train had seven locomotives.

That’s right! This train had seven locomotives.

I couldn't resist this grab it roster shot of the pink ribbon unit.

I couldn’t resist this grab it roster shot of the pink ribbon unit.

I was OK with this ex-UP unit being ahead of the "champ."

I was OK with this ex-UP unit being ahead of the “champ.”

A southbound local made an appearance amid the northbound traffic.

A southbound local made an appearance amid the northbound traffic.

Train 101 was right on the advertised for its crew change.

Train 101 was right on the advertised for its crew change.

Not a bad haul for 24 hours on the FEC.

Not a bad haul for 24 hours on the FEC.


A gathering of motive power.

A gathering of motive power.


New FEC Locomotives May be Built in Erie

February 7, 2014

Railfan photographers may have a reason to make a trip to Erie, Pa., this year. And then again maybe they won’t.

The Florida East Coast Railway recently announced that it will order 24 new ES44C4 locomotives from General Electric.

However, neither GE nor the FEC have indicated if the new locomotives will be built in Erie or at the new GE locomotive plant in Texas.

What is known is that the new locomotives will wear the FEC’s red and yellow “Champion” livery, Trains magazine reported on Thursday.

The “Champion” paint scheme was used on FEC’s passenger locomotives beginning in 1939 and the FEC has recently begun applying the scheme to its SD40-2 locomotives.
Delivery of the locomotives, which are the first that FEC has bought from GE, will begin in the fourth quarter of 2014.

Trains reported that FEC officials said that 11 FEC SD70M-2s  will become surplus after the arrival of the new locomotives and will be removed from the company’s motive power roster.

FEC also has yet to assign road numbers to the ES44C4s units it ordered.