POINT OF VIEW What would Flagler say about changes at his railroad?


As I wrote in “All Aboard! A History of Florida’s Railroads,” the eternal rest of Henry M. Flagler would have been vastly disturbed by myriad events after 1913. He was passionate about pushing boundaries, but how would he take recent news that the Florida East Coast Railway that he built has agreed to become part of Grupo México?

Irate or bemused?

Flagler could question a long line of parties likely to have opinions:

  • President Abraham Lincoln, who signed the Pacific Railroad Act of 1862, directing Union Pacific and Central Pacific to construct a transcontinental railroad;
  • Thomas Clark Durant, of Union Pacific, who was present in 1869 when “the golden spike” was hammered at Promontory Point, Utah;
  • George Pullman, who lobbied Durant to finance his design for comfortable, luxurious passenger cars (“dolled-up rolling hotels”);
  • Henry B. Plant, whose expanded rail empire brought the world into Florida’s lap;
  • George Westinghouse, on his 1869 patent on air brakes for trains;
  • Eli Janney, on his 1875 patent for an automated “knuckle-design” coupler;
  • Andrew Chase, an engineer who designed a refrigerated rail car in 1878 — enabling livestock dealer Gustavus Franklin Swift to re-set the meat industry.

With the Panama Canal on the rise, Flagler and all of the usual suspects were aware of the promise in shipping and international trade on the horizon. So is all of that restless anticipation in déjà vu mode now? It would be handy to learn what Flagler discovered after consulting with the above-mentioned.

Today, the Florida East Coast Railway (FECR) remains a big player in freight traffic, and its route closely parallels the one which Flagler built in the 1890s. It operates from headquarters in Jacksonville, which may or may not change when Grupo México closes on the $2.1 billion purchase.

The buyer is the company’s transportation division, which includes Ferrocarril Mexicano (Ferromex), operator of a 6,000-mile line across Mexico and in Texas — with multi-modal connections at ports on the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Ocean. So having a line in Florida seems an obvious move.

But the ironic wrinkle in this timeline — one which might move the needle toward bemusement for Flagler — is that good ol’ Union Pacific, headquartered in Omaha, Neb., has owned 26 percent of Ferromex since 1999.

As for the $2.1 billion deal, it involves only the freight assets of the FEC railway and nothing related to Florida East Coast Industries (FECI), its activities and subsidiaries. Fortress Investment Group LLC bought FECI in 2007 (Fortress had about $70 billion under management in fall 2016).

Earlier this year, Japanese conglomerate SoftBank Group, best known for technology and telecommunications, agreed to buy the Fortress group for $3.3 billion. When the acquisition closes, Fortress will no longer be a publicly traded entity. The deal does not affect its business model or projects in place, including the All Aboard Florida/Brightline express passenger rail project ready for a summer launch.

Fortress will retain investment autonomy, and keep its advisers. But it will be interesting to see whether SoftBank Group influences other infrastructure ventures, in Florida or elsewhere.

STEPHANIE MURPHY-LUPO, WEST PALM BEACH



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Opinion

Opinion: If we erase our history, who are we?

When the Dodge Charger of 20-year-old Nazi sympathizer James Alex Fields Jr., plunged into that crowd of protesters Saturday, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer, Fields put Charlottesville on the map of modernity alongside Ferguson. Before Fields ran down the protesters, and then backed up, running down more, what was happening seemed but a bloody brawl...
Gail Collins: How to handle Donald Trump
Gail Collins: How to handle Donald Trump

Donald Trump is still president. Hard to know what to do with this, people. In less than a week he’s managed to put on one of the most divisive, un-helpful, un-healing presidential performances in American history. It’s been a great stretch for fans of Richard Nixon and James Buchanan. On Wednesday, Trump had to dissolve his business advisory...
Friedman: Charlottesville, ISIS and us

I’ve been on the road since the Charlottesville killing. I am traveling with the chief of the U.S. Air Force, Gen. David Goldfein; his civilian boss, the Air Force secretary, Heather Wilson; and their aides. We’re at the Al Udeid Air Base, from which America’s entire ISIS-Syria-Iraq-Afghanistan air war is run. With all the news from...
Rubin: Republicans, cut the outrage; it’s time to disown Trump

The party of Lincoln is now the party of Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis and Southern slave owners who decided to kill fellow Americans so that they could keep men, women and children enslaved. The Republican Party has obliterated its entire historical legacy and become the party of the Enemies of Lincoln. And let’s be clear: Republicans cannot...
CARTOON
CARTOON

CARTOON VIEW MIKE SMITH
More Stories