The Florida Gulf Coast Railroad was formed in 1930 by the merger of two west-central Florida railroads; the Gainesville & Gulf RR, and the Tampa Central Railway. Since then, the FLGC has operated as an independent regional carrier connecting Gainesville to the gulf coast and the greater Tampa area. Throughout the 1940s and 50s, the railroad made it a priority to conduct major upgrades across the system, which included the installation of CTC with longer passing sidings, and improvements to the mainline right-of-ways for higher speeds. The FLGC had completely phased out steam by 1955, and by the early 60s, the regional carrier was well known in the industry for their dependable and fast service.
Today, the railroad operates nearly 270 miles of track in western Florida. Company headquarters are located in Gainesville, the railroads northern terminus. From Gainesville, the railroad extends 73 miles west to Athens, where the Florida Gulf Coast serves a busy harbor at the Port of Athens. About halfway between Gainesville and Athens is the small town of Pearl. Here, the two main arteries of the FLGC came together. At Pearl Tower, the line to Clearwater split away from the line to Athens and ran 134 miles south through western Florida. About 15 miles south of Pearl, the line to Kallaska split away from the mainline and ran 34 miles southwest to the gulf shore. The mainline continued south along the gulf shore to Clearwater. While the yard at the Port of Clearwater was the main hub of the greater Tampa area, the railroad did operate a secondary line into Tampa until 1990 when it was leased to an industrial operator.
The railroad has always had a diverse traffic base, including intermodal, automotive, agricultural, chemical, and various bulk commodities. Of the three gulf ports served by the FLGC, the Port of Clearwater is the most active, but the Port of Athens is also a busy terminal. The smaller port of Kallaska is used mainly for the export of produce products grown in the groves and orchards across the system.
The railroad is well known in the railfan community for their locomotive roster, which is dominated by four axle EMD's adorned in the classic blue, gold and black paint scheme. Beginning in the 1960s and continuing through the 80s, the railroad opted for their EMD purchases to be fitted with high short hoods, just like many Southern Railway engines. Unlike the Southern, however, the locomotives were set up for short hood forward operation. Since 1988, the railroad has not purchased any new motive power, but has acquired some secondhand EMD power to replace older engines in the fleet. Below is an active locomotive roster as of 1/1/2017. In total, the Florida Gulf Coast rosters 90 EMD's, of which 68 are four-axles.
EMD F7A: 70, 72. (Both purchased new, used as power for executive train)
EMD F7B: 71. (Purchased secondhand, used as power for executive train)
EMD SW1200: 120, 121, 122, 123. (All purchased new)
EMD SW1500: 155, 156, 157. (All purchased secondhand)
EMD MP15AC: 220, 221, 222, 223, 224. (All purchased secondhand)
EMD GP30: 302, 304, 307, 311, 318, 322. (All purchased new, all high-hood)
EMD GP35: 350, 355, 363. (All purchased new, all high-hood)
EMD GP38AC: 380, 382, 383, 384, 385, 386, 388, 389. (All purchased new, all high-hood)
EMD GP38-2: 400, 401, 402, 403, 404, 405, 406, 408, 409, 410, 411, 412, 414, 415. (All purchased new, all high-hood)
EMD GP40-2: 440, 441, 442, 443, 444, 445, 446, 447. (All purchased new, all high-hood)
EMD GP40X: 480, 481. (Both purchased new, both high-hood)
EMD GP50: 500, 501, 502, 503, 504, 505. (All purchased new, all high-hood)
EMD GP60: 600, 601, 602, 603. (All purchased new, last new engines purchased, all short-hood)
EMD SD38-2: 660, 661, 662. (All purchased secondhand)
EMD SD40-2: 700, 701, 702, 703, 704, 706, 707, 708, 709, 710, 711, 712, 713, 714, 715, 716, 717, 718, 719. (All purchased new, all high hood)
EMD SD40-2: 990, 991, 992. (All purchased secondhand, all short-hood)
The original CTC system installed in the 1950s is still in place today and covers the 73 miles between Athens and Gainesville, and the 134 miles between Pearl and Clearwater. The US&S H-2 style searchlights that were used during the implementation of CTC still dominate the railroad, mounted on masts, bridges, cantilevers and bracket posts. Because of the classic signaling system, collection of high-hood EMD's, and attractive paint scheme, the Florida Gulf Coast has long been a popular attraction for railfans throughout North America. A follow up post will detail modern operations on the system, and eventually I hope to get a drawing of the paint scheme uploaded.
Sub forum for Paper Railroads