Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

More pressure for Sunset Limited restoration

Unsurprisingly, local governments along the route of the former Eastern portion of Amtrak’s Sunset Limited, from New Orleans to Florida, are clamoring for the service to return. Now of course, fuss created by city councils and whatnot generally doesn’t add up to much, but last year’s Amtrak Reauthorization bill requires the company to study reopening the route, which closed after Hurricane Katrina damaged the tracks back in 2005. The report is due this summer. Yet this article mentions the uncertainty of an actual comeback for the Sunset:

Sunset Limited, particularly the eastern portion, has long ranked as one of Amtrak’s most problematic trains.

In fiscal 2004, the last full year before Hurricane Katrina, the Sunset carried just 96,000 riders, including 37,000 east of New Orleans. The remaining, western portion carried 72,000 passengers in fiscal 2008, making it Amtrak’s least popular long-distance train.

The most popular long-distance route, the Empire Builder that links Chicago with the Pacific Northwest, had 554,000 riders.

The railroad already was discussing whether to discontinue the eastern portion of the Sunset Limited when Hurricane Katrina struck in August 2005, The Associated Press reported.

Of course, Amtrak ridership has been surging since the closure. I think a well- managed return for the service might very well be a success. What do you all think? Should it be brought back?

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42 Responses

  1. greg says:

    a resounding YES! There should be passenger train service between NOL and JAX whether it is the Sunset Limited or not!

  2. Don says:

    Most emphatically yes. The ridership numbers only tell part of the story. President Obama should consider the positive symbolism of restoring rail service from sea to shining sea. America badly needs a morale boost and a can-do example to offset the climate of defeatism that has afflicted the nation even before Hurricane Katrina.

  3. Yes, of course we should reopen the Susnset. But, none of this will make a hill of beans difference if they don’t fire over half of Amtrak upper management, if not all of them.
    You ride the trains and the people who work them are great, safe and accommodating. The upper management issues policy that will steal the rider blind or leave you stranded.
    Amtrak needs its own track.
    This country needs a completely dedicated National Passenger Rail System on the scale of the Interstates initiative started by Eisenhower. North to South / Coast to Coast.
    Had we had such a system in place when Katrina hit Mississippi and the Corps levees failed in New Orleans, that whole story would have gone differently.
    For me an independent National Passenger Rail System is an absolute no-brainer. Whether Amtrak is allowed to run it is the biggest stumbling block I can see.

    Thank you,
    Editilla~New Orleans Ladder

  4. MadPark says:

    Yes, as a part of a major restructuring under a new corporate entity, this train should return. Amtrak as we have known it has failed miserably by nearly every measure and must be replaced by a transportation and hospitality business entity operating long distance trains, NOT an endless money sink w/ eyes on the Northeast Corridor only.

  5. Amtrak never publishes the whole truth about their ridership figures and I don’t trust those given here. In fact, if my experience, actually riding the train a lot, is worth anything, most of those 37K riders from east of NO, went through NO, at least as far as Houston, many on to SanAntonio, so If 72K rode it west of NO, I would say that not more than 40K of those were independent of East of NO.

    It is absurd to compare this train (3 day a week) with the EPB, 7 days a week service, and a split to both Seattle & Portland meaning that the EPB always carried at least one more sleeper and one more coach. Capacity was great, ergo, ridership was greater.

    Amtrak conveniently dismissed the fact that they always robbed the Sunset of equipment, when they had something broken elsewhere requiring a SuperLiner.

    Lastly, CSX maintenance accounted for the loss of one trip a week through most of the first half of 2004, and 2005 with no alternate transportation provided. When CSX needs a maintenance window, they should be required to pay for the cost of alternate transportation, not Amtrak.

  6. Jonathon says:

    Absolutely bring it back! Waiting patiently to take my family on a classic trainride to the West. Ridiculous that there is no coast to coat rail in the USA anymore.

  7. Pensacola Commute says:

    Yes. Gas will never be at $1.50 again. Interstates continue to be exhausting and dangerously overcrowded with dense single rider cars and freight traffic. Airports and airlines are log-jammed with flight routes being cut back all the time making the security waits and the bag restrictions hardly worth the total travel time. The investments made in the Gulf Coast following the 2004 & 2005 Hurricane Seasons along with the industrial growth of the region dictate an increased availability of affordable mass transit. Trains are it! Any pre-2005 argument for keeping the line suspended are no longer valid. An airline or car trip from Biloxi, Mobile or Pensacola to Jacksonville and Orlando is an study in inefficiency and diminishing returns for any business traveler.

    So, yes, the Sunset Limited Rail Service from New Orleans-Biloxi-Mobile-Pensacola-Panama City-Tallahassee(State Capitol of the 4th most populous state)-Jacksonville-Orlando should be restored!!

  8. Richard Bent says:

    Without a doubt Sunset Limited service should not only be restored coast to coast but daily service should be reinstated. All of the correct reasons have been posted above. The line has had good on time performance because of track improvement. However until it runs as a daily, it has no chance of providing the service that is actually needed in those areas now going without service.!

  9. Robert Mann says:

    I don’t support the non-rail planners idea of restoring this train from New Orleans to Orlando, passing through the Florida panhandle and Gulf Coast in the dead of night. Not planning on USE of Jacksonville Terminal (which is to be rebuilt for rail) is simple neglect.

    On the other hand “THE GULF WIND” running from New Orleans to Jacksonville in the daylight would do great as a short Amtrak mini-corridor route. One flagship train could carry the connecting Sunset sleepers and/if the Baton Rouge-Dallas train comes on, a through sleeper to DFW as well. These cars could be switched into the regular “Silver Service” Florida trains at Jacksonville Terminal.

    Moreover there is also plenty of room for a Jax-Tallahassee-Pensacola day train or RDC service. A Pensacola – New Orleans – Houston day train or RDC would also work well.

    For Amtrak or Rail Passenger Service is to move foward, we need to look back to the days of flagship streamliners and take notes.

  10. Will Vierling says:

    Yes! Anything Amtrak can do to add more service, establish more connections, and look more appealing would be great!

    Robert Mann, why do you think it’s a bad idea to have the Sunset Limited pass through the Gulf Coast in the dead of night?

  11. Robert Mann says:

    Will Vierling, I don’t think it would be bad to terminate it in Mobile or Pensacola provided it could be done before midnight. The Gulf Coast Cities are more then large enough to support several trains including night trains.

    The problem comes about when you have only a single train to offer. Then you must consider the population density of the route served and frankly anything but daily isn’t “SERVICE”.

    Between Pensacola – Tallahassee – Jacksonville the tracks cross the Northern half of the Florida Panhandle. Density? Except for the three cities mentioned above, there isn’t any population for over 300 miles.

    With such low density, the potential ridership drops off the map. Add to that a crazy schedule that passes these small towns in the dead of night and you get NOTHING (or next to nothing).

    This is why I WOULD support fast frequent daylight service between Jacksonville and New Orleans. It’s at a time that the small town folk are moving about and much more likely to board a train then they are at 2 AM.

    JACKSONVILLE: Is working on moving Amtrak back into Jacksonville Terminal (the last great railroad station in the South). Since all routes converge in Jacksonville, the Gulf Wind or Sunset (if we must) can forward cars south on the regular Amtrak Silver Service NY-FL South of Jax. Far from being a time consuming barrier, the State is back on Track to get the FLORIDA EAST COAST reopened for passengers. So a single Gulf Wind train could forward cars South through Florida on 3 different routes.

    Bodda Biff – Now your Gulf Coast train serves not just North Florida or Orlando, rather all three routes to Miami – Orlando – Tampa – (and watch for Ft. Myers / Sarasota (also on the state drawing board). As is a 5 train daily service between: Jax – Miami (via CSX “S” line), 5 daily between: Jax – Tampa (via CSX “A” line) , 5 daily on the FEC Jax – Miami, and 5 daily Tampa – Miami

    BOB

  12. Jim Horton says:

    Nice conversation and ideas. I would love to take the train from Fort Lauderdale to Pensacola through Jax if necessary—even if it takes 2 days. That is what I do in my car, instead of covering 650 miles driving in one day. Of course I am retired. It would also spur me on to visit New Orleans in the same trip.

    Jim Horton

  13. John says:

    Yes, most definately. I find it crazy how people that want to go from Florida to New Orleans have to go all the way up to DC just to get there. It’s alot of extra money spent and I’m pretty sure that people would just take a plane, which obviously lose rider interest.

    I also read somewhere that “Amtrak’s failure to restore the train is not lawful. Amtrak never served the legally-mandated six months notice on the affected states.”

    Besides, having that it one of the basic parts of the Amtrak network.

  14. Earl H. Minor says:

    14. Minor- May 31, 2009

    Yes I agree 100%. The Sunset Limited should be restored. It is a
    shame this part of the country do not have passagener service. I
    have always travel by train. But, when I get ready to go to Los Angelas
    I have to go to New Orleans from Mobile, Al. to catch the train. The
    route should be restored as soon as posible. I understand the Vice
    President is a train rider too. To the senior citizens thats the way some
    of us like to travel.

  15. Gulf says:

    WHY???? They were never really interested in serving the Gulf Coast any
    way and used the hurricane as an excuse to close up shop.

  16. Ocklawaha says:

    My whole point about the overnight service from NOL – JAX is due to a combination of population density and distance. The best example I could imagine would be if we were to all chip in and buy a new 30 passenger jet aircraft for this same route. So about SUNSET the jet will take off and fly to Tallahassee, then JAX, then Orlando. By the time it turns and services in Orlando, it is midnight. So again we launch for JAX, then Lake City, Tallahassee, Quincy, Crestview, Pensacola, Mobile and finally about daylight we touchdown in MSY (NOL). I could think a 1,000 reasons why this new multi-million dollar airline would fail. NO ONE WANTS TO FLY INTO Quincy at 2:45 AM. Trains have a “prime time” just as does TV, Sports etc. and most anyone can see that prime time is not “RED EYE TIME,” EVER!

    The concept of taking the Sunset beyond Jacksonville to Orlando is just a modern version of the “Non-Stop” mentality at Amtrak. Don’t want to split trains? Don’t want to add or drop specialty cars enroute? The ability of trains to split or rejoin anywhere along the route is a trump card that AMTRAK should employ as it is one of the primary strong points in railroadology.

    Amtrak never gave the 6 month notice because Katrina didn’t give New Orleans – Mobile a like warning. I believe that Mother Nature will always have the ability to laugh at mankinds accomplishments. Since the “Sunset Limited” has been ground into dust, why not reopen with a daylight, pocket streamliner? New Image, new brand, new name, new times, and new plans for SOUTH FLORIDA.

    With all new equipment, let the road show begin. Bus loads of school kids, parents, teachers, heading for Mobile Bay, Sailors shipping out to Jacksonville. Visit the articles on the Sunset at:

    http://jacksonvilletransit.blogspot.com/search/label/Sunset%20Limited

    You might also visit the Jacksonville Terminal storys and you’ll understand the advantages Amtrak wants to ignore:

    http://jacksonvilletransit.blogspot.com/search/label/Jacksonville%20Terminal%20Company

    Enjoy, OCKLAWAHA

  17. jim wertz says:

    Face it, public transportation is a joke in the USA. Greyhound has cut many smaller cities and only runs a reduced route. Nicaragua has better public transportationn than the USA. We need to admit it is a failure in the USA and sell Amtrack equipment to Canada or Europe.

  18. C. Reid says:

    Absolutely! Travelling by train is an excellent method of transportation (known by those who travel by train) and it is highly under rated. Managed and promoted properly, it could parlay beautifully with the tourism industry throughout the Gulf Coast, the promotion of historic downtown Pensacola, the future Maritime Park, and the relationship between our southern cities. The population of the greater Pensacola area is growing, and the rail would compliment the direction in which it is heading. How about taking a look at why the rail system is so successful abroad? Our system can be adapted to suit the needs of today.

  19. abramv says:

    The NO-Gulfport-Mobile-Pensacola corridor is comparable to many portions of the “greater northeast” (e.g. SC to ME), and has a greater population than the Boston-Portland “Downeaster” run, which merits five trains a day.

    But these trains are financed by their respective states. Actually, *every* decent regional service outside the NEC is mostly financed by the respective states; Amtrak is just a convenient means of operating them. And (correct me if I’m wrong) neither LA, MS, AL, or FL have ever directed state funds to the Jacksonville-New Orleans corridor.

    Why is this a problem? Because it actually costs a lot more to staff, maintain, and insure depots and stations than it does to operate a thrice-weekly train. That’s why Amtrak will actually add stops to a route – provided the local town builds and maintains the station. That’s why in places like Oregon/Washington/North Carolina, the station infrastructure is often owned by the state department of transportation.

    If the eastern gulf states were already paying for 3 or 4 local trains per day, it would be quite easy to overlay the Sunset Limited on that existing infrastructure. But since none of the states are paying for anything, all that infrastructure cost and liability goes straight to Amtrak.

    Even if Amtrak did “restore” the Sunset east of NO, without state funding it would be a thrice-weekly train serving a slew of depressing Amshacks. Think local. Forget your national legislators; make noise to your state representatives, since they can fund regional Amtrak services with the stroke of a pen.

    There’s no reason the Gulf Coast doesn’t merit a service on par with Cascades/Surfliner/California/Hiawatha/Downeaster/NC trains. You just have to be willing to pay for it.

  20. Christophe Beaverhousen says:

    I started all my domestic travel in the US via Train back in 1990.

    I find it a stress free, convenient, and beautiful scenic way of traveling.

    In most cases it is less time consuming and less expensive then flaying or driving.

    I miss the sunset limited line terribly.

    Rail travel is the most eco;ogical,economical safest way to travel/

  21. Anonymous says:

    If they could arrange for the train to stop in Tallahassee at a reasonable hour rather than at 2:00 AM they might improve ridership.
    – train service from Tally to Jax Airport would be nice!
    – train over in the AM and back after dinner would be nice!

    But let’s face it – Florida is broke!

  22. Tony says:

    I want to go from St. Louis to Jacksonville, FL.. Going through DC is a bad option. When will amtrak WAKE UP AND OPEN THE nor to JAX line?

  23. rozina says:

    Yes of course reopen it. We need to get people off the roads and less air traffic. In Europe you can go anywhere almost by train. Why is America so behind the times and yet thinks it is the leader of the free world. We are loosing ground every which way and travel is just another way. Lets cut carbon emissions, get green, get less congestion and open us ways for people to move around this great country efficiently and quickly.

    Government and Amtrak get it together, wake up and smell the polution.

  24. Rman says:

    Of course we need a train that runs from coast to coast. Also the train should go north after jacksonville and and head to Washington D.C. Conecting Washington D.C. To the pacific.

  25. Jasper McMillan says:

    Amtrak has no intention of returning service to the Emerald Coast. If you check, you will discover that service had been unofficially canceled prior to Katrina. The storm was just a pretext for Amtrak to do what it longed to do anyway……shut down service. The excuse that Service between New Orleans and Jacksonville was a money losing service, does not wash. Almost all passenger train service worldwide is subsidized by the governmments involved. Passenger trains are part of this countrys infrastucture and should not be viewed as a “for profit” venture. One of the readers was correct in his assessment that Amtrak Corp officers need to be replaced. A better idea would be to sit down with a third party, possibly European, to discuss an alternative to Amtrak. What we need is another passenger train company in the U.S. Amtrak has a strangle hold on the passenger train industry which has produced an arrogant attitude within the company where passenger needs are totally ignored in favor of Corporate desires. Our leadership in the state capitol are also guilty of almost totally ignoring West Florida in favor of its population between Jacksonville and Miami. Pensacola/Milton have been and continue to sit on the back burner as an after-thought. Passenger train service between New Orleans and Jacksonville is sadly a thing of the past. Without an alternative to Amtrak, we will not be using the Amtrak Station for anything other than a crew change for CSX crews or possibly a eatery with an excellent track side view of passing freight trains.

  26. L Shader says:

    I would like to explore options for travelling by train from Chicago to NO, then from NO to the Pensacola are, or points east. We are definitely looking forward to the day when the Sunset Limited exists again. I only recently found out that it does not exist currently.

  27. HENRY H FIELDS says:

    I use to ride the Sunset Limited from LA to Deland Fl often. As a retiree it was wonderful for Me. I met many foreign Tourists who enjoyed the scenery;however was annoyed because of the unannounced delays, just sitting in the middle of “no where”,and the train crew could not give a plausible explaination. Even so, they stated that they would do it again just for the great view.

  28. While I’d love to see the service between New Orleans and Florida return, another overnight terminates in Sanford or Orlando train will be a financial disaster.

    Flip the schedule through that sparsely populated panhandle in Florida to an all daylight train, and terminate it in JACKSONVILLE, where it could forward through cars to Miami and Tampa on an extended Palmetto.

    Visit our transit pages at:
    metrojacksonville.com

  29. Well, Robert’s plan has the problem that if you run it as an all daylight train, you will not arrive at the other end, until late anyway. And CSX has reduced maintenance on the line for the past 3 years so it will take a fortune now to rebuild it to passenger speeds. John Mica does not want the service, and Amtrak does not want to cross it’s money man, so don’t expect this service to return as long as John is in the Congress. As he is a decade younger than me, I have given up hope on it.

  30. Folks, when it comes to restoring passenger service along the Gulf Coast, the future is NOT with Amtrak. That part, is clear. Instead, residents along the affected portions need to press Congress to implement a public-private partnership for restoring NOL-ORL service.

    My own plan consists of the following:
    1. Amtrak would be STRIPPED of operating the Sunset Limited east of NOL by an act of Congress. Instead, a PPP involving the three hosts and a new operator would run the service
    2. The restored Sunset route would run daily
    3. The new entity would also run a complementary route that will serve the Sunset’s stops 12 hours later
    4. The Gulf Wind would be a HOS-ORL route
    5. Both trains would stop at the planned SunRail station in Orlando and would eventually be extended to Tampa
    6. There would be a daylight Panhandle route between JUT and Pensacola

    For more information on #1-5, go to http://myrailmusings.blogspot.com/2011/01/addendum-amtrak-and-ppp-routes.html for the schedule and
    http://myrailmusings.blogspot.com/2010/09/new-path-for-sunset-limited.html on why a PPP Sunset Limited makes much more sense than continuously begging Amtrak to restore the missing link.

    #6 is intended as a local service for Panhandle residents who may not be willing or able to use either the Sunset or Gulf Wind

  31. Well……its almost the end of September, 2011 and there is still no passenger train service in sight here in Pensacola. The formerly brand spanking new Amtrak station downtown is rotting away and will probably require major repair at this point before it can be used thus giving Amtrak another reason to continue to stall………still dont understand why it hasnt been turned into a nice eatery. I dont believe either will happen at this point. The station will continue to revert back to the earth from which it came, Freight trains will continue to rumble past in the dead of night and Amtrak will continue to pour most of its money into projects in the East and of course, California. Most of the deep south has been abandoned by passenger rail. A good case in point is Atlanta with its ONE Amtrak train!!! Mobile, the Gambling Casino’s along the Gulf Coast and other southern cities dont even exist on Amtrak maps….sad!!!

  32. Anonymous says:

    Earl H minor says

    Now more than ever the Sunset Limited route from New Orleans to Jacksonville, Fl. needs to be restored the way the
    airlines are chargeing you for everything. The senior need a
    break and the way the times are now.

  33. G. Sims says:

    YES this should be brought back. Many of the college students in pensacola, panama city, and other nearby areas dont have transportation to visit home (Winter Haven, Jacksonville, Lake Wales, Bartow, etc..) and they depend upon the train service to get them back and fourth. PLEASE bring our train route back ASAP..
    G. Sims

  34. MC CJ says:

    I just hope the Sunset Limited itself survives if Congress cut’s Amtrak’s budget or the train will be gone before it can even go East of NOL. Looking how CSX will no longer own the tracks from Deland all the way to Orlando this will help the Sunset to a degree. Since I’ve heard CSX rarely uses part of the line the Sunset Limited once ran I think Amtrak or FDOT should buy the tracks from CSX and improve them.

  35. Frank says:

    Yes, I must agree.

    Sense September 11th 2001., it has gotten worst traveling by Air. first the show person and then the weirdo in Detroit.
    Fact remains. business people depend on Stupid Airplanes for their travels. as fair as being like i.e. France for High-Speed. the USA does not have under or over passes to Railway Tracks, to prevent Idiots anti Amtrak to crash into it.

    I, too am forced to drive across this country, due to late Trains. and only one choice.

    Not enough Funds for Amtrak to build more Rail Cars.
    and cut back Employees working on board.
    Therefore, making it unpleasant and noisy and rude passengers making noise after 10 pm until 7 am in the sleeper cars.

  36. Frank says:

    p.s. I met to say that some wired person in London was causing trouble with their shoes. which London has had their share of Terrorist before and Post 911. Therefore, because of the world wide Terrorist. Air Travel was necessary getting more Strict.

  37. dorance mosley says:

    Yes I think it should come back and travel to Miami

  38. Patrick Gray says:

    Sunset Limited, in addition to restoring passenger rail service, would also enable an east-west evacuation mode for its locations between New Orleans and Jacksonville.
    Dr. Gray

  39. Evan Stair says:

    Why do the people of north Florida refuse to acknowledge the findings of Amtrak’s congressionally mandated study? Amtrak has chosen to make a business case against restoring passenger rail services through their Gulf Coast Service Plan Report. Simply put the statement says, “Do not covet our annual federal appropriation.”

    Amtrak’s message is simple. If Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana want Sunset Limited passenger rail service restored, they are going to have to find a way to fund it. Those who thought Congress was actually starting to clamp down on Amtrak and those who designed Section 226 within PRIIA did not foresee the loopholes left for Amtrak in the text of the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (Section B, Amtrak):

    SEC. 226. PLAN FOR RESTORATION OF SERVICE.
    Within 9 months after the date of enactment of this Act, Amtrak shall transmit to the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure of the House of Representatives and the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation of the Senate a plan for restoring passenger rail service between New Orleans, Louisiana, and Sanford, Florida. The plan shall include a projected timeline for restoring such service, the costs associated with restoring such
    service, and any proposals for legislation necessary to support such restoration of service. In developing the plan, Amtrak shall consult with representatives from the States of Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida, railroad carriers whose tracks may be used for such service, rail passengers, rail labor, and other entities as appropriate.

    1) Amtrak does not do anything on a nine-month timeline. It took them two years to complete the Kansas City – Wichita – Oklahoma City – Ft. Worth study. So right off the bat, unregulated Amtrak decided they would get even with those who asked their corporation to act in such a quick fashion. STRIKE 1.

    2) This section did not require Amtrak to study restoration of the full Sanford, FL – Los Angeles Sunset Limited. It only stated that it should study restoration of service between Sanford, Florida and New Orleans. Bad move? Loophole? Well, the Sunset Limited was a tri-weekly dog before Hurricane Katrina. However; the text was too vague as to what the Congresspersons who drafted this text really wanted. Never give Amtrak a chance to ‘think.’ Give them a list of requirements and expect sticker shock. STRIKE 2

    3) This section required that Amtrak tell Congress how long it was going to take to restore the service. Bad move. They should have provided a ‘reasonable’ amount of time and forced it on Amtrak. Amtrak found every conceivable reason to add time to the restoration schedule. STRIKE 3 – 1 OUT!

    4) This section required that Amtrak propose legislation. Bad move. Why are the lawmakers asking Amtrak to propose legislation? Are the legislators not qualified to do this themselves? Is Amtrak a lawmaking body? Remember that there are three basic bodies that can create legislation: Congress, the various state legislatures, and even municipalities. STRIKE 1

    5) This section required Amtrak to consult with representatives from… Bad move. “Representative” here is a nebulous term. Who are these “representatives?” Congresspersons? legislators? mayors? city councils? chambers of commerce? rail advocacy organizations? the postman? Lady GaGa? STRIKE 2

    6) Simply put, those Congresspersons who inserted this legislation within what is commonly known as the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act (PRIIA) dropped the ball. There was no follow-up federal legislation, based upon Amtrak’s findings, to fund the restoration. Amtrak knows no shame. It does not mind begging for money from any entity it encounters. Its statutory monopoly status does not require it to compete with other rail carriers. STRIKE 3 – 2 OUTS!

    You have to go back to the pre-Katrina Sunset Limited. Amtrak, the CSX, and NS wanted out of the operation because it was a tri-weekly dog. It ran horribly late. Not even the pre-Amtrak railroads attempted such a true Transcontinental operation. At no time in the nation’s history has such a long operation made sense.

    What might make sense today is to track down these Congresspersons and ask them some pointed questions:

    1) Now that you have the Gulf Coast Study what are you going to do?

    2) Now that the study has been released why not consider another carrier if the costs are too high?

    3) Why not force the CSX and NS to operate this passenger train through PRIIA Section 214?

    SEC. 214. ALTERNATE PASSENGER RAIL SERVICE PILOT PROGRAM.
    (a) IN GENERAL.—Chapter 247, as amended by section 210, is amended by adding at the end thereof the following:
    ‘‘§ 24711. Alternate passenger rail service pilot program
    ‘‘(a) IN GENERAL.—Within 1 year after the date of enactment of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008, the Federal Railroad Administration shall complete a rulemaking
    proceeding to develop a pilot program that—
    ‘‘(1) permits a rail carrier or rail carriers that own infrastructure over which Amtrak operates a passenger rail service route described in subparagraph (B), (C), or (D) of section 24102(5) or in section 24702 to petition the Administration to be considered as a passenger rail service provider over that route in lieu of Amtrak for a period not to exceed 5 years after the date of enactment of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008;
    ‘‘(2) requires the Administration to notify Amtrak within 30 days after receiving a petition under paragraph (1) and establish a deadline by which both the petitioner and Amtrak would be required to submit a bid to provide passenger rail service over the route to which the petition relates; ‘‘(3) requires that each bid describe how the bidder would operate the route, what Amtrak passenger equipment would be needed, if any, what sources of non-Federal funding the bidder would use, including any State subsidy, among other things; ‘‘(4) requires the Administration to select winning bidders by evaluating the bids against the financial and performance metrics developed under section 207 of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 and to give preference in awarding contracts to bidders seeking to operate routes that have been identified as one of the five worst performing Amtrak routes under section 24710; ‘‘(5) requires the Administration to execute a contract within a specified, limited time after the deadline established under paragraph (2) and award to the winning bidder— ‘‘(A) the right and obligation to provide passenger rail service over that route subject to such performance standards as the Administration may require, consistent with
    the standards developed under section 207 of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008; and ‘‘(B) an operating subsidy— ‘‘(i) for the first year at a level not in excess of the level in effect during the fiscal year preceding the fiscal year in which the petition was received, adjusted for inflation; ‘‘(ii) for any subsequent years at such level, adjusted for inflation; and ‘‘(6) requires that each bid contain a staffing plan describing the number of employees needed to operate the service, the job assignments and requirements, and the terms of work for prospective and current employees of the bidder for the service outlined in the bid, and such staffing plan be made available by the winning bidder to the public after the bid award. ‘‘(b) ROUTE LIMITATIONS.—The Administration may not make the program available with respect to more than 2 Amtrak intercity passenger rail routes. ‘‘(c) PERFORMANCE STANDARDS; ACCESS TO FACILITIES; EMPLOYEES.—If the Administration awards the right and obligation to provide passenger rail service over a route under the program to a rail carrier or rail carriers— ‘‘(1) it shall execute a contract with the rail carrier or rail carriers for rail passenger operations on that route that conditions the operating and subsidy rights upon— ‘‘(A) the service provider continuing to provide passenger rail service on the route that is no less frequent, nor over a shorter distance, than Amtrak provided on that route before the award; and ‘‘(B) the service provider’s compliance with the minimum standards established under section 207 of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 and such additional performance standards as the Administration
    may establish; ‘‘(2) it shall, if the award is made to a rail carrier other than Amtrak, require Amtrak to provide access to its reservation system, stations, and facilities directly related to operations to any rail carrier or rail carriers awarded a contract under this section, in accordance with section 217 of that Act, necessary to carry out the purposes of this section; ‘‘(3) the employees of any person used by a rail carrier or rail carriers (as defined in section 10102(5) of this title) in the operation of a route under this section shall be considered an employee of that carrier or carriers and subject to the applicable Federal laws and regulations governing similar crafts or classes of employees of Amtrak, including provisions under section 121 of the Amtrak Reform and Accountability Act of 1997 relating to employees that provide food and beverage service; and ‘‘(4) the winning bidder shall provide hiring preference to qualified Amtrak employees displaced by the award of the
    bid, consistent with the staffing plan submitted by the bidder
    and shall be subject to the grant conditions under section
    24405 of this title. ‘‘(d) CESSATION OF SERVICE.—If a rail carrier or rail carriers awarded a route under this section cease to operate the service or fail to fulfill their obligations under the contract required under subsection (c), the Administrator, in collaboration with the Surface Transportation Board, shall take any necessary action consistent with this title to enforce the contract and ensure the continued provision of service, including the installment of an interim service provider and re-bidding the contract to operate the service. The entity providing service shall either be Amtrak or a rail carrier defined in subsection (a)(1).
    ‘‘(e) ADEQUATE RESOURCES.—Before taking any action allowed under this section, the Secretary shall certify that the Administrator has sufficient resources that are adequate to undertake the program established under this section.’’.
    (b) REPORT.—Within 1 year after the conclusion of the pilot
    program established under subsection (a), the Federal Railroad Administration shall submit to the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure of the House of Representatives and the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation of the Senate a report on the results on the pilot program established under section 24711, and any recommendations for further action. (c) CONFORMING AMENDMENT.—The chapter analysis for chapter 247, as amended by section 210, is amended by inserting after the item relating to section 24710 the following: ‘‘24711. Alternate passenger rail service pilot program.’’.

    Will the Sunset Limited debacle ever be adequately addressed by Congress and Amtrak? I doubt it. Amtrak has had its say and proven that it thinks clearer than Congress. It is an unregulated monopoly. It can get away with what it chooses. Until the nation decides it needs passenger rail, the Sunset Limited will remain a literal footnote in Amtrak’s timetables, “Service To Be Determined.”

    Evan Stair

  40. Nice summary Evan!

    The GULF WIND ROUTE from Jacksonville to NORL does have a couple of HUGE and growing, unlikely allies:

    1. The price of gas will hit $5.00 a gallon by the end of summer; this will be a bell ringer from the lowliest village clerk to the desk of the President… In an election year.

    2. There is a likelihood as one of America’s fastest growing and largest states, that the ultra-conservative anti-rail right will crumble within the next few State election cycles. The day that that happens, Florida will gladly join CA, NC, OR, WA, IL, NY, ME, VA, OK, etc. in getting on the right track.

    Frankly, I agree that a coast-to-coast train is a beast to handle on any railroad that does not and cannot control it’s own daily train operations. As long as Amtrak is subject to CSX, UP and CN’s blatant anti passenger bias. (UP recently killed the Amtrak plan to take the LA-NORL Sunset daily by stating they will charge $1 Billion + per year.) Passenger trains should be given ABSOLUTE PRIORITY, delayed only for the benefit of national defense, humanitarian, or presidential specials.

    For those with an interest in the eternal “Don Quixotic” pursuit, Allow me to share a bit of what I’m working on here in the Jacksonville area, is getting:

    Amtrak back downtown in the original Terminal Station.

    Getting Jacksonville Commuter Rail/Streetcar up and running.

    Seeing logical, rapid development of the Florida East Coast Ry corridor.

    Extending Amtrak’s Palmetto, running overnight Jax-Miami/Tampa.

    Additional daily round-trip train running NYC-DC-Lynchburg-Charlotte-Columbia-Savannah-Jacksonville- Miami / Orlando – Tampa.

    Development of a coalition to promote and develop a recreation of the old Royal Palm/Ponce De Leon route, Miami / Orlando / Tampa / JAX-Valdosta-Macon-Atlanta-Chattanooga-Knoxville-Cincinnati / Chicago-Indianapolis-Cincinnati / Detroit-Toledo-Cincinnati / Cleveland-Columbus-Cincinnati (train would split 3 ways north of Cincinnati and 2 ways south of Jacksonville)

    Development of a coalition to promote and develop a recreation of a modified City Of Miami route. Chicago / St. Louis / Memphis-Birmingham-Columbus-Valdosta-Jacksonville / Miami / Orlando-Tampa.

    Extension of the Southeast High Speed Rail Line, from Savannah to Jacksonville via the former Seaboard Airline Railway coastal Route.

    Visit these subjects and more at metrojacksonville.com

  41. Nathanael says:

    Here’s the thing: Amtrak does not want to restart a triweekly dog. CSX is unwilling to entertain a daily train without a big bribe. The federal government has been taking over by “austerity”-mad lunatics.

    You want a train back from New Orleans to Jacksonville…. you have to get your state governments to start offering money. Or, you could start electing Democrats to Congress.

  42. jumelle says:

    I am English, but my family is from the Gulf Coast, not far from Pensacola. I was considering travelling the east coast of the US for a month next year, but want to visit my family there. Since I’ve learned there’s now no rail road, I’ll either have to fly (expensive) or get the Greyhound which, as someone above mentioned, can be unreliable. Brilliant. I get trains all the time here in the UK – quick and easy to use – and I’m about to travel across Europe by train. Even Eastern Europe (e.g. Poland) has better train services!

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