Content provided by Those Classic Trains
In the early 1900s, when this colorized picture was taken, Jacksonville was still a small coastal town in the largely rural Southeastern tidewater country. Change is in the wind, however, driven by Flaglers tourist boom. The telephone has arrived (the multiple cross arms on those poles support different telephone circuits). Streets are being paved, there are street lights and even a public trolley system.
Jacksonville's first major station, built in the 1904 along with the Florida East Coast Railway, serves the FEC, SAL, ACL and Southern Ry. Grandiose for a day when only a tiny percentage of Americas 60 million people had vacation time or money to spend, this depot is already being outstripped by traffic demand.
Note the fellow on the bicycle- a primary mode of transportation up into the 1930s. How often do you see this modeled?
A few short years later, in 1919, the scene has changed dramatically. The northern Florida cracker wilderness is being paved over to meet the demands of the building boom. Florida Trade traffic has spiraled, and with it has come this impressive marble monument.
Gone are the horse drawn wagons. No bicycles to be seen. There are plenty of automobiles, however, as Jacksonville takes on all the trappings of a Northeastern metropolis.
Sadly, this has proved to be a pipe dream. Even as this enormous new Union Depot was being completed, the Florida boom was starting to wither. Within ten years, Black Tuesday will bring Henry Flaglers dream of an American Riviera to a grinding halt.
Today, the station still serves its intended purpose: a meeting and routing place for through trains from the North. Traffic remains fairly high (in the winter season) but the trade now is more middle class. The days of Florida as the exclusive playground of the rich are over.
Operationally, Jacksonville faces several challenges. To begin with, the volume of seasonal traffic is enormous. Trains tend to arrive in batches: a half dozen or more. Worse: in peak season times, each "train" may have as many as a half-dozen consists arriving one after another at short intervals.
Another problem is that this traffic follows a unique pattern. Trains arrive from several points north, northwest and west with sleepers bound for various destinations on both coasts. Thus, each arriving train has to be broken up and the cars shuffled into new consists- gently, as they are occupied at the time.
Each of the reverse northbound movements arrive with cars for several long haul trains. Often the cars of one northbound long haul arrive over a period of hours on several different locals. As with the southbound trains, yard crews must break each up and assemble them into coherent consists for the long journeys north and west.
Below Jacksonville, the Florida East Coast suffered constant log jams during the 20s as multiple sections had to saw by each other on the all-too-few sidings of the then- single track road. This eased somewhat during the 30s with the Depression and the completion of double tracking. But by 1940, vacation traffic, then war traffic was booming again. The FEC, now double tracked, was better able to handle the load although peak traffic has suffered occasional bottlenecks.
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