Monday, June 10, 2013

Train Viewing Platform is Back on Track

We are excited to report that the viewing platform is moving closer to becoming a reality. In the past few months the following major developments have occurred:

- Organized a new committee to move the project forward under the leadership of Mayor Michael S. Sparkman.

- Secured a grant from CSX in the amount of $25,000 to get things started.

- Updated all drawings and specifications to comply with applicable building codes and regulations.

- Made provisions for an elevator to the second floor of the tower so that this important and unique feature of the project can remain a viable option.

- Signed on a general contractor to head construction of the platform.

- Secured a building permit from the City of Plant City for the platform.

- Site prep has started at the location where the platform will be constructed.

- Schedule a public groundbreaking ceremony for 5:30 p.m., Wednesday, June 19, 2013. Spread the word about this ceremony and come join us for the event. Groundbreaking will occur in the south municipal parking lot located on Palmer Street, just south of the historic Union Depot, in downtown Plant City.

- Plans are to have the platform completed and open to the public by Christmas 2013.

This blog is no longer our primary information site. Please "Like" us on Facebook by searching for "Plant City Train Viewing Platform". We now use Facebook to post regular updates and news about the platform project.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Focus Magazine Article on Platform

The current issue of Focus Magazine contains the following article on the proposed train viewing platform:

by Jerry Lofstrom

A team of locomotives hauling freight through Plant City breaks the early morning silence like a distant wall of thunderstorms. The roar at first is barely discernible. But slowly the rumble begins to shake the ground; the vibrations gradually funnel into a single, expanding image of an oncoming locomotive.

They stand alone or in groups stirred by speculation of what type of train will soon be rumbling into town. They’re referred to as “train spotters,” railroad buffs who have a passion for watching trains. One grabs a notebook and prepares to log all the vital details such as model and engine number, another readies a video camera that sits atop a 4’ tripod.

Finally, the piercing sound of the locomotive’s blaring horn signals the arrival of a mammoth CSX engine, its headlights slowly comes into focus on the hazy horizon, trailed by a seemingly endless line of rail cars.

On cue, the outcry of a nearby crossing gate interrupts the calm of a sleepy Sunday morning; its slender arm slowly drops toward the ground, cutting off a pickup truck that had hopes of slipping across the tracks.

For train lovers, it’s show time.

For the majority of people who live or work here, it’s just another frustrating day of facing a blocked railroad crossing, traffic delays, and concern that emergency vehicles won’t get through.

For untold numbers of railroad buffs, trains are Plant City's main attraction that brings them to town.

Commissioner Mike Sparkman and local downtown businesspeople are contemplating how these visitors - and their tourist dollars - might be made more welcome.

A train viewing platform geared toward bringing rail enthusiasts to Plant City is chugging along in the approval process. The L-shaped platform, which is proposed to be built on the south side of the railroad tracks adjacent to the downtown historic depot, will allow train fans a safe place to photograph and watch trains coming into Plant City from the north, east, west and south.

City commissioners at a recent commission meeting voted 5-0 to give conceptual approval to the idea.

“We will not be asking for taxpayer funding,” Sparkman told fellow commissioners. “The platform will be paid for through advertising and contributions from the private sector.”

Mayor Rick Lott endorsed the idea, saying, “It would take train traffic that is perceived as a negative and turn it into a positive for downtown.”

And that’s exactly what happened in Folkston, Georgia.

Seven years ago, the townspeople of Folkston decided all those trains running through town might actually be a positive way to bring tourist into their town. The business community aided by the city built a train viewing platform – and its working. Spurred on by word-of-mouth and the Internet, Folkston has become a hotbed for train enthusiasts who stop to eat at restaurants, shop at gift stores, stay at motels and contribute to the economic vitality of their community.

"As much as trains can be a hassle for residents, we do realize that railroads are what made our community," said Marion Smith, president of the Plant City Chamber of Commerce. "It attracts a lot of people to watch, so why not provide these visitors with more to do once they come here?"

But there are those who think a viewing platform is a waste of money to spend on train eccentrics who stand at the edge of steel rails watching trains go by.

But what the critics don’t understand is that train watching is a serious national and international hobby for thousands of people who are no more eccentric than golfers knocking a little white ball in a hole then taking it out again, or anglers dangling a worm in the water.

For organizers and advocates, the call to undertake this enterprising project is simple: “Build it and they will come.”


Grab a copy of Focus Magazine to see the article and accompanying photographs.

Conceptual Drawing of Proposed Platform

Benito Lubrano, Jr., of Lubrano Designs, who is volunteering his time and talent to this project, has created the design for the platform. The design shown in the illustration (below) -- as created by Mike Dixon, of Dixon Design and Drafting -- is of the proposed plan. Note the L-shaped design that allows viewers to front both directions of track. Also shown in the drawing is the tower section of the proposed platform that will allow viewers to get a commanding view of the tracks and the intersection, as well as being able to watch trains arrive from and depart to the north over the roofline of the nearby Union Depot building.

The platform roof and the supports have been designed to match the details of the Union Depot; a very nice touch!

Click on the drawing below to see a larger version. And be sure to leave your comments on the proposed design. Your feedback is both welcome and valuable!

Tampa Tribune Article on Platform

Published: September 3, 2008

PLANT CITY - A plan to erect a train observation platform at the historic depot to attract more rail buffs and other tourists has received the blessing of the Plant City Commission.

The unanimous Aug. 25 vote of support came at the urging of the Historic Downtown Plant City Merchants and Business Association, whose members said similar projects have met with great success in other small Southern towns.

Al Collinge of the Greater Plant City Chamber of Commerce, volunteer coordinator of the Union Station Welcome Center and Railroad Museum since its December 1997 opening, said the number of visitors who come to watch the trains has grown steadily.

Rail fan clubs of 20 to 30 people are common, Collinge said.

"They meet at the depot and just watch the trains come," he said.

An elevated platform would improve the view, and more, he added.

"We've always had a definite concern about safety," he said, as some buffs get dangerously close to the rails to photograph passing trains.

Jerry Lofstrom, owner of the Whistle Stop Cafe, told commissioners that several Georgia cities recently built similar observation platforms to attract "train spotters," some of whom are so dedicated they keep notebooks, jotting down details of trains, such as the number of cars each contains.

John Davis, whose Espress Yourself Coffee 101 business is a block from the site, said Plant City's two dozen daily trains make it "a rail fan hot spot." The hobby is so popular that some Internet sites cater to rail buffs, featuring webcams providing remote viewing of trains in select rail hubs.

"It's an opportunity we definitely would not want to miss out on," Davis said.

The nearly century old depot, 102 N. Palmer St., closed as a train station years ago.

The owner of Lubrano Designs, who donated his work on the project, said the platform 12 feet from the tracks would provide a clear view of the two main rail lines. Plans call for a platform complementing the depot design, Bennie Lubrano said.

The upper level of the observation platform will be 13 feet tall, not including its roof. There's no timetable for construction.

"I think it would be an asset to downtown and to the city," said Commissioner Mike Sparkman, adding that chamber of commerce directors have unanimously endorsed the project.

Additionally, Sparkman said, local CSX Transportation representatives have endorsed a lease amendment to allow the observation platform on railroad property. Approval of corporate headquarters in Jacksonville is necessary, and Sparkman asked the city for legal assistance finalizing an amended lease.

In response to a question from Mayor Rick Lott, Sparkman said the project could cost in excess of $50,000.

After the vote, Lott said he would be amenable to using Community Redevelopment Agency funds for the project.

"I think it's more than worthy" of financial support from the agency, said Lott, the CRA chairman. Lott suggested possible funding be discussed at a future CRA meeting.

City commissioners are also directors of the CRA.

Reporter George Wilkens can be reached at (813) 865-4433 or

Click Here to link to Tribune Article reproduced above.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Platform Tower Viewing Test

The proposed viewing platform design includes a tower that is elevated above the platform base so as to provide a commanding view of the rails in all four cardinal directions.

A test of the potential view was recently completed by using a boom truck to raise a camera to the proposed height. The following shots demonstrate what train spotters can expect to see from atop the proposed tower.

This shot shows the view looking north past the historic train depot:

This is another view to the north...minus the train this time:

And this is the view looking to the west into downtown Plant City:

And here's a nice shot from ground level looking to the west from a location just east of where the proposed platform will be constructed. You can also get a good look at the north/south railway intersection that will be located adjacent to the platform. The building on the right is the historic train depot which now serves as a community focal point and museum.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Proposed Location of Viewing Platform

Here is an overview of the downtown Plant City area showing where the proposed viewing platform would be located:

And here is a zoomed-in detail view of the proposed location for the platform:

Blog Created Today

This blog was created today, 09/04/2008, as a means of informing interested parties on the progress toward constructing a train viewing platform in Historic Downtown Plant City. The concept for the train viewing platform was approved by the City Commission at their regular meeting on August 25, 2008. In addition to approving the concept, Mayor Rick Lott suggested possible funding sources for the construction of the platform. These funding sources are being evaluated by City Staff at this time.

This blog will serve to detail the progress of the train viewing platform as it moves forward from concept to funded project, and then through it various phases of construction.

We hope you will check back regularly for updates and that you will share your thoughts and comments with us using the blog comment system or through our email address which is accessible from the blog site and our profile page.