There is no firm decision, but three options appear to be moving forward on restoring service fo east Florida and Orlando. Richard L. Wright was at a meeting in Birmingham and his report is included in full here with permission.
Amtrak Report On Possible Restoration of Passenger-Train Service Along the Gulf Coast Between New Orleans and Orlando:
They started out by stating that the Sunset Limited in the years it ran from LA to Miami/Orlando was a problem train in so far as performance (ridership, equipment and reliability).
They looked at a number of options starting with about 12 train combinations.
They considered times of day and directions of all the different trains.
They also said that there are those who would consider recommending a route change for the Florida service, i.e., serving Montgomery, etc. Research confirmed that was not a desirable consideration.
They assume all stations will be fixed up for Amtrak by owners.
They assume CSX cooperation.
After looking at 12 possibilities they narrowed it down to 3. These are:
1 – restoration of the Sunset as it was prior to Katrina
2 – a through train from Chicago to Orlando,
3 – a coordinated connector train from NOLA to Orlando.
These three options are being evaluated for overall potential performance, i.e., which would give greatest reliability and consistency in performance.
The primary reason for the problems with the original Sunset was essentially the extreme length of the route from LA to Orlando. Problems anywhere along the route impacted the entire route, i.e., a delay in Texas meant a passenger going from NOLA to Mobile was out of luck – no train. This scenario would play out dozens of times all along the route. This very problem is being carefully considered in looking at these three options. They want the option which will result in the fewest problems of this nature.
Before Katrina the Sunset carried about 16,000 – 17,000 passengers yearly between NOLA and Orlando. This is considered very poor. These are the figures with which Amtrak has to work.
It is estimated that options 2 & 3 would result in an increase in passenger count of about five fold – 50,000 – 100,000. There was a de facto realization that a return of the Sunset as was would result in far less of an increase in passenger load.
CSX must be brought on board.
PTC must be considered.
They are looking at possibilities on departure times from NOLA. It is felt that a 5 to 6 p.m. departure may be advantageous. They also looked at an early morning departure, but that would result in a night in NOLA. Some think that is beneficial while others don’t. It would result in a late-night arrival in Orlando which is considered an idea-killer at this time.
There is a realization that a daily train shows far better performance in all areas than a thrice-weekly train.
Equipment is a big problem at the current time. This is an ongoing study. Adding to the difficulty of finding equipment is that they are at this very time also looking at restoration of trains through Utah to Portland and through Montana to Seattle on two routes. The equipment needed has not been determined as the option has not been selected.
All cities on the former route will be contacted for their input on restoration of rail service.
There was no discussion of changes on the Sunset Limited between NOLA and LA. Todd said this discussion was for purposes of exploring passenger service east of NOLA to Florida.
Todd made it very clear that there is nothing final. No option has been selected. He made it clear that option 1 does indeed present the most problems, and by extension restoration of the Sunset Limited east of NOLA the least likely option.
Possibly the most challenging comment which Todd made at the very end, and emphasized is that there is no funding in place. Funding simply is not part of the study at this point.
He and the staff who are working on this study must report back to the Amtrak Board by mid June so time is short. The Board can accept their recommendation or send them back to the drawing board.
There is no estimate on a time frame of restoration of service for all the reasons presented.
Richard Wright – Gulf Breeze
The options under consideration are:
- Restoration of LA-Orlando service as previously operated.
- Operating a separate train east of New Orleans.
- Operating Chicago-Orlando.
These are tentative opinions and your input is requested and needed.
Option one seems the least likely. Running such a lengthy schedule is a nightmare for obvious reasons, as noted above.
Furthermore, operating daily LA-NO is probably a higher priority and suggests greater revenue opportunities.
Option 2 is good and might not require Superliner cars. I am no expert on Amtrak rolling stock, but I presume most of it (including newly repaired cars) is spoken for.
The third option had me quite confused at first, and Mr. Wright must think I am quite dim. The proposed solution would extend the City east after its mid-afternoon arrival. This also works in reverse. One advantage is a good arrival time in Mobile (my home town) each direction. This looks like the strongest possibility, but we are all held hostage by 30 years of bad federal policy and the death-of-a-thousand-cuts policy of the Bush administration.
It is a damn shame Amtrak does not have financial or rolling resources for a Chicago-Atlanta-Orlando service.
Of course, financial logistical and equipment concerns may continue delays.