Good news for boaters who pass under the railroad drawbridge over Fort Lauderdale’s New River: The Florida East Coast Railway bridge now has a full-time tender who can communicate with boaters via VHF channels 9 and 16, and by telephone at (305) 889-5572.
“Communication has been the biggest stumbling block at the railroad bridge,” said Patience Cohn, industry liaison for the Marine Industries Association of South Florida. “This will go miles to help this.”
The change, which is in a test phase, comes in response to public meetings earlier this year that asked boaters about their experience with railroad drawbridges over the St. Lucie, Loxahatchee and New rivers along Florida’s southeast coast.
Cohn said one of the biggest concerns in the MIASF’s comments at these meetings was the absence of effective communication with boaters, who need to know when the bridge will be closed and for how long. The New River bridge has just a 4-foot vertical clearance and remains open when no trains are coming.
The Coast Guard will give notice of the change in the Federal Register later this week and will be asking boaters to tell them whether it should be permanent. Cohn said the Coast Guard has asked that mariners wait to comment until they have had experience with the tender.
The temporary change is in effect through Oct. 16.
The temporary rule requires the bridge to remain open to boat traffic during 60 minutes of any 120-minute period after 6:01 a.m. “This deviation will improve communications with the FEC and the mariner, increase the amount of time the bridge is open and will promote equal usage of waterways and railroad for all parties involved,” the notice said.
Cohn said the bridge will continue to be controlled from Jacksonville. However, the tender can communicate with train dispatchers and bridge operation controllers in Jacksonville and with boaters and ask a train to slow down to let some boats through before closing and alert towboat operators with large yachts in tow when a train will be coming through and how long the bridge will be down. That way, they can decide whether to start up or down the river or find a place along the river to hold up.
“I think communication is the key,” Cohn said. “We rarely have problems with CSX [Railroad]. They’ve always had a bridge tender to work with the tugs and tows.”
The New River bridge will continue to have a countdown clock to alert boaters when the bridge is scheduled to close and has posted signs on the bridge with the VHF channels and phone number that boaters can use to talk with the tender and the phone number of the FEC dispatcher in Jacksonville (1-800-342-1131).