Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Return of the Sunset? Or Something Even Better?

Until Hurricane Katrina, Amtrak’s Sunset Limited offered one-train service clear across the continent, between Orlando, Florida, and Los Angeles. But service east of New Orleans had to be suspended because that terrible storm washed out large sections of track in Mississippi and across the Florida Panhandle.

Those stretches of track have long since been repaired – and, in some cases moved farther inland – but Amtrak has never restored that part of the Sunset’s route. I was never aware of any official reason given, but I would assume it was because of insufficient ridership through that section.

However, included in the Amtrak funding bill that was passed by Congress last year was the stipulation that Amtrak had to study the feasibility of reinstating the Sunset’s New Orleans-Orlando segment.

That has been done, but now another idea has apparently surfaced: an entirely new train, quite separate from the Sunset, running on it’s own daily schedule between New Orleans and Florida, perhaps as far as Jacksonville.
This strikes me as a very good idea, because the Sunset only runs three days a week and its arrival and departure times along that stretch of the route were not terribly convenient. A new train would not be dictated by the Sunset’s three-days-a-week schedule and could be set at more convenient times. The only difference being that passengers traveling past New Orleans in either direction would have to change trains there. (Or spend a night … now there’s a happy thought!)
There's also some agitation being mounted for a Chicago-Florida train. There were several such trains operating between those destinations all through the 1930s and they were very popular.

Whichever way it shakes out – reinstating the original Sunset route or launching new trains – it will mean more and better passenger train service. And that will be a step or two in the right direction.


Christopher Parker said...

I'm afraid a New Orleans - Jacksonville train would be just a shadow of the potential of this route. I'm told that 46% of Sunset Limited riders east of New Orleans kept riding on in the direction of Houston. Likewise it would be crazy to stop short of Orland, the biggest travel draw in Florida.

JIM LOOMIS said...

Agreed. It's not really clear -- to me, anyway -- as to why ridership suffered on the Florida-New Orleans segment of the Sunset. I rode the train several times and there always seemed to be a decent number of passengers. Let us hope that serious thought is given to this and that good service is restored ... and sooner rather than later.

Print Man 2000 said...

Amtrak actually presented the idea of discontinuing the Sunset as we know it now. The proposal consists of running the Texas Eagle all the way Chicago-Los Angeles (not thru cars, the whole train). Then there would be a stub day train from San Antonio to New Orleans.