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By Jeff Stagl, managing editor
Several years ago, Florida East Coast Railway L.L.C. (FEC) generated most of its revenue from aggregates, primarily crushed stone used in residential and commercial construction. But since then, the number of ag carloads per day has dropped from a high of 600 to about 120. Now, intermodal — which has steadily grown in volume — accounts for 80 percent of the regional’s business.
On May 16 and 17, FEC officials hosted a press train tour to discuss why intermodal will continue to be a big traffic driver for the regional. They also wanted to show media members the sites or progress of several key projects in south Florida that are projected to propel container moves in the next several years, including restored on-dock and other rail infrastructure at the Port of Miami, and an intermodal container transfer facility (ICTF) and on-dock rail infrastructure at Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale.
Florida is a “truly consuming state,” ranked as the nation’s fourth-largest state economy based on gross domestic product, said FEC President and Chief Executive Officer James Hertwig during presentations held May 16 while the train made the seven-hour trip from Jacksonville to Miami. The state has about 19 million residents and attracts more than 81 million visitors annually.
FEC is well positioned along the state’s East Coast to take advantage of heavier freight flows that will be generated by the Panama Canal expansion, which is slated for completion by early 2015, he said. FEC, which has no other rail competition along its 351-mile route, competes directly with trucks.
Florida is the primary gateway to Latin America, and the ports in Miami and Fort Lauderdale are the closest U.S. ports to the Panama Canal, said Hertwig. FEC officials are counting on the planned port projects to help establish the regional as more of a major conduit of intermodal freight coming from Central and South America, as well as the Caribbean and Asia, and moving from south Florida to various points in the Southeast, such as Atlanta, Charlotte, N.C., and Memphis, Tenn.
Since the state includes several large consumer markets, the vast majority of freight flows southbound to major metropolitan areas while only a trickle flows northbound through and out of Florida.
A year ago, FEC launched a service aimed at increasing the regional’s southbound intermodal traffic. A Savannah Relay service offers overnight service from points in South Carolina to south Florida, and second-morning service from points in North Carolina. Freight is trucked to Jacksonville then railed by FEC to Fort Pierce, Fort Lauderdale or Miami.
Targeting time-sensitive retail cargo, the Savannah Relay is highway competitive in the “freight-rich” Savannah, Ga., market, which is home to many distribution centers, said Hertwig.
Port of Miami
After a 50-foot dredge is completed in late 2014, the Port of Miami will be able to accommodate much larger ships than this one shown.
Atlas Railroad Construction L.L.C.
Earlier this year, FEC completed a 4.4-mile lead track to the Port of Miami. The rehabilitated lead ends at American Airlines Arena (round building shown at top of photo), which is home to the Miami Heat professional basketball team.