Unlike other Florida cities, Jacksonville alone is a sea of railroad tracks. One time home to the Worlds Busiest Passenger Terminal (during the Great Florida Boom of the Roaring Twenty's), and certainly one of the largest Terminal Stations in the nation. 32 tracks, split roughly 60/40 stub and through, the great station served every passenger train entering or exiting the state (with few exceptions) until 1974.
Today freight trains of Norfolk Southern, CSX and Florida East Coast still rumble past the silent platforms and pedestrian tunnels. The Jacksonville Transportation Authority has an eye on Commuter Rail, and has completed the first two studies which have laid out a 90 mile starter system on three distinct rail lines, North, Southeast, Southwest.
Meanwhile over at JaxPort, the talk is all about building a new rail yard that they suppose will whisk away 2 Million Containers a year. Currently ranked number 19 in North America in container volume and number 2 in automotive imports, the new terminals built around trade with the Orient promise to rocket us into the number 3 or 4 position in the Nation. Dredge the river channel for Post Panamax ships, build the new rail yard, and everything will be rosy... Well not quite.
So here is a recent headline article in the Jacksonville Business Journal, taken from the recent seminars, breakfasts and meetings on JaxPort. They elude to the unknown that dredging and another railroad yard will be the fix we need. Their going to be sorely disappointed.
Game on for Jacksonville
Jacksonville Business Journal
Jacksonville’s economic development marching orders came across loud and clear at the Global Trade and Transportation breakfast this week: Find $500 million from federal, state and local government to dredge the St. Johns River to handle larger ships, make sure the Hanjin shipping company joins Mitsui to cement the city’s Asian trade ties, and finish the road and rail improvements needed to maximize the port’s ability to move cargo.
Succeed at these tasks and cement Jacksonville’s future as a premier port on the East Coast, while broadening the city’s economic base considerably. Or fail, and watch the ports of Savannah, Charleston and Norfolk eat our lunch. Yes, the choice is that clear-cut.
The reason the shippers Mitsui and Hanjin want terminals here is to develop a hub for direct trade from Asia to the East Coast. The Panama Canal is being improved to allow larger cargo ships through, which are more cost-efficient for the shippers. The canal improvements should be done by 2014.
Green Lines = CSXT
Black Lines = Norfolk Southern
So what does JaxPort have to do with Commuter Trains and railroads? Glad you asked. At this point over 1/2 of our port is locked into CSX. For all the railroad diversity we have downtown, the Florida East Coast and Norfolk Southern are effectively cut out of the game. Saying our port is served by 3 major railroads is misleading when more then half of the terminals are captive. What good is it to try and sell shippers on the 3 railroad package when CSX says it will take them 5 full days to move a box car from Blount Island on the City's Northside, the the FEC / NS interchanges near Jacksonville Terminal.
If the City of Jacksonville and FDOT bought the former Seaboard Air Line Mainline, replaced the missing link from Jacksonville Terminal to Springfield Yard (already in City hands), it would effectively open the door to ease traffic congestion. Moreover it could all be operated as the JaxPort Railroad, a terminal road with neutral switching access by all carriers. Who needs a new rail yard when we already have the largely empty Springfield Yard which could easily be rehabilitated into a first class container facility. Who needs a one railroad port, when we already have plans for Commuter Rail on those same tracks? Why not bust the port wide open and create a quick, responsive, shortline/terminal road.
Not only would CSX retain every carload that any customer currently requests via a CSX routing, The Florida East Coast and Norfolk Southern wouldn't have to bypass the Port and hustle everything to the new Titusville Intermodal facility in order the expedite shipments. Moreover by linking Port/ACE + Freight Railroad/FRA + Transit/FTA + Commuter Rail/FRA + Station Security/DHS, and beautification/FDOT, we open hundreds of more avenues by which to obtain those vital federal grants.
Then, and only then, will we be able to honestly claim we have 3 railroad service choices for our port shippers. Only then will we be able to control the destiny of our Commuter Rail and Passenger Terminal. The day that the first RDC car rumbles over the Trout River and the big diesels of FEC or NS freely mix with CSX out at Tri-Pac, JaxPort and JTA will have come of age.