February 14, 2001 Your eyes weren't deceiving you. Yes, that was a passenger train rolling down the Florida East Coast Railway toward Miami, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reports. On May 1, the same train will return north to Jacksonville, this time filled with state and local officials who are pushing to return passenger service to the coastal tracks. Amtrak board chairman Tom Carper also is expected to be on board.
Officials say the
"test" runs will help them evaluate the feasibility of reintroducing
Amtrak service along the FEC corridor between West Palm Beach and Jacksonville.
Regular passenger service on Henry Flagler’s railroad was discontinued in 1968.
"We kind of have
everything in reverse," said Robert Friedman, a Jupiter councilor and
chairman of the Palm Beach County
Metropolitan Planning Organization. "Tri-Rail goes through the lesser
populated areas and the FEC runs through the heart of South Florida."
The Florida Department of
Transportation asked for $268 million in federal stimulus money for the project.
But the application wasn’t funded when the Obama administration announced the
grants in January.
The reason? "The
project was not sufficiently developed," said Nazih Haddad, chief
operating officer of the Florida Rail Enterprise, a division of the Department
Friedman said Saturday’s
train ride should demonstrate that the state is ready to move quickly with the
project. The state plans to reapply as soon as guidelines are released this
spring for the next round of funding. But unlike the first round of stimulus
money, which provided 100 percent federal funding, Haddad said, the next round
will require a 20 percent match.
The state wants to
upgrade the FEC, which now is used primarily for freight, into a line capable
of running Amtrak trains up to 90 mph between West Palm Beach and Jacksonville.
The money would be used to build stations in Stuart, Fort Pierce, Vero Beach,
Melbourne, Cocoa Beach, Titusville, Daytona Beach and St. Augustine; track
sidings so trains can pass each other; and a new crossover north of downtown
West Palm Beach that would allow Amtrak to switch between the FEC and the
western CSX Transportation tracks.
Amtrak currently runs on
the CSXT tracks, which veer inland at West Palm Beach en route to Orlando
before heading to Jacksonville. It takes nine hours to make that trip by train.
Four trains – two in each direction – run along that route at up to 79 mph. The
proposed service would run two trains in each direction, but at speeds of 90
mph, which would enable them to make the trip from Miami to Jacksonville in
about six hours.