DRGW History and Information  

  Trip Report: Florida and Alaska - Chapter 3
  Flagler's Folly
FEC and the Key West Extension
  From: Florida and Alaska Dates: May 2002 Author: Nathan Holmes


Photo 30
Only the Key West extension perhaps could be considered a folly - the rest of Flagler's Florida East Coast is a cutting-edge modern regional railroad. FEC 448, 415, and 439 run north with a mixed on 5-May-2002 near Lake Park, FL.
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Photo 31
FEC 445 is assembling yet another northbound intermodal train at Hialea Gardens, FL, on 5-May-2002. Railfans beware - the FEC does not tolerate trespassers at all.
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Photo 32
Indian Key Channel, the first of the major bridges on the FEC's Key West extension, lies between Islamoralda and Lower Matecumbe Key. For reference, the Key West Extension once linked the mainland at Homestead, FL, with the island town of Key West, 153 miles out in the Gulf of Mexico. It was started in 1905 and completed in 1912, at a cost of about $50 million.
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Photo 33
Now, starting from the other end of the line, this is the Key West Extension museum and gift shop in Key West, FL. It sits along eastern Caroline Street.
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Photo 34
After the railway was destroyed in September 1935 by one of the more powerful hurricanes to ever hit the keys, the spectacular bridges were one of the few things completely intact. They were converted a few years later into the original Overseas Highway. This is Saddlebunch Channel 4, just outside Key West.
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Photo 35
With the bridges being nearly 100 years old and the highway deck quite narrow, all of Flagler's bridges are now abandoned and either disused or used as fishing piers. This is Saddlebunch 4 again.
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Photo 36
Many of the spans on the south end of the line are very short and pass over very shallow channels (some only a foot or two deep like Saddlebunch 4 here, others 10-15). An immature heron demonstrates this for us...
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Photo 37
The other side of these still-decked arch bridges at the Lower Sugarloaf Channel bridge.
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Photo 38
Kemp Channel, the first (driving north of Key West) of the arch bridges that doesn't still have the highway decking. The bridges that have had their highway deck removed now have concrete guard rails to allow them to be used as fishing piers. Also note the two missing bridge segments towards the far end to isolate the unimproved bridge segment.
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Photo 39
Continuing north, we see the Niles Channel bridge, again with highway decking still in place, and a missing segment near the middle to facilitate boat movements. The modern Overseas Highway bridge can be seen to the left (north) side of the old bridge.
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Photo 40
The Spanish Harbor Channel bridge is pretty much abandoned. Segments are cut out at both ends, severing access and giving us a good look inside the bridge structure. Note that the bridges are not solid concrete.
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Photo 41
The underwater sections were poured using "German Cement", which apparently hardens underwater. Above water, these hollow arch structures were poured over a giant form and then filled with sand and gravel and covered by track and ballast, providing a water-permeable material that would drain rainfall away from the ties. One problem - where did it drain to?
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Photo 42
Bahia Honda, the most impressive of all the Key West Extension bridges. Bahia Honda is the deepest channel crossed by the Key West Extension (40-50 feet of water and very soft bottom material), and consequently has the most impressive structure - 5055 feet of through-truss bridges.
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Photo 43
The decking on top is highway decking for the old Overseas Highway (now abandoned). Note the "hump" in the middle where the highway goes up to clear the large center channel span.
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Photo 44
The southernmost eight spans were removed and replaced with this strange deck girder ramp to get the highway to the top deck. Obviously the railway decking was too narrow for a two lane highway. Note the missing span, which keeps people off the bridge today.
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Photo 45
The missing segment near the north end shows how the highway deck was tacked on to the existing bridge superstructure. The northernmost (right) side spans are still a fishing dock that visitors can walk out onto from Bahia Honda State Park.
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Photo 46
An odd little stone structure at the southern base of the Bahia Honda bridge. I presume this is FEC-related, as there's another one at the north end of the Seven Mile Bridge.
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Photo 47
The Seven Mile Bridge, as seen from the south end of the structure. It starts out as another arch bridge, and then ramps up to a deck girder about 1.7 miles out. The structures barely visible to the left of the bridge are on Pigeon Key, a tiny island about halfway across the span (and where the bridge turns to the east/right).
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Photo 48
The opposite side of the bridge from the previous shot - note the new Seven Mile Bridge to the right, and note the drain holes at the bottom center of the arches. These drained the porous fill material. Also clearly visible is the dividing line between the underwater section of the pier and the pour for the arch.
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Photo 49
The other (north/east) end of the Seven Mile Bridge, showing the deck girder contruction. This section is still maintained and serves as a fishing pier and private road to Pigeon Key.
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Photo 50
The other side of the north/east end of Seven Mile Bridge, in Marathon, FL. This was the base of operations for the Key West Extension. Also of note was that this bridge originally had a 253 ft. swing span over Moser Channel. This was removed when it was turned into a roadway.
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Photo 51
A more compressed look at the eastern side of the Seven Mile Bridge. That's Pigeon Key in the distance.
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Photo 52
The twin to the structure I found at Bahia Honda. This one is at the north/east end of the Seven Mile Bridge, and is on the north side of the highway.
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All the images here are Copyright 2002 Nathan D. Holmes (maverick@drgw.net)
Note this doesn't mean you can't use them - In fact, I encourage people to use and enjoy them.
I'm placing them under the same license as RailARC images. Please feel free to copy, use, and distribute anything you find here, as long as I'm given credit for its creation.
All shots in this trip report were taken with a Canon EOS D30 with a Tamron 28-300mm F3.5-6.3.