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Trainorders Thread Highlights Reduced Capacity on Florida Trains

01 Dec 2015 6:15 AM | Jackson McQuigg (Administrator)

Things sure have changed since the 1980s. The same can be said for Florida's Amtrak trains.

Today's Amtrak Silver Star and Silver Meteor trains don't serve places like Ocala or St. Petersburg, for instance. Separate Tampa and Miami sections of these trains no longer exist. And train consists are notably shorter, with today's Amtrak trains maxing out at 8 or 9 cars.

Over at online forum Trainorders, a member has posted consists found in old issues of Passenger Train Journal which detail Florida trains of 18 cars and higher. It's a walk down memory lane--and posters are quick to blame cheap airfares and other logical market-related reasons for the shorter trains. Others blame the successive Amtrak presidents who followed the late W. Graham Claytor.

Without showing any disrespect, we would instead suggest another cause behind the decline in capacity: excessive cost cutting. And it didn't begin when Graham Claytor retired from Amtrak in the early 1990s. Instead, Amtrak began gutting its Florida service way back in the early 1970s.

Amtrak began cutting trains soon after its inception (and even before it, as many privately-operated routes in Florida were cut when Amtrak began operating in May 1971). First, Amtrak axed the Florida Special. The Champion and the Floridian followed in 1979. And train service to St. Petersburg and Clearwater was abolished in 1984. This trend only continued with the elimination of separate Tampa and Miami sections of these trains the mid-1990s.

More recently, service was eliminated to Ocala and Waldo in the 2000s when the Silver Star quit running over the former Seaboard line serving those cities. The Sunset Limited route from New Orleans to Florida came and went in the period 1993-2005. And last fall, the dining car on the Silver Star was removed.

Will this trend continue? Will the future bring more Amtrak reductions in Florida? We hope not. However, until cost cutting--which tends to equate with brutal service changes where Amtrak is concerned--is no longer viewed as a panacea, Amtrak service to Florida will likely continue to suffer.

In 1970 at Amtrak's inception, Florida's population stood at 6.7 million. In 1980, Florida still had slightly under 10 million people. Today--with less Amtrak service than ever in our state--our population is 20 million. Amtrak's service reductions are in stark contrast to these numbers and the need for train service to serve a growing Florida.

For a successful future, rail advocates must change the discussion away from cost cutting to one focused on service and growth instead.

--Jackson McQuigg

Comments

  • 01 Dec 2015 12:26 PM | Anonymous
    Someone has posted on another site that this past weekend's (Thanksgiving weekend) Silver Star was observed with some 14 cars, including 4 sleepers and 6 coaches.
    Link  •  Reply
    • 01 Dec 2015 12:39 PM | Anonymous
      Correction - it was the Meteor, not the Star.
      Link  •  Reply
      • 02 Dec 2015 8:26 PM | Jackson McQuigg (Administrator)
        And it was not typical. Thanksgiving weekend is one of the rare instances where Amtrak recognizes and responds to the need for more capacity.
        Link  •  Reply
  • 10 Dec 2015 12:05 AM | Anonymous member
    Read my comment of 4 MAY 2011 in Message Boards / Discussion Forum for a detailed history on Amtrak's service to the state of Florida.
    Meanwhile, the state has spent billions on new toll roads and toll lanes to the point where Florida now ranks first among all states in the number of miles of toll roads. Most of the toll roads are broke or have had to be refinanced through banking interests for the long term.
    As for Amtrak, yes I've been on consists in the past that had 18 cars when the older heritage cars were on Silver service trains, but most of them had fewer seats per coach than the Amfleet II cars that replaced them. The Amfleet II coaches are not as spacious nor can match the comfort the older heritage cars did. Bathrooms are smaller, overhead luggage space is not as tall or wide, and the seats don't recline as far back and have shorter leg rests. Amtrak should look into bringing these better amenites back as they plan on building a prototype Viewliner coach car for long-distance travel.
    Link  •  Reply
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