Haines City Branch

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Haines City Branch
Haines City underpass.jpg
US 17/92 passing under what remains of the Haines City Branch in Haines City. The structure once held multiple tracks but today only carries the one remaining track and a multi-use path.
Overview
LocaleCentral Florida
PredecessorDeep Lake Railroad
SuccessorSeaboard Coast Line Railroad
CSX Transportation
Florida Midland Railroad
South Central Florida Express
Technical
Track gauge4 ft 8+12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Route map

CSX
A Line (former ACL)
AVC 828.5
Haines City
US 17 / US 92
AVC 833.6
Lake Hamilton (abandoned)
AVC 835.7
Dundee (abandoned)
AVC 838.5
Waverly (abandoned)
AVC 843.3
Lake Wales
Florida Midland Railroad (fmr. SAL)
to West Lake Wales
AVC 845.2
Highland Park
AVC 849.8
Babson Park
AVC 856.7
Frostproof
AVC 867.5
Avon Park
CSX
AVC 875.5
Sebring
AVC 892.0
Lake Placid
AVC 918.6
Palmdale
AVD 933.8
Moore Haven
AVC 926.7
Ortona
AVD 947.9
Clewiston
South Central Florida Express (fmr. FEC)
to Fort Pierce
AVD 957.7
Lake Harbor
AVC 929.5
Goodno (abandoned)
AVC 939.3
Sears (abandoned)
AVC 947.6
Felda (abandoned)
AVC 955.0
Immokalee (abandoned)
AVC 967.9
Sunniland (abandoned)
975.1
Miles City (abandoned)
996.2
Everglades City (abandoned)
Note: Not to scale

The Atlantic Coast Line Railroad's Haines City Branch was a railroad line running from their main line in Haines City, Florida south through southern Central Florida. The line notably ran through Lake Wales, Avon Park, Sebring, and Immokalee and would stretch as far south as Everglades City upon its completion in 1928. Everglades City would be the southernmost point the entire Atlantic Coast Line Railroad system would ever reach. The Haines City Branch was one of the Atlantic Coast Line's major additions to its Florida network, much of which was previously part of the Plant System.[1]

History[edit]

The Atlantic Coast Line Railroad began construction on the Haines City Branch in 1910, with its initial route running from the main line in Haines City south 47 miles to Sebring. This segment would be complete in June 1912 and served many vegetable and citrus growers.[2]

In 1916, the Atlantic Coast Line made plans to extend the branch further south to Immokalee. Construction began that year with track reaching the Caloosahatchee River at Ortona by April 1918. This project also included a branch from Harrisburg, just south of Palmdale, to Moore Haven which was completed around the same time. Harrisburg was named after the Harris track-laying machine used to construct the line. The Atlantic Coast Line Railroad would then charter the Moore Haven & Clewiston Railway to extend the Moore Haven Branch southeast a short distance to Clewiston, which would be complete in 1921. The Southern Sugar Corporation (which became the U.S. Sugar Corporation in 1931) would be a major customer on the line in Clewiston and they would also build private branch tracks from the line to their sugar fields.[2]

The Atlantic Coast Line would extended the line one last time in 1929 to the Miami Canal in Lake Harbor to connect with the Florida East Coast Railway's Kissimmee Valley Line. A spur south and east to Okeelanta would also be built.[2]

In 1919, construction resumed on the main route from Ortona south. Track was built from Ortona south across the Caloosahatchee River through Goodno, Sears, and Felda to Immokalee. The first train to Immokalee arrived on October 16, 1921.[2] When completed, the line from Harrisburg to Immokalee was known as the Immokalee Branch.[3]

Shortly after service to Immokalee began, the Atlantic Coast Line's President Henry Walters authorized one last extension of the line south to Everglades City. The Atlantic Coast Line accomplished this extension by purchasing the Deep Lake Railroad from entrepreneur Barron Collier, the namesake of Collier County. The Deep Lake Railroad was originally built in 1913 by Walter Langford and John Roach, who operated a grapefruit grove near Deep Lake. The line was used to transport grapefruit south to Everglades City to be sold and shipped. In 1921, Collier purchased the line and grapefruit groves and also used the line to transport pine and cypress logs to a sawmill he operated in Everglades City.[4] After the Atlantic Coast Line acquired the Deep Lake Railroad, they rebuilt it to their standards and extended track south from Immokalee to Deep Lake. The line was completed in 1928 and a passenger depot was built in Everglades City (known then as simply Everglades), which would be the farthest south the Atlantic Coast Line would ever reach.[2][4]

In 1925, the Atlantic Coast Line would lose its monopoly in communities on the northern half of the Haines City Branch when the Atlantic Coast Line's competitor, the Seaboard Air Line Railroad, built the Florida Western and Northern Railroad through Auburndale, West Lake Wales, Avon Park, and Sebring. The Seaboard line paralleled the Haines City Branch to the west through much of southern Central Florida, and the lines crossed each other just south of Avon Park.[5][1]

By 1949, the line was relatively busy with the Atlantic Coast Line running a daily local passenger train from Haines City to Clewiston. A daily local freight train also ran from Haines City to Lake Harbor, and two additional freight trains ran six days a week from Haines City to Sebring. In addition, a mixed train (both passengers and freight) ran six days a week from Palmdale to Immokalee and Everglades City.[3] In 1958, service to Everglades City was discontinued due to diminished traffic and track was removed between there and Copeland. By 1961, track was removed between Copeland and Sunniland.[2]

The Atlantic Coast Line and Seaboard Air Line Railroads would merge in 1967, with the merged company being named the Seaboard Coast Line Railroad. The Seaboard Coast Line ended up using the former Seaboard Air Line track in the combined network as the main route through the area. The Haines City Branch would then be broken up into smaller branches of the Seaboard line. Track was removed between Waverly and Lake Wales, between Frostproof and Avon Park (with a short piece of the line remaining as a spur), and between the Avon Park spur and Sebring (which eliminated the crossing of the two lines). The Seaboard Coast Line would then operate the north end of the line as their Haines City Subdivision from Haines City to Waverly. Track from Lake Wales to Frostproof became part of the Lake Wales Subdivision. Remaining track south of Sebring to Lake Harbor became the Sebring Subdivision, and track from Harrisburg to Immokalee became the Immokalee Subdivision.[6]

In 1980, the Seaboard Coast Line's parent company merged with the Chessie System, creating the CSX Corporation. The CSX Corporation initially operated the Chessie and Seaboard Systems separately until 1986, when they were merged into CSX Transportation. By 1982, the company removed track from south of Haines City to Waverly, as well as track from Immokalee to Sunniland.[7] The rest of the Immokalee Branch would be abandoned by the end of the decade.

Current conditions[edit]

South Central Florida Express train approaching Clewiston on former line carrying harvested sugarcane

Despite parts of the Haines City Branch being abandoned, some segments remain in service. At the north end, the line remains within Haines City but is now serves as an industrial spur off of CSX's A Line (the former Atlantic Coast Line main line).[8] The line remains grade separated through downtown Haines City, owing to how busy the line was in its earlier days.[9]

From Lake Wales to Frostproof, the line is still in service and is now operated by the Florida Midland Railroad, a shortline that took over the line in 1987. This segment is now connected to the Auburndale Subdivision via a former Seaboard Air Line track from West Lake Wales to Lake Wales.

The short industrial spur in Avon Park is still in service that now branches off the Auburndale Subdivision (former Seaboard line).

The remaining track from Sebring to Clewiston and Lake Harbor also remains in service. U.S. Sugar, who has historically been a major customer on that part line for its entire history, bought it in 1994 and established its own shortline, the South Central Florida Express, Inc., who continues to operate it today.

State Road 29 continues to run very close to the former right of way between Immokalee and Everglades City.[10]

Station listing[edit]

Haines City to Everglades[edit]

Milepost City/Location Station[2][11] Image Opening date Connections and notes
A 828.5
AVC 828.5
Haines City Haines City Haines City Hist Dist depot03.jpg 1912 station located on the main line
junction with Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Main Line
AVC 828.9 New Yard
AVC 833.8 Lake Hamilton Lake Hamilton Lake Hamilton ACL Depot.jpg
AVC 835.7 Dundee Dundee Dundee ACL RR Depot01.jpg
AVC 838.5 Waverly Waverly
AVC 840.1 Mountain Lake
AVC 843.3 Lake Wales Lake Wales Lake Wales ACL depot01.jpg junction with Seaboard Air Line Railroad Valrico Subdivision
AVC 845.2 Highland Park Highland Park
AVC 849.8 Babson Park Babson Park
AVC 856.7 Frostproof Frostproof
AVC 861.3 Neilson
AVC 863.4 Pittsburg
AVC 867.4 Avon Park Avon Park Avon Park ACL Depot.jpg
AVC 869.0 Tulane junction with Seaboard Air Line Railroad Miami Subdivision
AVC 875.5 Sebring Sebring
AVC 879.8 Desoto City 1918
AVC 884.6 Istokpoga
AVC 892.0 Lake Placid Lake Placid Lake Placid FL depot museum01.jpg
AVC 897.9 Childs
AVC 902.7 Hicoria
AVC 908.8 Venus
AVC 918.6 Palmdale Palmdale Palmdale ACL Depot.jpg
AVC 919.7 Harrisburg junction with branch to Lake Harbor
AVC 923.4 Hall City
AVC 926.7 Ortona Ortona
AVC 929.5 Goodno 1921
AVC 939.3 Sears
AVC 942.7 Keri
AVC 947.6 Felda
AVC 955.0 Immokalee Immokalee Immokalee ACL Depot.jpg
AVC 957.9 Bunker Hill 1928
AVC 962.1 Harker
AVC 967.9 Sunniland
VC 975.7 Miles City
VC 983.3 Deep Lake
VC 990.0 Copeland
VC 992.4 Carnestown
VC 996.4 Everglades City Everglades Everglades City FL Depot01.jpg

Harrisburg to Lake Harbor[edit]

Milepost City/Location Station Image Opening date Connections and notes
AVD 919.7 Harrisburg 1918 junction with main route
AVD 929.5 Muckway
AVD 933.8 Moore Haven Moore Haven Moore Haven ACL Depot.jpg
AVD 937.4 Gramlin 1921
AVD 937.8 Benbow
AVD 941.5 Liberty Point
AVD 943.0 Shawnee
AVD 944.9 Sugarton
AVD 947.9 Clewiston Clewiston Clewiston ACL Depot.jpg
AVD 949.5 Sugar Junction 1929 Wye to Clewiston Yard and U.S. Sugar mill
AVD 953.7 Keela
AVD 957.7 Lake Harbor Lake Harbor junction with Florida East Coast Railway Lake Harbor Branch

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Turner, Gregg (2003). A Short History of Florida Railroads. Arcadia Publishing.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Turner, Gregg M. (December 1, 1999). Railroads of Southwest Florida. Images of America. Arcadia Publishing.
  3. ^ a b Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Southern Division Timetable (1949)
  4. ^ a b "Deep Lake - Depth of Water & History". National Park Service. Retrieved 24 October 2016.
  5. ^ "ACL Haines City Branch". Tampa Bay Trains. Retrieved 29 April 2019.
  6. ^ Seaboard Coast Line Railroad Jacksonville Division and Tampa Division Timetable (1977)
  7. ^ Seaboard Coast Line Railroad Jacksonville Division and Tampa Division Timetable (1982)
  8. ^ "Geographic Information System". Federal Railroad Administration. U.S. Department of Transportation. Retrieved 10 April 2019.
  9. ^ Harmon, Danny. "Railfanning Lacoochee & Haines City". YouTube. Retrieved 22 May 2019.
  10. ^ "Harrisburg to Everglades City". Abandoned Rails. Retrieved 29 April 2019.
  11. ^ "Florida Railroads: Passenger Stations & Stops" (PDF). Jim Fergusson's Railway and Tramway Station Lists (Florida). Retrieved 5 June 2020.