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Monday, October 05, 2009

Amtrak chooses St. Augustine, Fla., site for terminal

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Passenger-rail giant Amtrak has selected a site at the end of Malaga Street, across U.S. 1 and north and west of the Main Fire Station in St. Augustine, Fla., as the site where a new railroad passenger terminal should be built, local media report.

Vice Mayor Errol Jones said that there once was a Flagler-era station near that spot.

"I definitely felt that the station should be down here, not up at the airport," Jones said. "It made sense to place it within the city itself."

When completed, the $120-million passenger rail project will cover 326 miles of Florida's east coast, between Jacksonville and Miami, providing rail service to 11 counties and 8.3 million Floridians.

Mark Knight, the city's director of planning and building, said the Florida Department of Transportation told him that federal stimulus money could be available, but, if not, the DOT would fund the project. Knight helped coordinate Northeast Florida cities and counties for the Amtrak project.

The application for Recovery Act stimulus money was sent Oct. 2. The award should be announced next month and arrive in December or January.

"We'll have a manned station," Knight said. "Earlier Amtrak said our station would be unmanned, but they just told us we'll be one of the two manned stations from here to Cocoa. It'll be a (full) train station, not just a stop on the road."

Knight said the DOT will construct the station, St. Augustine will maintain it and Amtrak will run the trains and station.

Amtrak documents said, "Early ridership forecasts indicate up to 250,000 annual riders for this service."

Passenger train service could start in October 2012.

St. Augustine City Commissioner Nancy Sikes-Kline, a member of the North Florida Transportation Planning Organization, said the last regular service on that corridor ended in 1968.

"Rail is part of our future to reduce our dependence on foreign oil," she said.

It will also greatly relieve traffic on Interstate 95.

A regular trip from Jacksonville to Miami will take six hours, Amtrak said.

Proposed new stations include: St. Augustine, Daytona Beach, Titusville, Cocoa, Melbourne, Vero Beach, Fort Pierce and Stuart. Existing stations include: Jacksonville, West Palm Beach, Delray Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Hollywood and Miami.