Monday, December 17, 2012

Florida’s capital yearns for Sunset Limited

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Tallahassee, Fla., is urging Amtrak to restore passenger rail service to the state capital.

Service on Amtrak's Sunset Limited east of New Orleans was curtailed in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina inflicted extensive damage on rail rights-of-way skirting the Gulf Coast. The train also linked New Orleans with Pensacola and Jacksonville, Fla.

Tallahassee Mayor John Marks, backed by the Florida Coalition of Rail Passengers Association, is calling for resumption of service, and believes Amtrak, which has balked at the idea in recent years, may be shifting its stance.

"The focus has changed to the extent the focus is on economic development opportunities in various cities and how passenger rail can help those economic opportunities," Marks said to local media.

Restoring the Florida portion of a Sunset Limited also would re-establish Amtrak's only transcontinental train. Amtrak long-distance service relies heavily on Chicago as a hub station, requiring a transfer to and from trains originating on the U.S. East or West coasts.

But Amtrak and its supporters will need to fend off critics of passenger rail service who bemoan federal funding assistance to the national passenger carrier in general, and often to the Sunset Limited in particular.