Commentary by Anthony Lee and Photos by the author
Upgrading the Current Gulf Coast service
After reviewing the Gulf Commission’s report, some growth things should have been considered, or were not mentioned or discussed:
1) New thruway bus services and/or extending Amtrak’s Sunset Limited to Miami and the Palmetto to Jacksonville or Miami.
2) Adding Thruway bus service on the former Floridian route from Nashville (1.8 million), Birmingham (1.1 million), Dothan, (68,000), and Montgomery, (200,000) in Alabama, and Valdosta (56,000), Georgia. The new Amtrak/Greyhound station in Birmingham could be used to connect with the Sunset Ltd at Tallahassee.
3) Add Thruway buses connecting Jacksonville,FL (1.6 million) and Atlanta,GA (5.7 million) with the Silver Service at Jacksonville,FL, using existing Thruway bus service from Fort Myers. Adding a new Amtrak bus/train stop at West Mobile, AL and Southwest Jacksonville is a good idea.
4) Extending the Sunset Ltd and Palmetto to Miami instead of terminating the Sunset at Orlando, which would avoid conflict with Sunrail. Extending the Palmetto as an overnight train from Savannah and Charleston to Miami, and Sunset Ltd to Miami (5.7 million) would be the better option, by consolidating maintenance operations at Hialeah for Silver service trains and the Sunset Ltd. would eliminate a need for a service facility at Savannah, and create cruise ships connections at Jacksonville, Tampa, Port Canaveral, Port Everglades (Fort Lauderdale) and Port Miami and other cruise ports.
Reestablishing intercity passenger rail service along the Gulf Coast Corridor will have a challenge from discount buses and cheap airfare as well as the private automobile.
Potential ridership from casinos, military bases, and state colleges and universities between New Orleans and Florida hopefully will provide a market for the new services buses or trains.
Upgrading the Current Atlantic Coast Florida service
Amtrak currently handles over one million passengers a year between between the NEC and Florida.
1) To compete with cheap airfares, discount buses, and the I-95 highway corridor Amtrak needs to do several things, including restoring the dining car service to the Silver Star as soon as possible and add business class service to the Silver Service.
2) Timekeeping needs to improve for all of the Florida trains.
3) Restore amenities that were removed from the Auto Train. Add a seasonal second Auto train, leasing the auto carriers.
4) Add cars to the Silver Meteor that would connect to the Auto train at Lorton, VA and Stanford, FL.
5) Lease full length domes or dome cars (Washington D.C to Miami) for first class/business class passengers.
The Gulf Coast and Florida services should be served better, as they would generate more revenue from day one.