Hopes of restarting passenger rail service in North Florida could be doomed under the Trump Administration’s proposed budget. The plan would eliminate federal funding for Amtrak in the state. That’s a blow to local officials wanting to bring the service back to the Panhandle.
Florida’s railroads aren’t the lifelines they were in the 1900s. But many Panhandle officials are nostalgic for passenger trains, and think they would boost the area’s tourism economy. Chattahoochee City Manager Lee Garner says Amtrak could once again provide much needed long-distance transit for his town of 3,000.
“We don’t have the greyhound bus anymore that comes through here. We do have a limited Big Bend service transportation. But if you don’t have a car, you’re pretty well stuck,” Garner said.
Chattahoochee was one of the stops on the Sunset Limited line, which at one time ran from Los Angeles to Orlando. Garner says he’ll continue the push to restart the service.
“In the last couple years, we’ve really had lots of good meetings. And people have been…we’ve been very encouraged by the turnout that people come out that support this and want this service,” Garner said.
Hurricane Katrina, rising costs and dwindling ridership pushed Amtrak to shut down its line running from New Orleans to Jacksonville. Local officials from Pensacola to Jacksonville, as well as U.S. Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), have doubled down on promoting the service in recent years, in the hopes of luring the company back to the Panhandle. Amtrak is skeptical there’s enough interest to make restarting the service a viable option.
Under the current budget proposal, Florida's three existing lines would also be cut. The Auto Train, The Silver Meteor and the Silver Star all run daily, making stops in Miami, Tampa, and Orlando, and carrying passengers as far away as Virginia and New York.