Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Lessons learned in Kissimmee

A little breath of fresh air in Kissimmee, Florida really did me good. I made sure to take time away from the typical family outings to break away for a few moments of photographs at the Kissimmee Amtrak Station.

I had targeted this as my spot for photos before my family even went to Florida for a few reasons. The first was the station was photogenic, having been built in 1910. Second was that the trackage through the city is somewhat famous and is still known as the A Line, which was formerly a very busy and important route for the Atlantic Coast Line, Seaboard Coast Line and Seaboard System railways. It is currently under CSX control, although the line sees light traffic. But, true to its name, it is poised to be an important line once again.

In the above photo, you will notice batches of new rail ties ready for placement on the A Line, as Amtrak Train 98, the northbound Silver Meteor approaches the Monument Street crossing (Check out the old Amfeet coaches!). The reason for the upgrade is that this section of the subdivision is slated to house the state's Sunrail commuter operations, which will link the city of DeLand, via Orlando, with the Poinciana region in Osceola County. Kissimmee will be the second last westbound stop on this route, or the first eastbound stop, depending on the train. This commuter link will serve an incredibly congested part of the state where the roads are at capacity, to say the least.

When I arrived at the station last Thursday, I made sure to keep my distance, since I was warned that security is tight at this station. I loved the look of the old building, which still sports old signal equipment on its roof (right of photo) and a steam engine weather vane. The inside of the station had beautiful, creaky old floors and a number of other period flourishes. I decided not to take photos, just to be safe.

While waiting for the predictably late Train 98, I decided to take some shots at a number of pieces of maintenance-of-way and track-laying equipment that were parked on a spur next to the main line. Clearly, this track is just about ready for its makeover.

Shortly after hearing an announcement warning passengers that the Silver Meteor would be "15 or 20 minutes late," P42DC 75 roared into the station about 25 minutes late, much to the relief of the passengers who were baking in the mid-afternoon sun. I brought some heat rashes back to the Great White North as a souvenir.

The train didn't stay long and geared up pretty fast as it crossed East Drury Avenue, which was where I was perched at this point. I haven't seen an Amtrak train since my teenage years in Sarnia, so the site of these old Amfleet coaches was a treat. In fact, it was nice to see a passenger train with a few different coaches in its consist. I was pleased with the shot below, as it captures the acceleration of the locomotive, which is spewing out smoke as it picks up speed.

This (below) was the true gem of the lot, an old heavyweight baggage car at the end of Train 98, coupled behind a few Viewliner sleepers. It's been a while since I've seen Amtrak rolling stock, so correct me if I'm wrong about the Viewliners.

I came away from this encounter with a few thoughts.

1. Commuter rail in the U.S. is faring somewhat better than it is in Canada. The co-operation between municipalities, states and the federal government is getting a number of commuter lines going, which should serve as a reminder to us here in Canada that intercity rail travel isn't just important in the busiest eastern corridors.

2. Amtrak has a much more extensive roster of long-haul trains, which is a product of a system in the U.S. where states subsidize trains that they feel serve an important purpose. This train, for example, was bound for New York City. It runs daily in both directions between the Big Apple and Miami. I wonder how different Via Rail would be if provinces were allowed more leeway in deciding where passenger services would be useful. I would think Western Canada might be better served, at the very least.

3. Despite these positive points, Amtrak is still at the mercy of government whims, not to mention the timetables of its railway hosts like CSX. You can't help but wonder how passenger rail manages to survive in North America in spite of these two massive obstacles.

4. I really miss the old Amtrak logo and red, white and blue scheme. The latest one is boring.

1 comment:

Eric said...

Thanks for keeping us updated from the sunny South, Michael. Nice to see those old classics, i.e. the baggage car, soldiering on.