Retracing the Overseas Railroad…

While in Florida on our honeymoon we took the opportunity to drive from Miami down to Key West to spend a few days there… prior to arrival in Miami I had no knowledge of the local railroad network other than searching for any interesting looking locations on Google maps. However a chance find of a railway book in a local bookshop (pretty rare in the states compared to the UK I find) I discovered that there had once been a Railroad running the length of the Florida Keys to Key West – this got me excited! Why on earth had there been a line running for such a long way to a seemingly unimportant island? Further research revealed that in the early 20th century Key West had been the most important city in Florida, as well as being the closest deep water port to the Panama Canal and Cuba, therefore making it a very desirable goal.

This line was built by the Florida East Coast Railway (FEC) and was an impressive piece of engineering, endless viaducts linking the chain of islands that make up the Florida Keys, the longest being the 7 mile bridge linking Knight Key and Little Duck Key. These engineering achievements led to the line gaining a reputation as the ‘Eighth Wonder of the World,’ and from Key West there was a train ferry to Havana, as well as shipping to other parts of the world via the Panama Canal.

Anyhow, one of Florida’s great hurricanes in the late 1930’s severely damaged the line, and a cash strapped FEC was unable to fund repairs. As a result, the trackbed was sold to the State and turned into a highway, which over the years has been rebuilt on a new alignment with new bridges. As such I wasn’t expecting to see much of interest on our journey down.

Therefore I was surprised to see that most of the original structures still survive and are now a cycle track, although some have been severed to allow shipping to operate.


The viaducts as built were made from a mixture of shuttered concrete and metal girders. The handrails have been added more recently to allow pedestrians to use the structure.


The seven mile bridge is a seriously impressive thing, stretching into the distance as far as the eye can see!


The old concrete viaduct has now been superseded for road traffic by a new structure running alongside, although it’s a shame most of the time you can’t see the old structure while driving.


On the Keys themselves, the trackbed has been turned into large parking areas alongside the highway. These presented the perfect opportunity for a gratuitous hire car in a hot climate portrait!


In Key West itself, there is this small Railroad museum near the old station site, which holds a number of interesting items and plans, although very small by British standards!

Unfortunately we weren’t able to stay here forever, and had to head back itto reality last week, oh well!

Chris

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