22 May, 2008

Norfolk Southern
Florida East Coast
Imagine if you will, world shipping lines wanting to locate as near to the Panama Canal as possible and still maintain several railroads to move their containers to market. So where do you go? Houston or New Orleans? Maybe, or somewhere in between, Pensacola? Mobile? All of the above? They all suffer from distance to the East Coast Mega Markets. Some from space problems, depth, or lack of rail connections. So what about Tampa? No, locked into one railroad, our own CSX. Miami? Locked into two railroads FEC and CSX with little space to expand, ditto the other South Florida Ports. So why not Jacksonville? The next nearest large City with only minor depth problems, 3 major East Coast Railroads, 2 terminal companies, and miles on miles to expand. Don't believe it? Well my friend when the really big money starts to roll in you better believe that built out St. Johns waterfront will creep up the Broward River, Trout River or Clapboard Creek. Right up to the edge of the National Wetlands. We really do stand at the door of a gold mine of jobs, employment, industry and a ever booming economy. So where's the rub?

Well the gods of the JPA seem content to leave the network of CSX branchlines that reach across the Trout river and turn east to Blount Island as our sole port access. They even want to help CSX build a container yard and maybe a cut-off to their massive Waycross Junction. The Norfolk Southern, while not as big a player in Jacksonville, as CSX, certainly as big and as healthy elsewhere in the Eastern USA... and guess what? Aside from Lake City, we are their only contact in Florida. The end of a Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, St. Louis, Cincinnati-Atlanta- Macon-- Valdosta-Jacksonville race track. But the entry on the far Northwest side of the City does little to help with traffic to and from Blount Island. They built a multi-million dollar container terminal in Simpson Yard, but it's already crowded and far from the action. Their favorite partner the Florida East Coast with their signature downtown bridge over the St. Johns River, rolls in from South Florida, crosses the river and moves freight to and from CSX and NS.

So Mr. Big Shipper, how do you get a container to say Daytona Beach? or Valdosta? You could insist on all rail but since CSX says it "could" take them 4 days to move your load from Blount Island to the other railroads, that won't happen. So how about we unload them at early evening, and by midnight we flood every interstate in Jacksonville with a parade of big rigs headed for Simpson Yard or FEC's own Bowden Yard on the Southside. This seems to set well with JPA, A single thought that could be a DEAL BREAKER!

So while hands are wring over our tears "there's just no way to get to ________ " I suspect someone is all smiles in the CSX palace. Does JPA know about JTA? Have they ever thought about JAA? Could we just once, THINK beyond the obvious? What about a City buy out of all CSX and NS track Northeast of Moncrief Yard or Union Station? Sure it would cost millions, but that's where federal bucks come in. We then work through JAA grants, and JTA funds and grants with FDOT to turn our new freight terminal into a true "UNIVERSAL ACCESS" switching road. We pull ALL the big trucks off the highways and save ourselves even more $$$ in the long haul. Further? Okay, then we rebuild the old downtown "S" line or Seaboard Air Line Route from Union Station - Beaver Street - Shands - Springfield Yard, where it connects with track still in place to the North. We turn this into an early AM to late PM mass transit line with JAA kicking in funds to hook into the airport itself. Freights not trucks run all night and to ALL carriers. Can you imagine the attention we would attract then? I'd tell CSX to their face, they will shoot themselves in the foot if they don't push for this. To twist a bible quote... "We must be fishers of international shipping - NOT keepers of private boat ponds."

Failing to attain the attention of the big dogs CSX, JPA, JAA, JTA we still have a chance for one last terminal line, and it could well develop thousands of acres of untouched Jacksonville. Did you know that JEA maintains a string of 240 KV high power lines from the Norfolk Southern (remember the FEC rolls right into their yards), near Westlake, to NW Moncrief, Garden City (Just South of the Airport), Ritter Park/Oceanway, Northside Generators, Blount Island? You can't build under those lines, a highway can only run under them in passing, but a railroad, better yet electric railroads can and do run under them all over the USA and the World too. How buying old railroads or building new ones is easy math to see how it could save and enhance our port, jobs and economy. It may not be as easy to see why it would save us money. That answer comes from the Oklahoma Department of Transportation, who state that one fully loaded semi-tractor and trailer, does as much damage/wear and tear on a highway or bridge in a single pass as do 86,000 automobiles. That's an answer we could take to the bank, or pass the bill to our childrens, children. Time for us to wake someone up at City Hall and ask of our authority's, "Who are these guys".

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The arguments rage to this date, "Should have never been built," "waste of taxpayer money," "Doesn't go anywhere," "Nobody rides it..." etc. Bottom line is we have it, and it is finally showing signs of life. Simple extensions to the Stadium, San Marco, and the area of Blue Cross in North Riverside would turn this little train around. Addition of Park and Ride garages and multimodal transit terminals at the end points would bring on the crowds. The video must have been shot on a Sunday Morning, as downtown is certainly as packed with life as any other major City on weekdays. Jacksonville is a city of Bikes, joggers, walkers, buses and cars, one almost wonders how the photographer managed to find this quiet moment.

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