CSX transits Florida;
Amtrak has six daily trains
By Leo King
ORANGE PARK – CSX Transportation is a busy railroad in Florida, and particularly in the northeastern region, and on more than two different lines. A few potentially hazardous freight cars pass this way, especially chemical tank cars and coal trains en route to electrical generating stations like Seminole Electric near Palatka, and Orlando Utilities.
CSX’s longest line through Duval and Clay Counties is its “A Line,” which operates southward from Jacksonville in Duval County to a place named “Yukon” and a 10,000-foot siding on its southern end at milepost 655 where it crosses into Clay County.
From there, it’s mostly single track through Orange Park, Doctor’s Inlet, Green Cove Springs and on to Putnam County and eventually Tampa, Orlando and Miami.
Permitted train speeds range from 45 mph to 79 for Amtrak passenger trains, and mostly 60 for freight trains.
Jacksonville-based CSX spokesman Gary Sease said, “Clay County traffic data for 2005 shows 2,500 carloads originating in Clay consisting primarily of building supplies, forest products and containerboard.”
He added, “Inbound carloads arriving in Clay County totaled 350 consisting primarily of building supplies and roofing materials. Separately, we deliver coal to a receiver in Clay County [but] we cannot reveal any customer names.”
Sease pointed out, “In addition to the freight traffic on the A Line, it is a busy Amtrak route as well. On both the A Line and S Line, we move chemicals and other materials commonly called hazardous materials. These are used in industrial applications and to manufacture everyday consumer products. We move those materials safely and efficiently, and are required to move them by our common carrier status.”
Capt. Bernita A. Bush, Clay County Fire Rescue’s spokesperson, said, “Our hazardous materials team conducts ongoing training in preparation for response to a wide variety of hazardous materials incidents in the event there was a crash or other emergency.”
They have a contingency plan. She said, “Our dispatch personnel would contact CSX, so information on the cargo for that train could be determined. This information would be forwarded to responding fire and EMS units and would dictate what immediate steps would be needed to contain and safeguard the site, as well as any surrounding residents, businesses and vehicle traffic (whether to evacuate or shelter in place).”
Bush added, “Our hazardous materials team, under the direction of Chief Richard Knoff, would also respond and work with CSX to mitigate the incident. Clay County has a mutual aid agreement with surrounding counties, and has the capability to call in additional resources as needed.”
Bush also pointed out, “Amtrak has provided hands-on training for our personnel to familiarize them with the safest means to stabilize cars and extricate patients from railcars after a crash or derailment.”
Eight Amtrak trains pass through the counties daily – The AutoTrain, Silver Star, Silver Meteor, and if it returns, the Sunset Limited. That train was truncated from Los Angeles to New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. CSX has rebuilt its line through Mississippi, but Amtrak has not yet restored the Orlando-New Orleans segment.
CSX’s Sease said, “We informed Amtrak several weeks ago that we are ready to accept the Sunset Limited when they are ready to resume that operation.”
Amtrak spokesman Cliff Black, at the railroad’s Washington headquarters, explained why not.
“While the railroad itself is back in service, several of the stations are in bad shape. Amtrak is in discussion with the states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida about the best approach to restoring service on the line. No decision on timing has been made yet.”
On July 21, he added that is still the case, he doesn’t know when the train will return, and he doesn’t know if or when Amtrak will offer up required federal Surface Transportation Board “180-day” termination notices. That’s a requirement that a railroad state that passenger trains will be terminated between place A and place B. In turn, the STB notifies communities along the railroad line that “X” railroad plans to discontinue passenger train service.
Florida stops west of Jacksonville – before Katrina – included Lake City, Madison, Tallahassee, Chipley (Panama City) Crestview (Fort Walton Beach), and Pensacola. There are two stops in Alabama, and four in Mississippi before arriving in New Orleans over a 769-mile Journey from Orlando.
Bruce Richardson, a spokesman for ultra-right United Rail Passenger Alliance, noted last week in a newsletter, that Trains magazine, in its September 2006 edition published a story by longtime writer Bob Johnston.
In his article, “Johnston listed some weak arguments,” Richardson wrote, “as to why the Sunset is not operating, including the lack of passenger stations due to hurricane damage (which Amtrak could easily replace with portable station trailers as it does elsewhere throughout the country when a current station is unusable), the lack of qualified train and engine crews (perhaps the poorest excuse of all; it’s not that difficult to re-qualify operating crews over the single stretch of railroad between New Orleans and Pensacola… which was damaged), and perhaps the least relevant excuse, the possibility (now dead and gone) that CSX may sell the railroad line between Mobile and New Orleans to the federal government so the railroad would not be running in the middle of the towns of Pascagoula, Gulfport, Biloxi, and a couple of other locations.”
Jacksonville resident Richardson added, “While the argument can be made that local ridership to the Gulf Coast towns, such as Biloxi, Gulfport, Pascagoula, and Mobile was modest due to the fact that the Sunset’s last schedule serviced those destinations in the middle of the night, an even greater argument can be made of the importance of the overhead traffic on the Sunset between New Orleans and Florida, including Jacksonville, where the Sun had considerable cross-platform business with the north/south Florida service trains, the Silver Meteor and Silver Star, plus considerable ridership into Orlando, the world's largest single family vacation destination.”
The story continues following the tank cars photo - Ed.