AMTRAK – FEC passenger rail chugs along

St. Augustine City Commissioner Nancy Sikes-Kline reported to Historic City News an encouraging update for those readers following the return of passenger rail service through a proposed partnership between AMTRAK and the Florida East Coast Railway.

According to a just-released Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act study, AMTRAK has rated the proposal as “the most promising initiative for expansion” in Amtrak’s long-distance evaluations to date.

The Act, adopted in 2008, directed AMTRAK to review all its routes nationwide.

The Florida East Coast Railway connects Jacksonville and Miami via the population centers on the eastern coast of Florida. It was historically the primary passenger rail route between Jacksonville and Miami.

“AMTRAK service for the City of St Augustine would greatly benefit our local economy,” Sikes-Kline told Historic City News. “We have more than six million annual visitors now and anticipate more in the 450th anniversary celebration years, and after; so, we have a responsibility to think now in terms of improving our transportation infrastructure for movement in and out of the region.”

St. Augustine is one of eight cities along the east coast FEC corridor that stands to gain a station stop located at US-1 and San Marco Avenue in north city, Sikes-Kline said.

There are obstacles that stand in the way of immediate reinstatement of passenger service, which was terminated in the mid 1960’s.

The good news is that the State of Florida’s current capital budget includes funding for investments to restore passenger rail service on the Florida East Coast Railway route.

The State has also committed to working with AMTRAK to secure enactment of an amendment to Florida law that would allow the Florida Department of Transportation to enter into a liability apportionment agreement acceptable to AMTRAK.

The study goes on to indicate AMTRAK will continue to work with the State of Florida, including the Florida East Coast Railway, municipalities along the Florida East Coast Railway route and other stakeholders, to pursue efforts to bring AMTRAK service to Florida’s East Coast.

The proposed Florida East Coast Railway route is shorter and faster than the current AMTRAK route through Orlando on CSX, and serves a significant intermediate travel market along Florida’s rapidly growing East Coast.

AMTRAK evaluated several alternatives for extending or routing existing Silver Service trains over the Florida East Coast. Preliminary analyses suggest that the most promising alternative would be splitting the Silver Star at Jacksonville and operating a separate section of the train to Miami via the Florida East Coast Railway to supplement the Silver Star’s current Jacksonville-Tampa-Miami service.

Operating a section of the Silver Star over the Florida East Coast Railway is projected to attract over 100,000 new Silver Service riders and increase revenues by $7.9 million annually. Since projected revenues would slightly exceed the anticipated additional operating costs, the route’s financial performance would improve as well.

Photo credits: © 2011 Historic City News staff photographer

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