High-speed and commuter rail have been hot topics.
To me, it all seems reminiscent of the days before automobiles, when the train emerged as the dominant mode of transportation and New Port Richey became an active railroad hub.
By 1900, Florida boasted more than 3,000 miles of railroad tracks. In the summer of 1913, those rickety tracks and whistling steam locomotives reached New Port Richey.
The history of our local railroad actually begins in 1909 with the formation of the Tampa and Gulf Coast Railway, created to construct and operate a standard-gage single-track from Lutz to Tarpon Springs.
On September 17, 1909, the railway started with a purchase of 10-miles of logging trams from the Gulf Pine Company, which operated sawmills near today’s Odessa.
By September 1910, railway trains were running regular passenger and freight services on 21 miles of track—A 10-mile length stretching from Lutz through Lake Fern then onto the Gulf Pine Company, and another 11-miles of track extended westward from Gulf Pine to Tarpon Springs.
Soon afterwards, another venture started working to lay tracks from Tarpon Springs to New Port Richey—this venture was the newly organized Port Richey Company, owned, at that time, by the Weeks brother’s of Brooksville.
Actively involved in the area’s extensive turpentine industry in August 1911, the Weeks brothers purchased the present site of New Port Richey from Aripeka Sawmills, which operated sawmills at the Town of Fivay near today’s State Road 52 and Little Road.
The Weeks brothers' Port Richey Company was organized with the purpose of starting a town on the Pithlachascotee River. Like any good town during these times, a railroad was needed since it was the best means of transportation.
The Weeks brothers went to work laying tracks north from Tarpon Springs, connecting their line and new town to the T&GC Railway tracks.
By February 1912, a 7.2 mile branch line was completed and trains were running from Tarpon to Elfers. In November 1912, a depot was built in downtown New Port Richey. However the building of a bridge over the Pithlachascotee River delayed the train’s arrival to the city for another year.
In December 1912 the Weeks brothers sold their new 7.2 mile branch line to the T&GC Railway, which, by the summer of 1913, had completed construction of the bridge over the river and semi-weekly service to the city began.
Five months later the T&GC Railway reorganized and became the Tampa and Gulf Coast Railroad; a subsidiary of the famous Seaboard Airline, who leased the tracks.
Residents of New Port Richey, enthusiastic about the arrival of the railroad, formed a welcoming committee which met the trains as they arrived twice weekly to the small passenger depot at the northeast corner of Nebraska Avenue and Grand Boulevard.
By 1915, the T&GC RR had increased service to 78-miles of track, which connected New Port Richey to nearby cities of Tampa, Clearwater, Indian Rocks Beach, and St. Petersburg. Train schedules show that a typical round trip to Tampa, from New Port Richey, was 15 minutes short of taking 24 hours, including layovers.
While travel was slow, train services to New Port Richey were instrumental to the city’s development. The rail allowed a means of transporting both passengers and freight to and from the infant community; resulting in the city’s growth.
For 30 years, trains came and went from our city, until services were eventually discontinued April 25, 1943. The portion of the branch line north of State Road 54 and through downtown was removed.
On June 24, 1944 the Evening Independent reported the small New Port Richey depot was sold to the Spanish-American War Veterans—closing another chapter in the city’s history.
Into the middle to late 1970s, parts of the old T&GC rail were still used by work trains. Some still remember the old tracks running into the Cement Industry yard located at the southwest corner of State Road 54 and Grand Boulevard, more recently the Cox Lumber yard. Others might remember the low dip and rough ride over the tracks crossing Moog Road.
Today, with our congested roadways, some look at railroad transportation as being innovative. Yet little evidence remains of the once active passenger lines that crisscrossed the entire state—most of these lines died as the automobile emerged as the better form of transportation.