A Trip to the Gold Coast Railroad Museum
Where you get to learn about Florida's railroad history!
By now you don't know that Florida has two official railroad museums! One we know is the Florida Railroad Museum in Parrish in Manatee County. Where is the other State of Florida official railroad museum?
Hop on Interstate 275 south across the Sunshine Skyway Bridge over to Interstate 75. Drive south for about 240 miles across Alligator Alley and transition over to the Florida Turnpike. Exit the turnpike at SW 152nd Street (Exit 16) just like you were going to Zoo Miami. On the grounds of Zoo Miami you will find yourself at the Gold Coast Railroad Museum!
Founded in 1957 on the site of what used to be the Naval Air Station Richmond (Florida, that is), the Gold Coast Railroad Museum is a comprehensive railroad museum housing over 30 historic trains including several coaches and sleepers that are on display. On the weekends, train rides are offered on the museum's own track using historic locomotives and equipment including the Atlantic Coast Line 1804 locomotive (an EMD GP-7m) and the museum's recent acquisition, an ALCO S-2 locomotive from Kennedy Space Center donated by NASA (NASA 2). In addition to the standard gauge equipment on display, there is a collection of narrow gauge equipment as well. There is also a model railroad exhibit - for you model railroad buffs out there, you will have a great time taking a look at what is out there.
Like its counterpart in Parrish at the Florida Railroad Museum 240 miles to the north, the Gold Coast Railroad Museum is a step back in time to the days when taking the train was the way to go when you traveled, before the era of Interstates 75 and 95. There are plenty or passenger railroad cars you can walk through including lounge cars, coach cars and sleeper cars. Of course no railroad museum is complete without taking an actual train ride, and on the weekends the Gold Coast Railroad Museum offers train rides on its own track utilizing either a caboose or a coach car depending on the equipment being used.
The museum is operational year round with train rides on the weekends as mentioned earlier. There are many events held at various times throughout the year including Day Out With Thomas, held around early March, and The Polar Express, held over the Christmas holiday season. Both events are well attended.
How to best experience the Gold Coast Railroad Museum
The Gold Coast Railroad Museum is open seven days a week. However, for the best experience you may want to visit on a weekend day.
Your experience starts when you enter the gift shop and pay your admission fee. The admission fee gets you onto the museum grounds. While you are at the gift shop you will want to choose a time for a train ride, which is an additional fee. Train rides are given on the half hour with the first ride at 11:30 AM and the last ride at 3:30 PM; however, special events may change the schedule so a check of the Gold Coast Railroad Museum website is highly encouraged.
Speaking of the train rides, a variety of equipment is used including various types of locomotives including Gold Coast's newest addition, NASA 2 which originally saw its service at the Kennedy Space Center, as well as various types of passenger equipment typically consisting of a caboose and a passenger coach.
The caboose is an Atlantic Coast Line freight caboose 0322 which was built in November 1923 at the ACL shops in Waycross, Georgia. The caboose was donated to the Gold Coast Railroad Museum in 1960. Cabooses used to be standard in a freight train consist and was the last car on the train; the caboose was home to not only the conductor but the trainman (which used to be a brakeman back in the days). The conductor, being in charge of the train, took care of the important paperwork while the trainman took his position in the overhead cupola watching the train and being on the lookout for smoke coming from hot boxes (overheated axle bearings) on the train.
Today the caboose is no longer standard equipment in a freight train consist, the exception being cabooses used as shoving platforms by train crew for reverse moves. An example of this is when CSX brings in newsprint for the St. Petersburg Times' 34 St N printing plant in St. Petersburg; once the train arrives on the CSX Clearwater Subdivision (the line that serves St. Petersburg from Tampa) the crew connects the shoving platform to the train and the crew guides the train into the printing plant on the spur track south of and paralleling 22 Av N.
You may also get to ride in a passenger coach; the type of passenger coach depends on the season. In the winter months (despite Miami's mild winters) an open air coach, the Florida East Coast 136, is used. Built in the 1920's, the Florida East Coast 136 played a role in the evacuation of a portion of the Florida Keys as part of preparations for the Labor Day hurricane of 1935 (that was back in the days when Key West was reached by rail as opposed to today's Overseas Highway, US 1). On the other hand, in the summer months an air conditioned passenger coach, the Belle Glade, is used.
The ride takes about 25 minutes. You leave the station and in a few minutes the train stops to let the conductor change the switch to go on another track. Then the train reverses direction to the end of the track; once there the train goes forward on the same track passing the station switch to go to a point short of the connection to CSX's Homestead Subdivision, the line that serves Homestead from the SX Line at Miami International Airport. Next, the train reverses direction once more and will do so until it returns to the station; a stop is made in order to line the switch so that the train can continue on its way into the station.
For a true railroading experience, ride up in the locomotive cab for an additional fee. Not only you get to see around you, you get to watch how the engineer runs the train!
Before or after your train ride, be sure to walk through the passenger rail cars that are on display. You will want to go over to Track 4 and walk through the various sleepers and lounge cars that are on display, not to mention the dome car which was used on the California Zephyr. Riding in the dome car - especially in the upper dome part - gives you the best passenger experience. Unfortunately, Amtrak does not operate dome cars as a part of regular passenger service save for special events.
Admission Prices, Location and Hours
The Gold Coast Railroad Museum is located on the grounds of Zoo Miami at 12450 SW 152nd Street, about a half a mile west of the Florida Turnpike.
To get there from:
Downtown Miami and Miami Beach: Follow the MacArthur Causeway west; this will turn into Interstate 395 west. (If coming from downtown Miami, simply head west on Interstate 395 from US 1). Keep going west as you pass Interstate 95; Interstate 95 changes into the East-West Expressway (FL Toll 836). Continue west on FL Toll 836 past the Palmetto Expressway (FL 826) to its end at the Florida Turnpike. South on the Florida Turnpike to SW 152nd Street (Exit 16), then west on SW 152nd Street to the entrance for Zoo Miami. Once at Zoo Miami follow the signs for the Gold Coast Railroad Museum.
Fort Lauderdale (including Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport): Follow Interstate 595 west to the mega-interchange with the Sawgrass Expressway (FL Toll 869) and Interstate 75. You want to follow the signage for Interstate 75 south to Miami. South on Interstate 75 to the Florida Turnpike at Exit 5, then south on the Florida Turnpike to SW 152nd Street (Exit 16), then west on SW 152nd Street to the entrance for Zoo Miami. Once at Zoo Miami follow the signs for the Gold Coast Railroad Museum.
West Palm Beach (Palm Beach County) and Deerfield Beach (northern Broward County): The best way is to take Interstate 95 to SW 10th Street, then west on SW 10th Street which turns into the Sawgrass Expressway (FL Toll 869). Follow FL Toll 869 south all the way to the mega-interchange with Interstate 595 and Interstate 75. You want to follow the signage for Interstate 75 south to Miami. South on Interstate 75 to the Florida Turnpike at Exit 5, then south on the Florida Turnpike to SW 152nd Street (Exit 16), then west on SW 152nd Street to the entrance for Zoo Miami. Once at Zoo Miami follow the signs for the Gold Coast Railroad Museum.
The Florida Keys including Key West: Follow US 1 through Florida City (which is in Miami-Dade County) and enter the Florida Turnpike. North on the Florida Turnpike to SW 152nd Street (Exit 16), then west on SW 152nd Street to the entrance for Zoo Miami. Once at Zoo Miami follow the signs for the Gold Coast Railroad Museum. From Key West allow at least two hours driving time depending on traffic conditions in the Keys. (After all, the Florida Keys doesn't have the limited access luxury as on the Florida mainland).
Tampa/St. Petersburg: Follow Interstate 75 south from Tampa or Interstate 275 south from St. Petersburg via the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. Continue south on Interstate 75 past Bradenton, Sarasota, Punta Gorda, Ft. Myers and Naples, then south via the Alligator Alley past Fort Lauderdale to the Florida Turnpike at Exit 5. South on the Florida Turnpike to SW 152nd Street (Exit 16), then west on SW 152nd Street to the entrance for Zoo Miami. Once at Zoo Miami follow the signs for the Gold Coast Railroad Museum. From the Tampa Bay region allow at least 4.5 hours of driving time on southbound Interstate 75.
Alternatively, there is Amtrak service to Miami from Tampa via the Silver Star, southbound Train 91 as well as Southwest Airlines service from Tampa to Fort Lauderdale. To get to the Gold Coast Railroad Museum from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport via rental car simply follow the airport exit to Interstate 595 west, then follow the directions from Fort Lauderdale as mentioned earlier.
Admission to the museum grounds is $8.00 for ages 12 and up and $6.00 for ages 2 to 11, while children under age 2 are admitted free. The train rides on the weekends are a separate admission over and above the grounds admission: A ride in the caboose or coach car costs $6.00 while a ride in the locomotive cab costs $12.00. Train rides are given on the weekends beginning at 11:30 AM and thereafter on the half hour; the final train ride is at 3:30 PM.
The museum's gift shop is open weekdays from 10 AM to 4 PM and weekends from 11 AM to 4 PM. If you are riding the 3:30 PM train and there is something you want at the gift shop, I would strongly advise purchasing it and storing your purchase in the trunk of your car before your train ride as the gift shop is closed when the final train of the day returns.
The Gold Coast Railroad Museum holds special events at various times throughout the year, notably the Day Out With Thomas event in March and The Polar Express in December. Admission for special events is specially priced; a check of the Gold Coast Railroad Museum website is highly encouraged. Advance ticket purchase for Day Out With Thomas and The Polar Express is highly recommended as these high profile events tend to sell out rather quickly.
Restrooms are available in the gift shop area. There are no restroom facilities on board the train! Unlike the Florida Railroad Museum in Parrish, there are no concessions on board at the Gold Coast Railroad Museum - instead, concessions are available at the museum gift shop. The museum prohibits outside food and drink unless part of a reserved facility rental such as one of the two lounge cars for a birthday party.
Speaking of facility rentals, the Gold Coast Railroad Museum is the perfect place in South Florida for your child's next birthday party or whatever the occasion. Facility rental fees vary depending on the occasion taking place; you may want to contact the Gold Coast Railroad Museum directly for details including rates. Why not make your child's next birthday special?
More Information on the Gold Coast Railroad Museum
I encourage you to visit the web site of the Gold Coast Railroad Museum - it has a good wealth of information about the museum including pictures of the equipment currently housed there. While you are at the Gold Coast Railroad Museum's website, you can purchase tickets for the museum's two major special events, Day Out With Thomas in March and The Polar Express in December.
Have you thought about becoming a member of the Gold Coast Railroad Museum? Being a member has its benefits: Free museum grounds admission on regular general admission days plus a ticket good for a number of train rides throughout the year. In addition, you can become a member of the volunteer weekend train crew as a member.
If you plan on becoming a member of the Gold Coast Railroad Museum with the intent of being a member of the volunteer weekend train crew, I would highly recommend any of the Crew Member For a Day packages. Not only you get a one year membership, you get to experience first hand what it is like to operate a train from being a conductor to being the locomotive engineer depending on the package chosen. Again, the Gold Coast Railroad Museum website has all the specifics on the Crew Member For a Day program including prices.
By the way, your webmaster is a proud member - as well as a proud train crew volunteer - of the Gold Coast Railroad Museum.
Pictures Related to the Gold Coast Railroad Museum
Here is a smorgasbord of pictures related to the Gold Coast Railroad Museum for your viewing pleasure.
On the Museum Grounds
The Model Trains Exhibit
The Gold Coast Railroad Museum has a model trains exhibit located in one of the side buildings parallel to Track 1. The model train exhibit is air conditioned and features not only model trains but hands-on Thomas and Friends wooden railway trains that your children can play too! While you are in the model train exhibit, check out the train related displays in the glass cases.
A Ride on the Museum Train
Of course no visit to the Gold Coast Railroad Museum would be complete without taking a train ride on the museum's train equipment. Presently train rides are offered on the weekends for an additional fee above the grounds admission. The train ride is 25 minutes long and the train goes to various places on the museum grounds including the South Pad and the junction with the CSX Homestead Subdivision (SXH Line). All track switching is done manually and is done by the conductor.
Feel free to choose which passenger you would like to ride in. On most operational weekends you can choose from the caboose or a passenger coach such as the Florida East Coast 136 in the winter months or the Belle Glade in the summer months.
Train Crew Member for a Day
If being a train crew member is your passion, the Gold Coast Railroad Museum can make it happen! There's two ways to work your way to the engineer's seat: One is becoming a member of the Gold Coast Railroad Museum and becoming a volunteer train crew member and working your way up the various positions starting with Trainman after passing a written test, while the other is being a Train Crew Member For a Day where you pay a fee depending on what you want to do (in fact, museum membership is included!) being a member of the Gold Coast Railroad Museum train crew for the day.
I had the privilege and honor of being a Train Crew Member For a Day over Labor Day weekend in 2014, operating the museum's NASA 2 locomotive. I went through the entire day from startup of the locomotive and being oriented to the controls of the NASA 2 locomotive to actual operation over the museum's five runs of the day. Believe me, running the locomotive was the best experience I have ever had!