Sunset Limited Coming Back to Florida?

sunsetlimited_mapThere are some unfathomable things about Amtrak and the way it operates—or doesn’t— that drives many of us crazy. Like the apparent lack of enthusiasm for restoring the Sunset Limited’s route between New Orleans and Orlando.
That’s been a sore subject ever since Hurricane Katrina struck almost a decade ago. A lot of the railroad track east of New Orleans was damaged or washed out, and all railroad traffic—freight as well as passenger—was affected. The track has long since been repaired and, in some locations, moved farther inland. Still, Amtrak has shown no inclination to restore that service and, if there has ever been a credible reason given for not doing so, I sure haven’t seen it.
But a week or so ago, the House—Yes, that House!—tacked a provision onto its version of the Amtrak funding bill. It calls for a study to determine the feasibility of having Amtrak restore the Sunset’s Florida-New Orleans service. Or maybe something even better!
The Sunset Limited operates just three days a week between New Orleans and Los Angeles. That was also the frequency over the Florida route before Katrina. Everyone knows a schedule like that sucks. After all, there’s a four-out-of-seven chance it won’t be running on the day you want to travel.
So, while one option is certainly to restore the thrice-weekly Sunset service, another idea has surfaced and has gained plenty of supporters: a daily all-coach train!
Depending on where in Florida the train would originate—Jacksonville or Orlando—it would be a trip of 550 or 700 miles to New Orleans, which could be done in 12-15 hours. So a train leaving Jacksonville at 7:30 in the morning would end its journey in New Orleans before 10:00 p.m. … still time to have a couple of drinks and hear some great jazz. And, if the timing is right, you could catch the westbound Sunset the next morning en route to Houston or San Antonio or even L.A. What’s not to like about that?
Answer? Not a thing! It would be a popular service with ridership at least three times what the Sunset had over that segment. And it’s one of the options being considered by the Southern Rail Commission, an organization of elected officials and business leaders from towns and cities all across the Southern tier of the country. NARP is right in there, too, of course, and we’re all waiting for the study to be made and then to learn why Amtrak doesn’t think it’s a good idea and how many gazillion dollars CSX will demand to run the train over its tracks.
But here’s the thing: It’s needed. People will ride it. And we ain’t gonna go away!