Tropicana Products was founded in 1947 in Bradenton, Florida by Anthony T. Rossi, an Italian immigrant, growing from 50 employees to over 8,000 in 2004. Early distribution of fresh orange juice was by way of hand-delivered juice jars to nearby homes, but demand grew, especially in New York City. By 1957, a ship, S.S. Tropicana was taking 1.5 million US gallons (5,700 m3) of juice to New York each week.
In 1970, Tropicana orange juice was shipped in bulk via insulated boxcars in one weekly round-trip from Florida to Kearny, New Jersey. By the following year, the company was operating two 60-car unit trains a week, each carrying around 1 million US gallons (3,800 m3) of juice. On June 7, 1971 the "Great White Juice Train" (the first unit train in the food industry, consisting of 150 100-ton insulated boxcars fabricated in the Alexandria, Virginia shops of Fruit Growers Express) commenced service over the 1,250-mile (2,012-kilometer) route. An additional 100 cars were soon incorporated into the fleet, and small mechanical refrigeration units were installed to keep temperatures constant on hot days. Tropicana saved $40 million in fuel costs alone during the first ten years in operation.
Starting out on Seaboard Coast Line Railroad (SCL) south of Tampa, Florida, the original used former Seaboard Air Line Railroad (SAL) and Atlantic Coast Line Railroad (ACL) tracks. It crossed over to the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac (RF&P) in Richmond, Virginia at pier 5 of the famous concrete James River Bridge. At Potomac Yard, in Alexandria, Virginia, Penn Central Transportation (PC) took over and operated it under the overhead wire with electric locomotives most of the way to Kearny.
There have been more than a few changes over the years. Tropicana, now a division of PepsiCo, became the world's leading producer of branded fruit juices. In 1976, Conrail (CR) took over from ill-fated Penn Central, with electrification discontinued in 1981. SCL became part of CSX Corporation (CSX) in 1980, and was successively merged into Seaboard System Railroad (SBD) and then CSX Transportation, which also included RF&P by 1991. In 1997, a second Juice Train began serving Cincinnati, Ohio. When CSX acquired part of Conrail in 1999, an all-CSX train began traveling to a new larger facility in Jersey City, New Jersey on the National Docks Secondary.
Rolling stock has also changed, including orange, white, and blue cars, some with innovative refrigeration. The Florida East Coast Railway (FEC) is now carrying Tropicana cars from a second processing facility in eastern Florida. A reliable and economically viable transport mode, the Juice Trains are also a powerful mode of advertising, running ten trips each week to Jersey City and Cincinnati. Additional shipments with specially-equipped refrigerated cars now travel 3,000 miles (4,800 km) by rail to California. Tropicana had its own GE 70-ton locomotive, No. 98, to switch cars at the New Jersey destination. It has since been donated to the United Railroads Historical Society.
In the 21st century, the Tropicana-CSX Juice Trains have been the focus of efficiency studies and have received awards. They are considered good examples of how modern rail transportation can compete successfully with trucking and other modes to carry perishable products.
- White, John W. (1986). The Great Yellow Fleet. San Marino, CA: Golden West Books. ISBN 0-87095-091-6.
- Tropicana's Official Web Site
- CSX Corporation Official Web Site
- Florida East Coast Railway Official Web Site