By Eric Berger
For those who think nothing could be sweeter than riding a train pulled by an Alco Pacific, U.S. Sugar plans to fill that craving with an expanded schedule for its Sugar Express trains pulled by U.S. Sugar 148, including a three-day Rare Mileage Train that includes First Class package options. Tickets are now on sale for the third season of passenger operations on the nation’s largest privately-owned agricultural railroad, based in Clewiston, “America’s Sweetest Town.”
The schedule begins October 14 with the first of four Lake Placid Limited runs. It departs Clewiston and travels through the sugarcane fields for a two-hour layover for lunch and self-guided tours in the historic town of Lake Placid, returning to Clewiston behind a Sugar Express diesel locomotive in early evening. Additional runs are October 28, November 25, and January 14, 2024.
The Moore Haven Meteor runs will be on October 15 and 29, and November 26, and feature a two-hour run behind 148 between Clewiston and Moore Haven.
A new offering, the Clewiston Comet, will operate south of Lake Placid for the “Market on Bond Street” in Clewiston on November 11 and on January 13, 2024.
A steam-powered Toys for Tots train operates on December 7, delivering gifts throughout the Glades Communities to children and families in need. Interested parents can sign up to receive toys later in December directly from the program at toysfortots.org.
Santa Express holiday trains operate December 2-3 (Sebring), 8-10 (Lake Placid), and 15-19 (Clewiston) and offer families a 1.5-hour trip behind 148 aboard a decorated, historic passenger train and include a visit with Santa Claus, cookies, refreshments, and a commemorative ornament. Tickets are $50 per guest ages 15 and up and $40 per child ages 4 – 14, with children 3-years and under ride free.
The Highland County Crescent will run on January 14, 2024, providing a two-hour ride from Sebring through the orange groves and along the shores of Lake Placid with a roundtrip to and from the sugarcane loading station site at Childs. Tickets are $48 plus tax and children three and under who do not occupy a seat ride free.
Finally, the Rare Mileage Train January 20-22, 2024, will feature day-long train rides and many outstanding photo opportunities. Three-day individual tickets are $550 and first-class table packages for a quartet of guests are $2,200.
The U.S. Sugar rail operations now include three components: the original privately-operated U.S. Sugar Railroad; the South Central Florida Express, which is a common carrier, and now Sugar Express, with reporting marks CHOX, a reference to the chemical formula for table sugar, C12H22O11.
Originally built as Florida East Coast 148, the engine was sold to U.S. Sugar in 1952 for a second career hauling sugar cane. It became a northeastern railfan favorite operating on the Black River & Western in New Jersey in the late 1960s and 1970s. Repurchased by U.S. Sugar in 2016, it was restored to operating condition in 2020 by contractor FMW Solutions LLC.
A coming addition to the steam roster is another Alco 4-6-2, the former Atlantic Coast Line 1504. Built in 1919, the engine was one of 70 constructed at Alco’s Richmond, Va., Works to USRA P-5-A Class specifications. Donated to Jacksonville, Fla. for display in 1960, the city relinquished the long-neglected locomotive in 2021, donating it to the local chapter of the National Railway Historical Society, which sold it to U.S. Sugar for restoration.
“Expanding the Sugar Express underscores our commitment to investing in South Central Florida’s communities. Our events offer residents new amenities and attractions, and invite visitors and tourists who otherwise might pass the region by,” said Scott Ogle, superintendent of Sugar Express. “We’re excited to be at a point where the operation can now create two new jobs in the community and hope that we can bring more talent to the area in the future.”
Those jobs are a Customer Experience and Event Manager to oversee guest services and a Passenger Rail Mechanic to support the heritage railroad operation; applications can be sent to fmwsolutions.com/job-postings.
For more information and to order tickets go to sugarexpress.com.