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Florida Rail Destinations by Jack Turner


By Jack M. Turner

Photos by John C. Turner

    Rail travel to Florida is relatively easy, at least if you are traveling from the US east coast, as two New York to Florida trains offer direct service to 17 communities in the Sunshine State and a third, the Auto-Train, carries passengers and their motor vehicles between the suburbs of Washington and Orlando.  A few other cities and towns are served by Amtrak Thruway busses and just about any other Florida point is within a three hour rental car drive of the closest Amtrak station.

    While there are countless worthwhile destinations around Florida, the South Florida region stands out for its comfortable winter climate and year-round abundance of activities while the panhandle region offers several worthwhile sights to entertain visitors.

    At the southern tip of the peninsula Miami and neighboring Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach have long been tourist favorites.  Miami is the southern terminus of Amtrak’s Silver Meteor and Silver Star and offers several sightseeing highlights.  The Miami Seaquarium, the Miami Metro Zoo, the Parrot Jungle, the Monkey Jungle, and the Viscaya estate are just a few attractions with broad appeal.  Throw in the area’s outstanding beaches, the beautiful Coral Gables and Coconut Grove communities, and trendy South Beach and you have enough fun in the sun to last several days.  To the south of Miami one will find Everglades National Park and the Florida Keys, the latter once the home of Henry Flagler’s amazing railroad that went to sea.

    Sports events take place almost every day of the year in tropical Miami with the professional baseball Miami Marlins, the NFL’s Miami Dolphins, and the NBA’s Miami Heat offering games many nights each year.  A summer evening at Marlins Park is a great way to relax after a busy day as the new stadium provides a state of the art place to watch the big leaguers in comfort.  Marlins Park is built on the site of the old Orange Bowl, west of downtown Miami and fans can catch a glimpse of the city’s iconic skyline through rows of windows on the stadium’s east end.  Tropical humidity and late afternoon rain showers are not a concern as the stadium’s retractable roof allows air-conditioned comfort.

San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey bats against the Miami Marlins

Beautiful new Marlins Park is an excellent place to attend a major league baseball game

Pitcher Randy Choate slams the door for the Marlins in a win over the Giants

    Railroad related activities also are plentiful headlined by the Gold Coast Railroad Museum located west of the Florida Turnpike in southern Miami-Dade County.   The museum has long been a fixture on this site.  The GCRM is located on the World War II era Naval Air Station Richmond which once housed a fleet of lighter than airships (in modern terminology: blimps) used to patrol the coastal waters for enemy submarines.  The base’s three gigantic hangars were destroyed by fire during a major hurricane in 1945 and the base was decommissioned a few months later.   The first railroad museum use of the land where the base had stood was in 1957 and operations grew over the years though the museum was temporarily relocated to Ft. Lauderdale for a period of time a few years later.  During the mid-1960s the base housed the CIA during the Cuban Missile Crisis.  The Gold Coast Railroad Museum today occupies 56 acres of the air station’s 2,107 acres while the Miami-Dade Metro Zoo, a prison facility, the US Coast Guard, and other agencies reside on other parcels of the facility.

    The Gold Coast Railroad Museum posses an impressive equipment roster headlined by the armor plated heavyweight Pullman “Ferdinand Magellan”, US Car # 1.  This car has carried American presidents Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, and Reagan and was constructed to protect its occupants during their rail travels.  This one of a kind car is a national landmark and is the centerpiece of the Gold Coast collection. 

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Presidential office car US 1 “Ferdinand Magellan” is the centerpiece of the GCRM collection

    Close behind the “Magellan” is one of the beautiful streamlined dome observation sleepers from California Zephyr fame, the “Silver Crescent”.  This former Western Pacific beauty is one of only seven such cars built for the CZ and divided among three owning railroads.  The car’s three bedrooms, drawing room, observation lounge, and dome seating area have been nicely preserved.  A California Zephyr tail sign still adorns the rear of the “Silver Crescent”.

California Zephyr dome sleeper observation “Silver Crescent”

    The passenger car roster includes a number of other interesting pieces including Burlington (CB&Q) 10 roomette-6 bedroom sleeper “Silver Vale”, a Denver Zephyr” veteran, CB&Q slumbercoach “Silver Slumber”, Seaboard (SAL) coach-lounge 6300, SAL diner # 6112, Southern Pacific 10-6 sleeper # 9001, Atlantic Coast Line flat-end observation car # 254, Florida East Coast(FEC) coach “Belle Glade”, and Western Pacific baggage car “Silver Stag”.  Many of these cars operated in Amtrak service during their final years of mainline service.  A pair of FEC steam locomotives are present on site with 4-6-2 # 153 having the distinction of pulling the last train out of the Florida Keys before the Category 5 Labor Day 1935 hurricane that destroyed Henry Flagler’s overseas railroad.    The diesel locomotive fleet features former CB&Q E-9A # 9913, former Pennsylvania RR E-8A # 5794 painted and renumbered to represent the FEC, ex-Gulf, Mobile & Ohio F-3A # 800 repainted and renumbered to represent the SAL, a NASA Railroad S-2 switcher, and several other unique engines.  Several other notable pieces of freight and passenger equipment round out the collection.

  ACL flat-end tavern observation lounge # 294

  FEC steam engine # 153 pulled the last train from the Florida Keys to Miami

“Silver Slumber” and “Silver Stag” were part of the CB&Q and WP “Zephyr” fleet 

  CB&Q E-9 # 9913 and (a couple tracks over) former C&NW bi-level commuter coaches

  FEC coach “Belle Glade”

  An old SAL combine car like those used on the “Sunland”

    The Gold Coast Museum also offers an interesting ride around the grounds on a two foot gauge rail line that makes a figure eight trip that allows glances at several of the passenger cars scattered around the museum. 

A ride on the 2 foot gauge railroad offers a nice view of the museum grounds
   Another interesting ride on steel rails is the Miami-Dade Metrorail system which links Kendall in southern Miami-Dade County with Hialeah.  The 22 mile elevated line rides above the right-of-way of the former Florida East Coast Homestead branch between downtown Miami and Kendall.  Along the way the route parallels US Highway 1 past the Dadeland Mall, South Miami, the University of Miami, Coral Gables, and Viscaya before crossing the Miami River and passing above the site of the long gone FEC passenger station in downtown Miami.  The line then takes a winding path westward that includes a stop where convenient transfers may be made to the TriRail commuter train line to West Palm Beach then on to its western Hialeah terminus.  A 2.4 mile spur line is under construction (scheduled opening later in 2012) to link the Metrorail system with a new intermodal transportation center near Miami International Airport.  Unfortunately, the TriRail Transfer stop is about three long blocks from the Amtrak station and is not convenient for long distance travelers.  Travel tip: Take Metrorail to the southern end of the line then have lunch or dinner at the adjacent Shorty’s BBQ restaurant, a local fixture since the 1950s.

    Connecting with Metrorail is the Metromover system which features automated rubber tire  vehicles that loop the downtown area on an elevated guideway.  This system interfaces with Metrorail at a central downtown station and offers a bird’s-eye view of midtown Miami. 

    Commuter trains are also a player in South Florida as the Tri-Rail system links the Miami International Airport area with Mangonia Park, a suburb north of West Palm Beach.  Tri-Rail operates double deck passenger coaches pulled by F40 locomotives as well as modern DMU self propelled cars.  The route parallels Interstate 95 through northern Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach Counties and serves as a convenient link to the international airports in all three counties.  The rail line, now owned by the State of Florida, was originally part of the Seaboard Air Line Railway, later the Seaboard Coast Line, and CSX.  Historic SAL depots still serve several of the stops augmented by modern facilities in other locales.  Along the way, riders will catch a glimpse of Hialeah Yards, home of Amtrak’s Miami station; Ft. Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport; the New River; golf courses; and a variety of waterways.  Amtrak’s Silver Meteor and Silver Star travel this route and may be spotted if your timing is right.  Freight activity is very limited.  An excellent stopover is West Palm Beach where a classic SAL station is worth a visit.  An upscale outdoor shopping mall and restaurants are a short stroll from this station and a couple of chain hotels are also nearby. 


  A Tri-Rail F40 stops in Boca Raton on the former Seaboard line

  The northbound “Silver Star” breezes past the Boca Raton Tri-Rail stop

    Those with an automobile may wish to stop by the Boca Express Train Museum, located off US 1 in Boca Raton.  This museum preserves the old FEC Boca Raton depot along with a pair of streamlined passenger cars, one of which is a round end observation car that operated on the Seaboard. 

A former Seaboard round end observation car at the Boca Express Train Museum in Boca Raton

  The Boca Express Train Museum in FEC’s Boca Raton station

    Another excellent add-on to a South Florida visit is a Caribbean cruise.  During one of our recent visits, a week aboard Holland America Line’s “Westerdam” took us to a lovely private island in the Bahamas and called at ports in Curacao and Aruba.  Both of those islands offered a variety of scenic delights and our cruise provided a glimpse of the mountainous coasts of Cuba and Haiti.  Shipboard life included excellent meals, Vegas caliber shows, and an opportunity to rest as the giant ship glided along the sea.  The peak cruise season from South Florida is during the winter and spring when tropical weather is best and hurricanes are out of season.  Holland America and several other major lines sail from Port Everglades, a short cab ride from Amtrak’s Fort Lauderdale station.  Other cruise lines center their operations from the Port of Miami while a few run from Port Canaveral, located near Cocoa Beach.  As much as this author loves rail travel, nothing Amtrak can offer matches the luxurious service found aboard a cruise ship. 

  Holland America Line’s “Westerdam” anchored off a private island in the Bahamas

  TrainWeb photographer John Turner rides along the beach at Half Moon Cay in the Bahamas

The setting sun in the tropical Caribbean Sea 

  The view from a hilltop in Aruba

Aruba’s coast as seen from “Westerdam”

  The scenic west coast of Curacao

Colorful buildings and the iconic floating bridge in Willemstad, Curacao
   At the opposite corner of Florida stands Pensacola, the westernmost city in the Sunshine State.  This historic city can be visited with a bit of planning by taking Amtrak to Jacksonville, New Orleans, or Birmingham, AL and renting a car to drive to Pensacola.  Here one will find the former Louisville & Nashville railway station beautifully preserved and today serving as the anteroom for the Crowne Plaza Pensacola Grand Hotel.  The original terrazzo floor still spells out the railroad’s initials, L&N, and the depot is larger than one might expect for an en route station.  The CSX line connecting New Orleans with Jacksonville passes directly behind the hotel and guests housed on the hotel’s north side can easily see a few freight trains pass each day.  Unfortunately, Amtrak’s Sunset Limited has been suspended, however, the Amtrak Pensacola station stands ready and waiting a few blocks to the east should passenger service be reinstated.

  The former L&N train station serves as anteroom for the Crowne Plaza Pensacola Grande Hotel

  The terrazzo floor displays Louisville & Nashville’s initials inside the old Pensacola station

  Another view inside the old Pensacola station

  The new Pensacola Blue Wahoos baseball stadium is packed nightly

    Two railroad related sights worth noting in the area are the high rise CSX Escambia Bay railroad bridge, visible from Interstate-10 and the West Florida Railroad Museum in Milton, just east of Escambia Bay.  Other interesting activities in Pensacola include the Naval Aviation Museum which houses an outstanding aircraft collection, minor league baseball featuring the Pensacola Blue Wahoos, and the sandy beaches along Pensacola Beach.  Less than an hour to the east the Air Force Armament Museum welcomes visitors to the edge of Eglin AFB.  Here one will find a variety of static displays including a B-17 bomber identical to those featured on the 1960s television series “Twelve O’Clock High”, a B-52, an SR-71 Blackbird, and numerous other important aircraft from WWI to the present.

A World War II era B-17 Flying Fortress at the Air Force Armament Museum at Eglin AFB

    In between Miami and Pensacola, the Sunshine State offers dozens of tourist friendly sights.  Among these are the Kennedy Space Center near Titusville, the theme parks outside Orlando, Silver Springs in Ocala, and the state capitol in Tallahassee.  No matter which end of Florida one visits, there are railroad related sights and numerous other interesting attractions to visit.


The Gold Coast Museum website offers information about museum hours, operations, and special events.

For information about Metrorail and Metromover, visit

Tri-Rail system’s web site is:

For information and hours of operation for the Boca Express Train Museum, visit

For information about Holland America cruises, visit

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