Founded in 1931, the United States Sugar Corporation (“U.S. Sugar”) is a privately-owned agricultural business that farms more than 230,000 acres of land in south-central Florida. Key to this efficient operation is the use of its own railroads to transport sugar cane from the fields to the processing plant in Clewiston.
U.S. Sugar utilizes two rail operations to handle both raw materials and finished goods: U.S. Sugar Railroad (“USSC”) and the South Central Florida Express, Inc. (SCXF). The USSC is a non-common carrier industrial railroad dedicated primarily to the transport of raw sugar cane from the fields to the processing plant at Clewiston, and it constitutes approximately 120 miles of track.
The SCXF is a common carrier freight railroad that is used to haul both raw sugar cane as well as other, common carrier merchandise freight. The SCXF interchanges with CSX Transportation at Sebring and the Florida East Coast Railway (“FEC”) at Fort Pierce. The SCXF mainline between Sebring and Lake Harbor, a distance of 87 miles, was built by the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad and was acquired by SCXF in 1994, and the mainline between Lake Harbor and Fort Pierce, a distance of 71 miles, is known as the Fort Pierce Subdivision and is owned by FEC, but was leased to SCXF in 1998.
Freight operations on the U.S. Sugar railroads are divided into two categories: 1) USSC sugar cane operations and 2) SCXF merchandise freight and cane operations.
USSC sugar cane operations take place during the sugar cane harvest, between October and May. These trains operate between loading points across the 120-mile USSC system and the sugar plant at Clewiston. Trains on the western half of the USSC system are delivered straight to the sugar plant. SCXF also transports sugar cane from fields North and West of Clewiston to the plant, during sugar cane season. The yard at Bryant is used to store cane cars from the eastern half of the USSC system, and SCXF trains transfer the cane trains from that location to the sugar plant.
The sugar cane is transported in specially-built cane cars, which are designed to be unloaded when tipped to one side. These cars feature a large, hinged side door that opens to dump out the cane. USSC has a fleet of approximately 800 cane cars, all of which are in captive service and do not interchange with railroads outside of the sugar cane operation. Approximately 250 of these cars are more than 50 years old and are on FRA waiver allowing them to be used on SCXF rail.
SCXF operations support the transport of finished goods between the sugar plant and the general railroad system. SCXF also provides transportation services to a handful of online freight customers scattered around Lake Okeechobee.