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National Aeronautics & Space Administration

Kennedy Space Centre Railroad

NASA locomotive with Ares I-X train
Photo: NASA / Kim Shiflett

The Kennedy Space Center Railroad is government owned and since the 1980s had been operated by the NASA Railroad, a subsidiary of NASA. It runs from the Florida East Coast Railway main line at Cape Canaveral Junction into the Space Center. The photograph was taken in March, 2009, when the railway received the solid rocket booster (SRB) segments for the Ares I-X launcher, while the video was filmed for the most part in 2010, during one of the final deliveries of SRB segments for the Space Shuttle program.

With the end of Space Shuttle flights and the cancellation of the Ares program, the railway has seen little traffic in recent years. NASA relinquished its responsibility for operating the railway. The locomotives were sold, the last two leaving the Space Center in 2015. The remaining small amount of traffic into the Center is handled by Florida East Coast. A proposal exists for a new freight railway serving Port Canaveral, which would in part use the existing route through the Space Center.

NASA locomotives leaving Space Center
Locomotives No.1 & No.3 leave Kennedy Space Center for the last time
on Friday, 10th April 2015, hauled by Florida East Coast GP40-2 No.427
Photo: NASA / Kim Shiflett

The remainder of this article, together with the photographs below, were taken from the June 8, 2001 issue of the Kennedy Space Center magazine, Spaceport News.

KSC Railroad #3 with train on Jay Jay Bridge
Kennedy Space Center’s Locomotive No. 3 takes a full set of solid rocket booster segments across the Jay Jay Bridge over the Indian River.

Inside KSC Railroad

The Kennedy Space Center Railroad is a vital part of the transportation system at KSC.

The railroad is used to transport solid rocket booster (SRB) segments, ground support equipment and construction materials to locations on Center.

It is also used to make rail shipments, including rocket fuel and oxidizer, to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS).

The railroad, based at the KSC Railroad Equipment Shop and interchange area on Contractor Road, includes 45 miles of track, several interchanges, three 1,500-horsepower locomotives and about 60 freight cars. The track connects with the Florida East Coast Railroad (FEC) several miles north of Titusville.

Although the railroad traverses a large area, many KSC team members are not aware that the Center has a railroad, said Will Eriksen, lead for railroad operations.

“Our conductors have to be extremely careful at railroad crossings because many employees here don’t think to look and listen for warnings that a locomotive is coming down the tracks,” Eriksen said. “We look out for employees, but it would be safer if drivers would pay a little more attention at the crossings.”

Good advice, considering that each loaded SRB segment and its freight car weigh 500,000 pounds.

Eriksen supervises the team of six railroad employees, including conductors, engineers and mechanics, who work for CMT, a subcontractor on the Joint Base Operations and Support Contract.

Railroad team members maintain and repair KSC’s railroad equipment and are sometimes called upon to assist in repairing CCAFS equipment.

Fighting corrosion caused by the Cape’s salt-laden winds is one of the team’s biggest maintenance challenges, Eriksen said.

Two members of the group, the engineer-conductors, drive the locomotives.

Each of their trips to pick up or deliver freight can take up to several hours. For example, transporting spent and cleaned SRB segments from the interchange on Contractor Road to the FEC drop-off point, called the Jay Jay Railyard, takes about three and a half hours. That trip through the Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge parallels State Road 3 and ends with a dramatic crossing of the Jay Jay Bridge and the Indian River.

After the delivery, an FEC locomotive picks up the SRB segments and transports them to the next railroad along the route to the manufacturer in Utah.

“When you think about it, KSC features every kind of transportation, rail, trucks, aircraft and the Shuttle,” Eriksen said. “We’re proud to be a part of that.”

(45 miles = approx 74 km. 1,500 horsepower = approx 1 megawatt. 500,000 pounds = approx 227 tonnes)

Engineer preparing to take out train
Locomotive engineer Rick Koury prepares to take a train of spent solid rocket booster segments to KSC’s Jay Jay Railyard.
Train passing through Merritt Island
Locomotive No. 3 transports spent solid rocket booster segments through the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.
Equipment mechanic working on locomotive #1
CMT railroad equipment mechanic Mike Stephens troubleshoots the diesel engine on locomotive No. 1
Engineer connecting up train
Locomotive engineer Bill Lanehart connects a train of spent solid rocket booster segments.
Mechanic jacking up rail car
Railroad equipment mechanic Gary Steele prepares to jack up a rail car.
Mechanic modifying railroad equipment
Jesse Crews, a railroad equipment mechanic, modifies some of KSC Railroad’s equipment.
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