11 April, 2009

Alabama Uses the "F" Word


In the early 20th century, Birmingham was served by seven railroads. Six of these joined together to form the Birmingham Terminal Company. The company hired Atlanta architect P. Thornton Marye to design the station. Its construction took two years and cost $2 million. Although the station's Byzantine style created some controversy, its opening in April 1909 was a major event for the city. A balloon race and a parade, led by Grand Marshal E. J. McCrossin, were held to celebrate. The Birmingham Terminal Station was the primary passenger station for Birmingham from 1909 until rail travel sharply declined in the 1950s. It filled two blocks of 26th Street North (now Carraway Boulevard) above the 5th Avenue North underpass. Originally the main train stop for out-of-town visitors, as automobile and air travel came in to prominence the building was neglected, it was finally torn down in 1969.


Architect Frank Milburne designed this Spanish Mission style station soon after 1900. It stood on West Trade St. and the railroad tracks, about where the Bus Station presently sits. Milburne fashioned a series of stations in this style. Indeed, Salisbury still has and has restored its Spanish Mission style railroad station. Legend holds that President Woodrow Wilson once asked whether the Charlotte Station was fireproof. When told that it was, Wilson supposedly said, "What a pity." The building was demolished in 1962.


Union Station in Atlanta was the smaller of two principal train stations in downtown, Terminal Station being the other. Opening in 1930, Union Station served the Georgia Railroad, Atlantic Coast Line (previously the Atlanta, Birmingham and Coast Railroad), and Louisville and Nashville (previously the Nashville, Chattanooga and St. Louis Railway). It replaced earlier stations on the same site.
After the tenant railroads of Union Station had discontinued all their passenger trains -- the last such train operated the day before Amtrak came into existence -- the station was razed in 1972. Remnants of the platform may be seen behind the Atlanta Journal Constitution building although construction of Underground Atlanta and MARTA largely obliterated the site.


Terminal Station, designed by architect P. Thornton Marye was built in 1905. It stood at the northwest corner of Spring Street and Mitchell Street. After 65 years of service as a passenger railroad station, it closed in 1970 and was demolished in 1972.
The Richard B. Russell Federal Building, which opened in 1980, now stands on this spot.


Amtrak has offered Florida a pre-High Speed Rail plan of 5 trains each way per day, per route. Taken to the fullest possible extent, this would equate to 25 trains each way per day in Jacksonville's terminal, in other words 50 trains and that is without any Commuter Rail development.

It's time we held our own railroad summit meetings and pull every community from Norfolk, to Charlotte, Atlanta , Birmingham and New Orleans into a Jacksonville Hub promotion. Atlanta is making noise like they'd love to be the new rail center of the Southeast, but keep in mind Atlanta destroyed and complete buried any trace of both Union Station and Terminal Station. Birmingham wants in too but has the drawbacks that most of the current New York - Southeast traffic by passes them by as it moves up and down the East Coast. Charlotte and North Carolina have become leaders in their own regions by funding and then pulling Amtrak across the State to build a Carolina Corridor. Again, station and numbers still favor an East Coast city. So it all comes back to Jacksonville, the pin in the Southeastern hinge of rail transportation.

Even the planners on the side of other cities are savvy enough to know the "F Word" aka: FLORIDA must be included for them to have any chance of success. If we continue to fiddle in both Tallahassee and Jacksonville, they might just discover a way to cut us out of the majority of these new rail projects. We need a RAIL SUMMIT JACKSONVILLE, with confident city promotional figures to tour our great Jacksonville Terminal, and start planning how they can connect with this hub. Meanwhile over in Birmingham, planning for Atlanta, New Orleans and Houston, they still toss the bone to Jacksonville as every railroad line into the state passes through our Terminal.

From the Birmingham Business Journal:

The Birmingham City Council is getting behind efforts to bring high speed rail to Alabama.

Three weeks after the state reversed its position and released $120,000 to pay delinquent membership dues to the Southern High-Speed Rail Commission, Birmingham’s City Council will debate allocating matching funds for federal intercity passenger planning and construction programs. A resolution supporting the Southern High-Speed Rail Commission’s efforts to create a line between Atlanta and New Orleans is scheduled to be introduced at the April 14 council meeting. A Southeastern high-speed rail line could mean billions worth of construction projects with regional leaders negotiating with the federal government to provide as much as 80 percent of the funds.

The council’s Transportation and Communications Committee voted unanimously to send the resolution to the full committee. Councilor Carol Duncan chairs the committee and said the timing is right to back efforts to upgrade city, regional and national transportation infrastructure.

“We’re really moving and it is getting exciting,” Duncan said. “Funding should be put in place. We’re getting ourselves in place so it can happen in Alabama.”

Alabama’s Southern High-Speed Rail Commission chapter needs $1.3 million to complete feasibility studies, according to state commission representative Richard Finley. He said just the Atlanta-Birmingham line could be a $400 million project.

Duncan said the state and region are working to ensure the funds needed for Alabama to have a seat at the high-speed rail table are available.

Finley, chairman of the Southern High-Speed Rail Commission, will host the group composed of representatives from Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi in Birmingham on April 23. The commission will discuss a plan of action for seeking federal funding to transform Crescent Corridor into a high-speed rail line.

Birmingham Mayor Larry Langford has called his own summit of 15 Mid-South mayors to unite behind a line that could link Atlanta and Houston. Langford mailed invitations for his April 30 summit on April 3. The mayors of Atlanta, Houston, Tuscaloosa, Meridian, Miss., Anniston, Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Biloxi, Gulfport, Miss., Mobile are among those Langford invited.

He hopes to forge a partnership with his peers to broker a major regional economic development project. With the federal government allotting $8 billion for high speed rail projects, Langford said a united effort is needed.

“We must join forces and agree to cooperate if the mutual interests of our communities are to be met and that we are to receive our fair share of the funds devoted to what I am calling the ‘Mid-South High Speed Rail Corridor,” Langford’s invitation said.

Meridian, Miss. John Robert Smith applauded Langford’s vision and efforts to help the region speak with one voice as it seeks its slice of the federal high-speed rail pie.

“The corridors that link Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida, Texas and Alabama are critical for the future development of the Southeast,” Smith said. “Mayors are the strongest and best advocates for rail in this country.”


You see Mr. and Ms. Jacksonville politician, ours still stands and it just awaits your call to become the hub of the Southeast. Just remember when looking for railroads and funding, the "F" word is Florida, and Florida Railroad is spelled J-A-C-K-S-O-N-V-I-L-L-E.

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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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