Although the F.E.C. does not need to call signals since it has A.T.C. in-cab signal displays, a radio makes for more effective train chasing, since you will hear trains meet, might learn of a stoppage along the line, a slow order that allows you time to get to a train that you might have otherwise given up chasing, or hear about an unexpected extra train.
F.E.C. radio channels:
160.53 - “ch. 1” (AAR 28), train-train simplex, dispatcher's base transmit frequency.
160.77 - “ch. 2” (AAR 44T/28R), train-to-dispatcher, dispatcher's base receive frequency.
161.01 - “ch. 3” (AAR 60) Bowden, Hialeah car shops.
160.65 - “ch. 6” (AAR 36) Maintenance of Way channel on the road to avoid tying up road channels by work foreman and crews, used by the Bowden locomotive shop when doing shop movements and testing locomotives, and may be used in Hialeah shop. Most train crews call the shop on this channel to get permission to occupy shop tracks.
161.31 - “ch. 12” (AAR 80) switching jobs around yards; avoids tying up ch. 1; used frequently to switch Rinker and Tarmac at Bowden yard, for example.
F.E.C. also uses Nextel trunked radios for more private communications.
The train chaser's best friend is the pair of “redman” frequencies. Trains utilize a data telemetry system that employs a redman (e.o.t., f.r.e.d.) at the rear of the train with—you guessed it—a flashing red marker light and a sensor for the train's air brake line. It responds to polls from the radio at the head-end by transmitting telemetry including air line pressure and speed of the train measured by GPS location technology. Almost all railroads in the U.S. use the same pair of UHF frequencies for this data; older Norfolk Southern units use a high band frequency. These devices put out low power, so if you hear a data burst on these channels there must be a train nearby, probably within about 2-3 miles. Get to the tracks and get your cameras and recorders ready!
452.9375 - head-of-train transponder, usually gets out farther, plus is closer to you as train approaches
457.9375 - end-of-train transponder, usually shielded in the direction of travel by last car of train
161.115 - Norfolk Southern transponder, both ends
F.E.C. has two dispatchers on days and nights during the week and one over the weekend.
When two dispatchers are on duty they each handle half the railroad, logically divided into north and south portions. The north end runs from Jacksonville to north end Gifford siding, while the south territory continues on to Miami. When one dispatcher is otherwise occupied the other will answer the radio to fill in temporarily, so you might hear a different voice from time to time. Our personal favorite is Otis; he is large and in charge on weekdays.
From time to time we F.E.C. fans will gather to watch trains when they come by and talk railroad story in between.
Palm Beach County
This restored railroad depot between N.E. 1 St. and Atlantic Blvd in Delray next to the tracks is a favorite spot to watch trains whiz by at high speed. There is ample parking in the lot on the east side of the tracks and plenty of coffee shops and bars nearby if you get really bored, or thirsty, or both. From this spot you can see about 8 miles in either direction as the track is dead straight north and south from here; that light in the distance IS an oncoming train! Plus, you can see the intermediate wayside signals to know if a train is lined up either direction.
On the East side of Dixie highway and on the West side of the Goodyear blimp base is the FEC mainline, a 6,000’ siding, and a 5,000’ staging track. This is just South of E Copans road. One can park almost anywhere on the East side of the tracks along NE 5th Ave. Along with the long haul trains weekday mornings brings a local train with boxcars, refrigerated cars, flat and hopper cars of iron pipe and re-bar. Almost everyday except Monday the Goodyear blimp flys as well.
We are fortunate that the folks who laid out the highways piggybacked on the hard work already performed by the railroads: they paved the highways next to the railroad tracks that had already been surveyed and graded. This created numerous roads along the F.E.C. line which allow you to pace trains safely.
Secret hint: on those roads which parallel the tracks so closely that there is no room for cross-traffic to proceed when a train brings down the crossing gates, the automobile traffic signals will usually turn green and stay green on the road paralleling the tracks, allowing you to sail on through the intersection along with the train. In most cases this works great; in others, they still turn the light red for the pacing road to allow for left turns to be made from the intersecting cross-street, so that blows the chase out of the water pretty much. Just be extra alert when pacing trains this way.
Listed by county with links to separate pages containing maps and details, this assumes a southbound chase, which seems to be the better direction in general.
Nothing to write home about here.
10+ miles of GREAT paceage, tracks on right (west) - OH YEAH! U.S.1 southbound out of Durbin south of CR210 provides almost 10 miles of uninterrupted train chasing. Tracks on the right (west). There are only a handful of traffic signals before the tracks veer away from the highway just north of St. Augustine. There are very few trees to obstruct your view of the train as it barrels south toward Magnolia siding.
2 miles of spotty paceage, tracks on right (west) - The tracks are separated from U.S.1 through most of Flagler by trees. There is a spotty chance to pace trains just south of Bunnell for about a mile or two, then down past Korona, but the trees win that battle mostly. While you are here, drive up route 13 north out of Bunnell and follow the path that the Old Main Line took on its way up to East Palatka. If you are a highway buff you will appreciate the Old Brick Road north of the T-intersection in Espanola. The railroad tracks used to go straight ahead into the woods, the Old Brick Road is the right fork here. Double the history in one drive!
No paceage here. The tracks are separated from the highway by trees and distance.
4 miles of paceage, tracks on left (east) - At Valkaria Rd jump west across the tracks and turn south on Old Dixie Hwy. This puts the tracks on your left (east) as you head south on another piece of historic road. There are some spots that have dense foliage blocking the view, but the train is effectively "right there" and you get another double dose of history with both road geek and rail fan appeal. There is also an intermediate signal buried in here.
Two stretches of Old Dixie Hwy provide great train paceage, one stretch north of Vero Beach, the other south of it into Fort Pierce.
6+ miles of tracks on your right (west) - Approaching the water tower at Wabasso, veer right onto Old Dixie Hwy and jog across CR510 to continue south next to the tracks. The smell of oranges permeates the air through this stretch of orange packing houses next to the tracks. There is some blockage by trees, but for the most part you have clear views of the trains. This is where the James E. Strates carnival train has parked in the past when it is in town. Watch for cross-traffic at the blinker lights, they don't stop even when they should. Dixie rejoins U.S.1 on the north side of Vero Beach. Although there is usually a lot of traffic congestion due to signals and high volume, sometimes you can get lucky and pace the train down to 14th Avenue which humps over the tracks and runs through downtown, to continue south as Dixie Hwy one block to the left.
6+ miles of paceage, tracks on your left (east) - South of Vero Beach proper, good paceage resumes south of 9th Street on Old Dixie Hwy. Trees block the view until you get to Indrio Rd, marked by modern communication equipment shelter buildings between you and the tracks. Note the home signal that allows the dispatcher to hold trains on the single track before entering Fort Pierce yard limits. From here until Dixie dumps out onto U.S.1 on the north side of Fort Pierce you have several miles of unobstructed paceage, but beware the 35MPH speed limit through the village of St. Lucie.
10 miles of great paceage, tracks on right (west), then left - After enjoying the scenery at Stuart drawbridge and Flagler Park, pace trains south out of the slow going in Stuart and Port Sewall. Then things pick up a bit, but you cross over the tracks at a grade crossing at Fruita where the American Legion post is on the left. If you were pacing a train thus far, you are now stopped waiting for the crossing to clear. Don't be stupid by racing the train to this crossing. The whole crossing is treacherous being a hump on a sharp curve in the road. There is more paceage to the south than to the north, but it usually gets congested in the village of Hobe Sound where you'll find a traffic signal and a stop sign in close succession. You will pass an intermediate signal and the 270 milepost defect detector. After Dixie dumps back onto U.S.1 the tracks are buried in the woods of Camp Murphy siding, which is buried inside Jonathan Dickinson Park about a half mile to your right.
Palm Beach County has a surprising amount of mainline paceage through typical southeast Florida development.
North: about 15 miles of paceage, tracks start on right (west), then cross to left for last several miles - Return to the tracks from U.S.1 via County Line Rd which marks the border between Martin and Palm Beach Counties. There is a 7-11 right there at south end Camp Murphy if you need a refreshing beverage. Head south on Dixie Hwy, following the tracks over the Jupiter drawbridge, and continue due south on a beeline. The road is several lanes wide through this stretch, but you are approaching congested the West Palm Beach area, so this stretch is better during off-peak times. When you get to downtown Lake Park with the fire station directly in front of you, jog right across the tracks, then left to continue south on Dixie Hwy. You will cross the lead track into Lewis Terminal and then come to 45th Street at St. Mary's Hospital. There is no point in continuing through town, so return to I-95 for a quick bypass of this troubled area. You might want to check out photo opportunities in downtown West Palm Beach, particularly from the parking garage at City Place Mall off Okeechobee Blvd.
South, first section: 3.5 + 1.5 of OK paceage, tracks on the right (west) south of 6th Ave. South in Lake Worth; I-95 has an exit here, take it east to U.S.1 south. As you complete the gentle S-curve you will pass the m.p. 309 defect detector, then the home signal at north end Hypoluxo siding. Watch your speed down U.S.1 through here, or else Officer Wertz might have to give you a ticket, and he knows all about train chasers. You will be next to the tracks until around Gateway Blvd, then the road and tracks separate through Boynton Beach. As you enter the central business district take note of Jay's favorite tiny 2-car siding at AmeriGas.
Coming out the south end of Boynton just past the Enzo's sign turn right into Old Dixie Hwy at the Texaco station. There are brand new townhouses built on the northwest corner that now block your view and it comes up on you quickly; if you miss it, don't worry it's only 1.5 miles, but it can be fun through that little-known stretch. There is an intermediate signal back here as well.
Old Dixie dumps back onto U.S.1 through Delray and the tracks separate from the road again. You can rest at the Delray depot just south of N.E. 1st Street and watch trains whiz by at high speeds if you like. There are tons of eateries and foo-foo joints along Atlantic Ave. for your diversion before picking up the second section of the south end.
South, second section: 8 miles of paceage south of Delray and through Boca Raton to Deerfield Beach, tracks on the right (west); on the south side of Delray turn right on S.E. 10th St. at the bank and head over to Old Dixie Hwy and turn south again. If there is a train to chase south, you are in luck because the signals will turn green as the train approaches, giving you clear sailing all the way down to Deerfield. North end Villa Rica siding is just south of the tiny viaduct over the creek, which is where you'll see the home signal. There are also two intermediate signals, one just north of Glades Rd. and the other south of S.W. 18th St. When you hump over Hillsboro Canal to cross into Broward County, turn right over the tracks, then immediately left to continue south through Deerfield and Pompano Beaches.
Broward County has a fair share of mainline paceage opportunities considering the tracks pass through congested developed areas.
North: 6 miles of paceage through Deerfield and Pompano Beaches, tracks on the left (east); you will find that neither the traffic signals nor the traffic favor pacing trains through Pompano, so make the best of it, safely. The m.p. 330 wide load defect detector lies just north of Sample Rd.. North end Pompano siding's home signals stand immediately south of N.E. 33rd St. As you pass N.E. 10th St., to the left is the site of the major 1999 derailment, six engines and several auto carriers ended the evening on there sides. Although there is spotty chasing through Oakland Park, you might as well bail out at Atlantic Blvd in Pompano; I-95 is very close by to the west on Atlantic, so you can skip down to Sheridan St. in Hollywood to resume there. If you're quick about it you might just beat the train there since he has to slow down to 30 m.p.h. to cross the Fort Lauderdale drawbridge.
South: 5.5 miles of fun paceage, tracks on the left (east); this has to be the second most fun stretch to pace trains (second to U.S.1 from Durbin to St. Augustine). It is best done at night when automotive traffic is reduced, yet there is good lighting and the best part is that since Dixie Hwy is divided north/south by the tracks down the middle, you get full advantage of the signals turning green in front of you. This particular layout makes it impossible for cross-traffic to turn left on your side of the highway, so the lights are configured to stay green for you on the one-way stretch from Sheridan St. all the way down to Ojus south of Ives Dairy Rd. where the road curves away from the tracks in Dade County. You will be very close to the tracks the whole time, so crank open your windows and let those prime movers and horns rattle your cage for a few minutes.
There is very little opportunity to pace trains south of Ojus, so best to turn around and head north of Ives Dairy Rd. while the train has that very long traffic signal locked green for you, or else head west on Ives Dairy to return to I-95 if you must get somewhere in a hurry. You should have had your fill of train chasing at this point! Of course, you could hang out for a northbound to pace back through Hollywood…
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