Florida East Coast Railway: Tamer of Swamps and Oceans
The Florida East Coast Railway is a Class II railroad that specializes in shipping intermodal freight along the eastern seaboard of Florida and southern Georgia. With major terminals in Jacksonville, Ft. Lauderdale, Miami, Ft. Pierce, and Atlanta, the FECR is able to ship goods from the southeastern United States to most of North America by way of its interchanges with Norfolk Southern and CSXT, both Class I railroads. Connected to the world via ports that include Miami and Savannah, the FECR moves over 300,000 intermodal units per year. This tonnage includes over 100,000 carloads of aggregate that are shipped between Jacksonville and Miami on a yearly basis alone. Major customers of the FECR also include businesses in the dairy, paper, petroleum, and automobile industries.
The FECR was created in 1885 by Henry Morrison Flagler, a partner with John D. Rockefeller at Standard Oil. In 1878 Flagler had moved his family to Florida because a physician had advised that its climate would be better for his wife's health. Though she would die two years later, Flagler concluded that Florida would eventually become a major tourist attraction and that its lack of development to that point was due to an underdeveloped transportation system. Beginning in 1885, Flagler began to purchase various short-line railroads that crossed the state's east coast, including the Jacksonville, St. Augustine and Halifax River Railway, St. John's Railway, St. Augustine and Palatka Railway, and St. Johns and Halifax River Railway. Each of these railroads operated under different gauges and had stretches of rough, undeveloped terrain between them. Flagler, having removed himself from daily operations at Standard Oil, began the process of connecting the separate lines and standardizing their equipment. His most notable building project was the construction of a rail bridge that connected the mainland to Key West. Begun in 1905 and completed in 1912, this bridge spanned over 128 miles of ocean and, amid setbacks caused by hurricanes and the deaths of hundreds of workers, was hailed at the time as the "Eight Wonder of the World".
Subsequent years, as with all railroads, were at times harsh for the FECR. Though the line recovered from the receivership it had to enter into during the Great Depression, competition with airlines and the development of the Interstate Highway System forced the line out of the passenger business. The development of intermodal shipping, however, has allowed it and other railroads to remain competitive into the 21st century.