Wednesday, 7 December 2016

The Overseas Railway

Images of the seven mile bridge from the road (15.11.2016)

A few images from the Flagler Museum in Key West (16.11.2016)

On the way back towards Miami (17.11.2016)

(All the above pics are copyright Steve Sainsbury/Rail Thing)

I've long nurtured an ambition to drive on the Overseas Highway from Miami to Key West, and finally managed it last month.

The Overseas Highway was, between 1912 and 1935, the Overseas Railway, often labelled the Eighth Wonder of the World. The line linked many of Florida's keys via bridges to the mainland, and was a spectacular route, practically unequalled in the world. Unfortunately the line was hit by a huge hurricane on Labor Day, 1935, washing away 40 miles of the track, some of which washed up on the mainland. The impoverished Florida East Coast Railway simply could not afford to repair the route, selling the trackbed and structures to the Florida government, who converted the route to a road. The road is of course every bit as spectacular as the railway, although being the driver perhaps I didn't get quite the view I would have done from the train!

I was surprised that at least two of the structures, including the largest, were still substantially intact, a fantastic tribute to this line. I've since learned that many of the smaller bridges alongside the road were also railway structures, now converted for use by people fishing and cycling.

There is a small, rather eccentric, museum for the route in Key West itself, and I got to visit this as well. The lines originally reached the harbour at Key West and, incredibly, the line once offered through trains from New York to Havana!

All in all this was a fantastic few days. Key West, continental USA's most southerly point, is a wonderfully laid back and freedom-loving town, very lively at night, especially on Duval Street where we stayed. I suspect this laid back attitude spills over to the museum itself! But the real monument to Flagler are the surviving bridges which give a real feel of the magnificence of this route.

As the oil runs out the trains should return, the road is just as vulnerable as the railway was, and probably presents more potential for disaster if a hurricane hits, which will happen one day. The islands are low lying and I noticed many of the new properties are built on stilts, so perhaps that awareness of vulnerability and resilience will spill over to the people that decide future transport on the Keys.

Below are some shots of the line when operating. (All sourced via the Internet)

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