Proof that somebody up there (in Tallahassee) is starting to take rail transportation seriously was the word this week that the Department of Transportation is considering a new rail line along U.S. Route 27 from Miami to Lake Okeechobee. The idea is to make this a freight line. The Sun-Sentinel reported that the concept of an inland distribution center in the Lake Okeechobee area would generate considerable new freight traffic from points south. If the new track could handle that traffic, as well as freight now using the CSX and FEC corridors along the coast, it could free those tracks to accommodate passenger trains being planned for commuter, intercity and long-distance service.
It would enable the passenger trains to move at speeds necessary to make them successful, and greatly reduce traffic holdups at the numerous grade crossings, especially on the FEC. A long freight holds up traffic for tedious minutes, especially when it decides to stop for no apparent reason. A passenger train clears the crossings much faster. There is also a safety factor. A freight takes a long time to slow down. When an engineer sees a vehicle stuck in his path, there isn’t much that can be done short of sounding his horn. But a passenger train could stop quickly and avoid disaster.
A foamer like this writer (a foamer dreams about trains) could see even farther down the new track, which being built from scratch, could potentially be useful beyond the contemplated purpose. It would enable the state to build a multi-track, high-speed line along an open corridor, largely free from grade crossings and with no need for stations for many miles. Freight could therefore go much faster and, if used eventually by passenger trains, it could be a high-speed line. Not 200 mph as in Europe and the Orient; that would require expensive electrification. But certainly speeds above 100 miles an hour would be realistic with current equipment. Trains we recently rode in Ireland (pictured above) could be a model. They are not electric, but routinely hit 90 mph and could go faster if track conditions permitted. Such a train could make the trip of about 55 miles from Miami to Clewiston inside an hour, largely because the last 37 miles from I-75 north would have no stops at all.
At that point the track could connect to existing lines circling Lake Okeechobee to the west. Those tracks are not modern, but they run through sparsely populated towns where improvements would not be nearly as expensive or disruptive to the communities. That would provide a rail link to Tampa - an intercity railroad that really makes sense. Today, it is a jerky connection, but still much shorter than using existing CSX tracks which run to West Palm Beach and then slant to the west – Amtrak’s current long-distance route. The connection to Tampa north of Lake Okeechobee takes more than five hours.
Ultimately, if the state wanted to be ambitious, another new rail line of about 40 miles could run from near Moore Haven to existing CSX track closer to Tampa. Again, this is largely open agricultural country and a very fast track is feasible. The route would not be exactly a straight line from one end to the other, but it’s close. It should make a trip from Miami to Tampa less than three hours. Florida would be in the 21st century.
Excuse us if we foam a bit.