The Florida East Coast Railway is a Class II railroad operating in the U.S. state of Florida; in the past, it has been a Class I railroad. The FEC is renowned for building the first railroad bridges to Key West, that have since been rebuilt into road bridges for vehicle traffic and are now known as the Overseas Highway. It was originally known as the Florida Coast and Gulf Railway and then the Jacksonville, St. Augustine and Indian River Railway; for more information and other former railroads merged into the line, see the family tree below.
Henry Flagler's non-Standard Oil interests went in a different direction, however, when in 1878, on the advice of his physician, Flagler 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 one of Mary's former caregivers. After their wedding, the couple traveled to St. Augustine, Florida. 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 León Hotel. Flagler realized that the key to developing Florida was a solid transportation system, and consequently purchased the Jacksonville, St. Augustine and Halifax Railroad (JS&H) on December 31, 1886. He also discovered that a major problem facing the existing Florida railway systems was that each operated on different gauge systems, making interconnection impossible. Shortly after purchasing the JS&H Railroad, he converted the line to standard gauge. The small operation was incorporated in 1892.
The earliest predecessor of the FEC was the narrow gauge St. John’s Railway, incorporated in 1858, which constructed a now-abandoned line between St. Augustine and Tocoi, a small settlement on the east bank of the St. Johns River, midway between Palatka and Green Cove Springs. In 1883, Henry M. Flagler, now retired from Standard Oil, moved to St. Augustine and purchased several hotels. The East Coast of Florida was relatively undeveloped at that time, and Flagler found it difficult to obtain the construction materials he needed. His purchase of the JS&H Railroad was intended to make it faster and easier to supply his building projects.
The JS&H railway served the northeastern portion of the state and was the first operation in the Flagler Railroad system. Before Flagler bought the organization, the railroad stretched only between South Jacksonville and St. Augustine and lacked a depot sufficient to accommodate travelers to his St. Augustine resorts. Flagler built a modern depot facility as well as schools, hospitals and churches, systematically revitalizing the largely abandoned historic city.
Flagler next purchased three additional existing railroads: the St. John's Railway, the St. Augustine and Palatka Railway, and the St. Johns and Halifax River Railway so that he could provide extended rail service on standard gauge tracks. Through the operation of these three railroads, by spring 1889 Flagler's system offered service from Jacksonville to Daytona. Continuing to develop hotel facilities to entice northern tourists to visit Florida, Flagler bought and expanded the Ormond Hotel, located along the railroad's route north of Daytona in Ormond Beach.
Beginning in 1892, when landowners south of Daytona petitioned him to extend the railroad 80 miles 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. 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.
By 1894, Flagler's 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. It is said 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. To further convince Flagler to continue the railroad to Miami, both Julia Tuttle and William Brickell offered land to the Florida East Coast Canal & Transportation Company and the Boston & Florida Atlantic Coast Land Company, in exchange for laying rail tracks.
On September 7, 1895, the name of Flagler's system was changed from the Jacksonville, St. Augustine and Indian River Railway Company to the Florida East Coast Railway Company and by 1896, it reached Biscayne Bay at present day downtown Miami, at the time a small settlement of less than 50 inhabitants. When the town incorporated in 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 the 1830s 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. Flagler was a great visionary and he can be credited for the development of the entire east coast of Florida. Yet he lacked vision on at least one issue: he felt that Miami would never be more than a fishing village.
As of 1905, Flagler started what everybody considered a folly: the extension of the FEC to Key West which would later be known as The Overseas Railway, at the time considered the eighth wonder of the world and surely the most daring infrastructure ever built exclusively with private funds. The first train arrived in Key West on January 22, 1912.
Before it became the FEC, the Jacksonville, St. Augustine & Indian River was constructing a line southwards from Daytona Beach in 1894. Fort Pierce was reached on January 29, and West Palm Beach on March 22. Further extension southwards did not begin until June 1895, when a favorable deal was signed with Miami-area business interests. Fort Lauderdale was reached on March 3 of the following year. By April, the construction reached Biscayne Bay, the largest and most accessible harbor on Florida’s east coast. Flagler announced in 1905 that the FEC would be extended 128 miles to Key West over the ocean. The Overseas Extension was completed in 1912, a mere 16 months prior to Flagler’s death, at a cost of $27 million and lives of hundreds of workmen.
The construction of the Overseas Railroad required many engineering innovations as well as vast amounts of labor and monetary resources. At one time during construction, four thousand men were employed. During the seven year construction, five hurricanes threatened to halt the project.
Despite the hardships, the final link of the Florida East Coast Railway was completed in 1912. In that year, a proud Henry Flagler rode the first train into Key West, marking the completion of the railroad's overseas connection to Key West and the linkage by railway of the entire east coast of Florida.
In 1961, Edward Ball, who controlled the Alfred I. du Pont testamentary trust, purchased a majority ownership of FEC, allowing the FEC to emerge from bankruptcy. That same year, a labor contract negotiation turned sour, leading 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).
Although 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 it was ruled that their corporate charter required both coach and first class service. For first class accommodation, they sold "parlor car seating" in the rear lounge section of a tevern-lounge-observation car. At the insistence of the city of Miami and after the stoppage began, Miami’s wooden-constructed downtown passenger terminal was demolished on November 12, 1963. Thus, the passenger runs reinstated in 1965 only ran between Jacksonville and North Miami, as they no longer had a station in downtown Miami. With a single diesel and two streamlined passenger cars, it would continue six days a week until it was finally discontinued on July 31, 1968. 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. Thus this two car train included a Passenger Service Agent and a Coach Attendant, who were "non-operating," in addition to the operating crew, which operated all 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 train carried no baggage, remains, mail or express; honored no inter-line tickets or passes; and the only food service was a box lunch (at Cocoa-Rockledge in 1966). On board service was limited to soft drinks and coffee.
Ed Ball controlled the Florida East Coast Railway during the strike of 1963 to 1977. In order to try to save the railroad from its decades-long state of bankruptcy, which if allowed to continue would have threatened the railroad with physical decrepitude and even partial abandonment, Ball fought ferociously for the company's right to engage in its own contract negotiations with the railroad unions rather than accept an industrywide settlement that would almost certainly be larded with egregious featherbedding and intolerably wasteful work rules. His use of replacement workers to keep the railroad running during the strike led to violence by strikers that included shootings and bombings. 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 Florida East Coast took numerous steps to improve its physical plant, installed various forms of automation, and drastically cut labor costs, all to an extent that most other railroads would not succeed in matching until years later.
Nearly a century later, the effects of Henry Flagler's incredible accomplishments can still clearly be seen throughout Florida. Perhaps even more amazingly, as Florida is now well-known as a retirement state of preference for many Americans, Flagler accomplished these feats after retiring from his first career. Flagler had already founded and developed the vast empire of Standard Oil with partners John D. Rockefeller, Samuel Andrews and Henry H. Rogers before becoming interested in Florida. Linking the entire east coast of Florida, a state that at the time was largely an uninhabited frontier, demanded a great deal of foresight and perseverance.
The Florida Overseas Railroad, also known as the Key West Extension of the Florida East Coast Railway, was heavily damaged and partially destroyed in the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935. The Florida East Coast Railway was financially unable to rebuild the destroyed sections, so the roadbed and remaining bridges were 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) following Flagler's dream, continues to provide a highway link to Key West, ending at the southernmost point in the continental United States.
The FEC operations today are dominated by "intermodal" trains and unit rock (limestone) trains. The intermodal traffic includes interline shipments off CSX and Norfork Southern, participation in EMP container service operated by UP and Norfork Southern, UPS piggback trailers, trailers going to the WalMart distribution center at Ft. Pierce, and import containers through the ports of Miami, Port Everglades (Ft. Lauderdale)[the principal source of imports], Port of Palm Beach/Lake Worth Inlet, and Port Canaveral [minor, of no real consequence]. 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. The rock trains come out of the FEC yard at Medley, just west of Hialeah in the "Lake Belt" area of Dade and Broward Counties principally for materials dealers Titan and Rinker.
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 manifest cars in their consists. Additionally, the FEC currently transports Tropicana Products' "Juice Train" cars to and from the company's processing facility just west of Fort Pierce, Florida on the "K Line."
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.
Today the FEC is a "prime" railroad right-of-way. They have 133 pound 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.
The FEC completed its "second generation" dieselization with the purchase of 49 GP40's and GP40-2's and 11 GP38-2's. These locomotives have been extensively rebuilt. In 2002, the FEC acquired 20 used ex-UP SD40-2's, which remained at the time in UP colors with FEC markings. In 2006 they purchased four SD70M-2's. The GP38-2's are used principally for yard and road switching. The others are used as available in road service. Some test runs have been made to observe the effect on fuel consumption of dynamic braking and combinations of new and old power.
For many years the company was controlled by Edward Ball, who headed the trusts set up under the will of his brother-in-law Alfred I. du Pont and associated business interests. His "Pork Chop Gang" was also a powerful force in Florida state politics. Later, after 36 years with the railroad Raymond Wyckoff took the helm on May 30, 1984, the same year that Florida East Coast Industries was made the holding company for the Railway and the Commercial Realty and Development Company, a structure which persists to this day. As of March, 2005 Robert Anestis stepped down as C.E.O. of Florida East Coast Industries after a 4 year stint, allowing Adolfo Henriquez to assume that position, with John McPherson, a long-time railroad man, continuing as president of the railway itself.
Florida state law chapter 4260, approved May 31, 1893, granted land to the railroad. 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.
On May 8, 2007, Florida East Coast Railway Company's parent, Florida East Coast Industries (FECI), announced that FECI would be acquired by private equity funds managed by Fortress Investment Group LLC affiliates. The transaction is valued at $3.5 billion.
South of Holopaw, the line roughly parallels US 441.
A steam locomotive pulled the first train over the line onto the wharf on the Indian River at Titusville on the afternoon of December 30, 1885 and greatly accelerated the transportation of passengers, produce, seafood, and supplies to and from central Florida. While Titusville thrived thanks to this new transportation connection, Enterprise lost stature as a steamboat port, since Henry Plant's railroad paralleled the St. Johns River and greatly reduced travel times to Jacksonville.
During the winter of 1894–95, a widespread freeze hit twice, decimating the citrus crop and ruining that part of Florida's economy. This allowed Henry Flagler to acquire the line at a discount to piece together what became the Florida East Coast Railway.
The track of the E-branch has been uprooted as far as Aurantia, about five miles northwest of Mims, ending directly under the Interstate 95 overpass and has been abandoned. The crossing gates and signals were removed before the summer 2004 hurricanes and the track is being removed by a steel salvage company. As of 2008 the track has been completely removed up to the connection with the current FEC mainline.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection took ownership of the rail bed on December 31, 2007. The corridor will become Florida's longest rails-to-trails project. This rail line would have been suited to recreational railroad use by such groups as the North American Rail Car Owners' Association assuming a representative who is local to the area could have been located.