Promoting passenger trains as a transportation alternative in Florida since 1983.  We are citizens who advocate for Amtrak, commuter rail, intercity rail and transit for Florida's future.

Amtrak's 40th in Florida

  • 04 May 2011 8:43 PM
    Message # 584415

    When Amtrak first took over the passenger trains, I wasn't living in Florida. I had just become a teenager at that time, growing up in Michigan in Ann Arbor, and felt very blessed that we even still had passenger trains on Amtrak day one there.

    About a year after I graduated from high school, I was serving my first year of duty in the US Navy. Dad moved the family to Florida in the Tampa Bay area where I currently live. Amtrak had thrice daily service from Tampa Bay to Jacksonville, and the same from Miami to Winter Haven, with only one train going via Orlando to Jacksonville, and the other two trains via Ocala between Winter Haven and Jacksonville. North of Florida, one train went to Chicago, while three others served New York.

    In 1979, Amtrak hacked off the Chicago train, and one New York train, and reduced the service frequency to twice daily on all routes in the state. Only one train was left serving Ocala.

    After Auto-train went bankrupt, Amtrak picked up this special service in 1982, and it still runs to this very day. This is one bright spot in Amtrak service that has been continuous in Florida.

    The Silver Palm was introduced in 1983 as a Miami to Tampa train which briefly resurrected thrice daily Miami to Winter Haven service for about a year, until it was taken off due to state budget problems. During this same period, Amtrak also had thrice daily train service between Tampa and Lakeland.

    Although the Silver Palm never went to St. Petersburg, it was during this brief year the Silver Palm was operating that Amrtrak decided to curtail service to Pinellas county, replacing it with Thruway bus service. The long circuitous routing around the north end of Tampa Bay between Clearwater and Tampa took close to two hours. Amtrak built a new maintenance facility in Tampa. Despite a personal plea that I had made to Amtrak CEO Claytor at a NARP meeting I went to in 1984, passenger train service to Pinellas County became history shortly afterwards and has not been back since then.

    The New York-Savannah Palmetto was extended to Jacksonville in the late 1980's which restored thrice daily service to New York, but only north of Jacksonville.

    Finally, after years of planning and completed track improvements, in 1993, Amtrak agreed to extend its thrice weekly Sunset Limited east of New Orleans to Florida, all the way to Miami. This train was eventually cut back to the Orlando area, as Amtrak had problems with the train running frequently late and could not turn equipment in time for the departures to go west. Also, since Auto-train was using Superliner equipment as the Susnet was, this helped simplify maintenance and equipment pools for both trains at Sanford.

    Sharp service cuts came again in 1995, and a short-lived Palmetto extension to Tampa, for about a year or so, with no good connections at any key transfer points doomed that train. Tampa was down to one train, the Silver Star, which ran a split operation south of Jacksonville. Also, the Silver Meteor had its Tampa leg replaced with a thruway bus connection.

    A year later, in 1996, Amtrak reinstated and ran thrice-daily service New York to Miami with introduction of the Silver Palm, in a sense restoring the Palmetto service and introducing a night train service in Florida, while the other two remaining Florida trains continued to run through Orlando during the day, and the new Silver Palm train served Tampa and Ocala with its only service during some unfavorable hours for a few years.

    Eventually, back in 2005, the Silver Palm was cut south of Savannah again, and the train was renamed back to the Palmetto. To compensate Tampa, Amtrak decided to add a "dog leg" trip to the Silver Star, which in my opinion, has created a phony reincarnated version of the original Silver Palm between Miami and Tampa, as well as the sense that the Silver Star kind of runs as a New York to Tampa only train if it is on time,but Miami only if it's late. This same reouting and dog-leg creation also ended passenger train service to Waldo, Ocala, Wildwood, and Dade City, just like they ended service to Pinellas County in 1983, and replaced it with a thruway bus.

    Unfortunately, Amtrak is at its lowest level for frequency of service and routes in Florida since service on its Sunset Limited route east of New Orleans was suspended due to Hurricane Katrina. Nothing has changed since then.

    Anybody that can do a "then and now" comparison of service can easily tell that service has been cut since Amtrak's inception within the state of Florida. Even if Auto-train is included, the frequency and number of Florida routes is less than it was on May 1, 1971.

     

    Last modified: 04 May 2011 8:43 PM | Anonymous member
  • 05 May 2011 9:58 AM
    Reply # 584797 on 584415
    Anonymous

    We are all aware of the history of Amtrak service in Florida.  As an Ocala resident since 1995, I have personally been affected by the changes here.

    The fact is that rail-unfriendly forces have permeated our politics and, unless we find a way to turn things around, deterioration of all types of rail service in the Sunshine State is a given. 

    Those of us who want to improve things need to vote our interests and also need to make our legislators aware that we are not happy with the situation vis-a-vis Amtrak.

     

  • 09 May 2011 5:12 PM
    Reply # 587571 on 584415
    Jackson McQuigg (Administrator)

    Although the reductions in Amtrak service in Florida are a painful fact, they aren't cause for despair.

    Florida does have fewer Amtrak passenger trains than it did in 1971, but the proliferation of Tri-Rail commuter rail service between Miami and West Palm Beach is an accomplishment unimaginable in the early 1970s.

    The same can be said for SunRail, if that Orlando-area commuter service finally gets off of the drawing board (which it will!).

    Railroad stations which were decrepit and in disrepair throughout Florida (from West Palm Beach to Tampa) have been restored, and there is a new one at Lakeland.

    Further, Amtrak picked up the pieces of a bankrupt private Auto-Train and in so doing has conserved significant amounts of fuel which would otherwise been burned by motorists.

    The railroad passenger landscape keeps changing, as the thread starter's citation of Amtrak's reduction in services to our state so clearly illuminates.  And it always will, for both good and bad.

    But let's keep our shoulders to the wheel and keep advocating. It's all of our jobs to affect those good changes whenever we can.

    Does that sound trite? Perhaps a bit. But then again, none of the good changes outlined here would have happened without the hard work of rail advocates like each of us.

    --Jackson McQuigg 

    Last modified: 09 May 2011 5:12 PM | Jackson McQuigg (Administrator)
  • 11 May 2011 12:01 AM
    Reply # 588503 on 584415
    I intended my thread to be specifically aimed at Amtrak. However, I will agree with Mr. Mc Quigg's entries about the other Florida services like Tri-rail and his brief note about Auto-train. Also during this period, three other local starts were the Miami Metrorail, the TECO streetcar line in Tampa, and the elevated line in downtown Jacksonville.I look forward to the startup, of SunRail in Orlando. Now if we can get something going in Tampa Bay, and maybe a light rail line in Pinellas County, where I live. 
    Last modified: 11 May 2011 12:01 AM | Anonymous member
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