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Many of you who have located this site, have a keen interest in and fascination with railroads and the history and education that is associated with such an interest. More than likely you have sought out and visited many of the fine museums, galleries and other collections and displays of the items that have survived and have been preserved in other cities and states for this purpose. Many of us have dreamed of having a first class transportation museum here in Jacksonville.
Regrettably, what you are searching for, does not exist for Florida......yet!
Florida is not alone in having the railroads and other forms of transportation that made this country what it is today. Jacksonville, in particular, was host to perhaps the most significant role in the internal development of the state of Florida. Many of the most well known railroads had tracks and or named trains that came through Jacksonville. Did you know that is why the term "gateway" is used so many times in association with Jacksonville? Jacksonville was the gateway to Florida. At one time, over 145 trains made their way in and out of Jacksonville each day!
View the 1925 Time Table Schedule of Trains (MS Word Document)
It is natural then, that Jacksonville is the appropriate location for such a museum.
Whatever it may be called, it is an endeavor that should be accomplished to preserve, educate and promote what is a true state and national history resource. Have you ever heard of anywhere else in the country, or perhaps the entire world, that had a railroad built that went to sea, like the Florida East Coast Railway and its Overseas Extension to Key West?
There is of course, a rich Maritime and Aviation history in Jacksonville and this state, and they should also be represented. A true treasure of transportation systems came to life in Florida!
To this end, I have made a number of presentations to promote this effort. Myself and others believe in this and will continue efforts to achieve this goal. It is a large scale objective that will require the promotion and understanding of its importance, a lot of work by many individuals, and dedicated funding by the State of Florida, the city of Jacksonville, local businesses, private individuals and from the federal government.
There is currently in progress, a plan to expand and enhance the Jacksonville Terminal / Prime Osborn Convention Center. The resulting expansion is known as The Jacksonville Transportation Center. Ideally I think that the museum should be a part of that center. I believe this is the proper location. The Prime Osborn Convention Center, was supposed to be the nucleus of and spark for the revitalization of Downtown Jacksonville. You all know that has not happened. It is a "Catch 22" situation. We have a nice convention center but no first class attractions. Without such an attraction, who wants to have a convention here for just the landing and river walk? Perhaps this plan, with cooperation and participation from businesses, could make it a reality.
While we are about this projected expansion of the Jacksonville Terminal into the JTC, let us project that we may at least consider additional aspects of transportation. I believe that we need to include as many modes of transportation as is practical in order to encompass all interested groups, that is land, sea and air. The ideas being considered include only land transportation. To include those, facilities for water and air access to the JTC should be provided. I have been considering some approaches that may help to make this successful. These could be added in two additional phases.
For water access, a logical approach would be to open up and dredge out McCoy’s creek from the St. Johns, with a channel routed to the south side of the FEC railroad tracks. The overhead, moving walkways from the JTC could be extended to the south of the center, over the FEC railroad tracks, providing covered access to the channel landing. This would allow service to and from the center to be provided by the water taxis and other marine vessels as may be accommodated by the McCoy’s creek channel. The Army Corps of Engineers has a regional headquarters operation right here. Those folks can design and build the channel with professional ease!
The second phase could provide access to the center by air in the form of a heliport adjacent to the center. The heliport would provide quick and efficient connections with the Jacksonville International Airport, or other airports within helicopter range, facilitating a complete choice of transportation modes to and from such a transportation gateway.
Perhaps the JTC should become known as the Jacksonville Transportation Gateway.
I have proposed to a number of people the following base ideas relative to establishing a museum. Fully restoring the ACL 1504 steam locomotive to operable condition and house it on a roller bearing, or equivalent track, that will allow the operation of the locomotive in her full glory in a captive setting, with coal smoke and steam billowing, whistle blowing, bell clanging and drivers pounding. This could lead to the 1504 returning to active excursion service.
For the maritime interest, obtain the largest ship propeller that the marine industry can provide, mount it on a huge structure where it can be turned by a big open frame marine piston engine or steam turbine. A huge ship’s steam whistle would be impressive!
For the air sector, how about a large airplane, say a DC-8 or Super Constellation with four of the giant 18 cylinder radial piston engines and propellers. That would certainly make some noise and get some attention.
The safe operation of these examples would of course be imperative so all necessary fencing and protective structures will be of paramount importance and must be included.
Through discussions of this topic with many of you, several items of interest have come up. One is that the term museum does not have a exceptionally good connotation. It appears that many folks, especially those in a position to promote and provide funding, are somewhat reluctant to promote the idea when there is so much pressure on funding for the many important programs that are in need. They may think that a museum is a collection of static relics that are of not enough overall interest to merit approval of such a large undertaking. It appears appropriate that we pursue this as an Exposition which has the connotation of an active and ongoing endeavor, rather than a museum. Can you envision then, the Jacksonville Transportation Exposition?
The Jacksonville Transportation Center
This next section shifts focus away from the Exposition initiative and discusses the tie-ins with actual needs for current and future working transportation systems that are necessary to allow the city to continue functioning as a business metropolis.
Additional ideas that are related and timely to this project must include mass transportation systems that are designed to reduce vehicular traffic and provide convenient, rapid, reliable and cost effective operations. Some examples are light rail commuter service, monorail systems, and water based service. As recently reported in the Times Union, CSX recently concluded negotiations with Orlando and Orange county for light rail service. This required and included the planned rerouting of a significant numbers of trains off of what is known as the "A" line. This is the rail route of the former Atlantic Coastline Railroad. The other end of this line is the route that is located through Orange Park and comes directly into Jacksonville, along US-17, to within a very short distance of the Jacksonville Terminal.
Jacksonville should seek the same agreement to provide that service here. We should do whatever it takes to accomplish this. CSX should be provided the necessary variances, exceptions and tax breaks to rework the "A" line to at least double track, all the way down below Orange Park to CR-220 near Doctors Inlet. This route was originally double track, and the right-of-way as it exists is wide enough for that. Want to see relief on Blanding Boulevard and US-17? This could make it happen. Similar reworking of CSX's other lines can also be implemented. The Florida East Coast Railway has double track facilities over the St. Johns River, and runs immediately adjacent to the JTC. The FEC should receive the same incentives. These railroads are technically astute organizations and can accomplish the traffic control necessary to meet their freight movement goals as well as the added commuter service. Cities in the North and Midwest have been doing it for years.
Jacksonville's Automated Skyway Express is a really cute system and we should be proud of the effort. It however, falls short of being a truly effective solution for moving people. The little cars are not big enough and there are not enough of them. Most of you have at least seen, if not actually ridden the monorail systems in Orlando. I don't know how many people are moved in to, out of and around their parks, but it must be an impressive number. We need a monorail system. Proven technologies exist today and no development costs are necessary.
One key to any transportation system is right-of way. Where will we find the right-of way to put the monorail systems you ask? Enter the Jacksonville Electric Authority to the project. That’s right, the JEA. The right-of-way already exists! A large number of the main feeder routes can be engineered to change the power pole facilities from in many cases, eyesores, to modern, attractive, not to mention hurricane proof, concrete structures that carry the monorail systems and the power feeder lines as well. This also provides the power for the monorail at the same time. If ever there was a win-win situation ripe for the time, this is one. Monorail routes can also be built overhead of existing multilane highways. Bring in the Florida DOT too.
If these large scale types of transportation systems are implemented, the Jacksonville Transportation Authority can be transformed into an organization that can better meet the needs of individuals through a fleet of smaller vehicles, allowing funds to be shifted to the larger systems which will bring in huge amounts of revenue. The JTA could then focus on being the beginning and end segment of a residential to business, door to door solution for commuters.
Water born transportation is a bit more difficult to implement due to the infrastructure required to service a large number of people, and weather conditions. The problem is not so much the downtown end of such a service, but the outlying locations. Terminal areas with sufficient parking near the river would require premium real estate. I am sure that some folks have considered this and can offer good suggestions.
If you would like to see opportunity, more jobs, more investments, more businesses and less vehicular traffic and air pollution, support these initiatives. Jacksonville can become a true showcase as a forward thinking municipality and government through the implementation of comprehensive multi modal transportation systems and services.
Back to the Exposition
Many other states have already realized the importance of such efforts and have stepped up to the plate to make it happen. An Exposition like this would be an extremely fun and very educational place for school children and adults from all around to be able to visit and learn about the states transportation history. It could provide the necessary spark to form the critical mass needed to at last, get the revitalization underway. North Carolina is a very noteworthy example. Just look at their website, link at bottom of page, to see how important this is to the State of North Carolina!
There is a relative abundance of material that has survived and is still available to include in the museum. Notable collectors would like to have a place that their material can be displayed and protected. Their participation would benefit all who came to the museum to seek information about the state’s transportation history. The Exposition would be a place that these collectors, contributors and donors would be honored, remembered and appreciated forever!
We must not delay, as parts of Florida's history are being lost each and every day!
In summary, I would say the following. Perhaps we are "The New City of the South". The Super Bowl identified us to the nation. What we are not so far, is BOLD. We need imaginative, creative and forward thinking leaders in our local, state and federal government. These folks must realize what it takes and step up to the plate now, to make the decisions required, and provide the funding necessary to implement these projects. Our future viability as a great place to live and work depends on it.
If there are any artists or architects that can envision the systems I have described here, please take the time for our city and create some concept drawings for us all to consider.
You can be a part of this plan! Get yourself and others involved, and promote this initiative! Contact your local, state and federal representatives, business entities, and the movers and shakers that have the knowledge, concern, resources and generosity to make it happen. Encourage them to support and fund these projects in Jacksonville!
John A. Leynes Jr - President
The Florida Railroad Company Inc.
January 2005 - Revised September 9, 2006
Another museum initiative is Rodney Butchers