The Florida East Coast Railway is playing a major role in the extension of the south runway at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.
Construction began three weeks ago on Phase 2 to lengthen the runway from 8,000 to 11,000 feet and elevate it over U.S. Route 1 and FEC's mainline track that runs between Jacksonville to the north and Miami to the south.
FEC is operating a single train to deliver aggregate from a quarry near Miami every morning on a dedicated rail spur specially built for the project and is expected to add a second train every evening by Aug. 13 or sooner, Ray Jones, FEC's director of carload marketing and sales, said in an interview.
The two trains will haul 8,000 cubic yards, or 15,000 tons, of rock, sand and gravel per day. Rail is responsible for transporting about 40 percent of the fill required for the runway extension and widening, which will reduce the number of trucks on the road, as well associated diesel emissions and congestion, according to the railroad and the Broward County Aviation Department.
Material from the trains is loaded into trucks on airport property for delivery to the construction area.
FEC and its contractors installed 8,000 feet of track with more than 3,000 steel ties and 136-pound welded rail to connect the spur to the mainline in less than three weeks.
The railroad built the spur and an additional lead track from the mainline at its own expense in an effort to win aggregate business from general contractors on the project, Jones explained. FEC typically obtains a volume commitment from a customer and signs a transportation agreement before investing in dedicated infrastructure, but Broward County stipulated that railroad access had to be available to all general contractors it selected. Winning bidders for each phase are able to choose whether they want to use FEC or trucks to transport aggregate to the construction site.
FEC estimates it can generate $4 million to $6 million in revenue over the life of the project, but there are no guarantees that other contractors besides Phase 2 general contractor Odebrecht Central JV will sign up for rail service in subsequent phases, Jones said. The railroad hopes to cover its cost during the second phase and turn a profit in future rounds of the project.
Bulk truck transport is cheaper, but FEC was able to price its service competitively and is "more consistent and reliable," Jones said.
Truck traffic is already causing backups on Route 585, Eller Drive, near the airport, as well as congestion on I-95 and other highways leading to Fort Lauderdale airport, he added.
FEC is under contract to move 3.5 million of the 11 million tons of rock and dirt scheduled for use in the second phase.
Train operations will last 16 to 18 months. During that period the railroad will haul an estimated 3.5 million tons of rock and save 375,000 trips by loaded and empty trucks on Florida highways.
More than 900 dump trucks per day are delivering a total of 12,000 cubic yards of stone, sand and gravel per day, six days a week, to the airport site. Several hundred extra truckloads per day would have to travel on Florida highways without FEC's rail service.
(Read more about other capital improvements and developments underway at FEC here
.) - Eric Kulisch