The Incredible Vanishing Passenger Train Rescue Act

October 7, 2008 12 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Many have heard of The Great Train Robbery, but not even Jessie James could have pulled this job off. With no Sheriff on the case, we are a state with as much promise as California, New York and Washington, but we continue to sit on our hands.

Trains have always been like cruise ships, each is unique and offers a different experience then another train on the same route. You don't hear many people get off the cruise and tell you, "Oh we took the cruise ship to the Virgin Islands and Cartegena. On the contrary, you will hear that "we took the SS Norway, or the Queen Mary II, or the .... (fill in the blank). Why? Because it means something to travelers over the water. On land until Amtrak stamped an ugly pointless arrow on everything, "GI ISSUE TRAINS" train travel was just as unique. It wasn't even that I took the Atlantic Coast Line, or the Seaboard Air Line, but that I took the ACL East Coast Champion. Understood in the railroaders lexicon as the equal of excellence, lux, service.

In 1970-71, this is the map of the last winter-spring of the great railroad flagship trains. Amtrak would take over and "rescue us" on May 1, 1971. One color per named train.  As you can see from the map above, even the week before Amtrak, Jacksonville Terminal was a busy place.


Now that the Florida market has turned into political cannon fodder, and the trains dissolved without even a note from our local media. I thought it would be interesting to play-out-loud and look at how bad it is since those last hours on the Seaboard Coast Line (SCL) system, before Amtrak took the trains and ran them off an invisible cliff. If this is Amtrak and FDOT's idea of a rescue, I'll take the wreck.

Below is a list of Jacksonville Terminal train schedules for the last winter season schedule folder ever published by a Florida Railroad. 

Boston - New York - Washington - Richmond - Raleigh - Columbia - Savannah - (via Yulee "S" line)  JACKSONVILLE - Ocala - Winter Haven - West Palm Beach - Miami
(Daily - both directions - 6:30 PM  WASHINGTON DC - 8:30 AM JACKSONVILLE  - 14 hours Washington DC - Jacksonville overnight running time)

Boston - New York - Washington - Richmond - Raleigh - Columbia - Savannah - (via Yulee "S" line) JACKSONVILLE - Ocala - Winter Haven - West Palm Beach - Miami / JACKSONVILLE - Orlando - Tampa - St. Petersburg
(Daily - both directions - 2:00 PM WASHINGTON DC - 4:15 AM JACKSONVILLE - 14.25 hours Washington DC - Jacksonville running time)

Boston - New York - Washington - Richmond - Fayetteville - Charleston - Savannah - Waycross - (via Waycross Air Line) JACKSONVILLE - Orlando - Lakeland - Tampa - St. Petersburg / Lakeland - Ft. Myers - Naples / Tampa - Sarasota - Venice / Waycross - Valdosta - Thomasville - Dothan - Montgomery
(Daily - both directions - 10:00 PM  RICHMOND VA - 9:45 AM JACKSONVILLE - 11.45 hours Richmond VA - Jacksonville running time)

BOston - New York - Washinton - Richmond - Fayetteville - Charleston - Savannah - (via Nahunta cut-off)
(Daily - both directions - 9:00 PM NEW YORK - 7:30 PM JACKSONVILLE - 22.30 hours, New York NY - Jacksonville running time)

Boston - New York - Washington - Richmond - Fayetteville - Charleston - Savannah - (via Nahunta cut-off)
(Daily - both directions - 11:00 PM JACKSONVILLE - 11:35 PM NEW YORK - 24.30 hours,Jacksonville - New York NY running time)

Chicago - Carbondale / St. Louis - Carbondale / Carbondale - Birmingham - Columbus - Albany - Tifton - Waycross - JACKSONVILLE - Orlando - Winter Haven - West Palm Beach - Miami / JACKSONVILLE - Gainesville - Ocala - Leesburg - Trilby - Tarpon Springs - St. Petersburg
(Every other day - Operates on ODD DATES both directions - 8:40 AM Chicago - 10:45 AM JACKSONVILLE - 26 hours Chicago - Jacksonville running time)

Chicago - Louisville - Nashville - Birmingham - Montgomery - Waycross - JACKSONVILLE - Orlando - Winter Haven - West Palm Beach - Miami / JACKSONVILLE - Gainesville - Ocala - Leesburg - Trilby - Tarpon Springs - St. Petersburg.
(Every other day - Operates on EVEN DATES both directions - 8:00 AM CHICAGO - 10:25 AM JACKSONVILLE -
26 Hours Chicago- Jacksonville running times)

San Francisco - Los Angeles - Phoenix - San Antonio - Houston - New Orleans / New Orleans - Mobile - Pensacola - Chattahoochee - Tallahassee - Lake City - Macclenny - JACKSONVILLE / (Service between Jacksonville - Gainesville - Ocala - Leesburg - St. Petersburg and between Jacksonville - Orlando - Winter Haven - West Palm Beach - Miami, provided by connections in Jacksonville with the South Wind-City of Miami)
(Serivce between San Francisco - Los Angeles - Houston - New Orleans, provided by connections in New Orleans with the Sunset Limited) NOTICE: Sleeping car passengers may occupy their rooms overnight in the New Orleans Union Station, until their connecting train is called.

SCL TRAIN NUMBERS 1 and 2, bypassed Jacksonville in their last winter season of operation. Once the Florida East Coast Railway went freight only, the Florida Special followed the Atlantic Coast Line route from New York City to Callahan, hence via the cut-off between Callahan and Baldwin, and southbound during the night hours.

It made no stops between Savannah and Wildwood. Previous to the FEC fiasco, the train had operated either down the FEC, or down the "A" line through Orlando, both routes took it to Union Terminal.


The Original Amtrak Service Map for Jacksonville

Amtrak's first map still held out some hope that our overcrowded highways would be relieved by a revived passenger rail industry. Little did anyone know, the industry had sold out, and Uncle Sam was on board to finish the job. Again, one color per named train.


What was so special?

Our Florida Special is almost as much fun as Florida itself. As the countryside sweeps past your picture window, you'll enjoy a candlelight dinner, with free champagne. The menu includes such delicacies as roast beef au jus, and charbroiled steaks.
En route, you'll see a Florida fashion show featuring our attractive hostesses. Watch a good movie, or your favorite TV shows. Play bingo. Join in an old-fashioned sing-along. Or even call home. Yes - there's a telephone aboard.

You'll be luxuriously comfortable all the way too. Your reserved seat is wide and fully reclining and, of course, you can reserve your own private room for a good night's sleep.

So, take the safest, smoothest way to Florida. Join us aboard the Florida Special.


Amtrak System Through Jacksonville Today

This is Florida's Amtrak system today, minus the Auto-Train which doesn't make any stops for passengers once it's enroute.  One color per named train but for the first time in Florida History, you won't need help to find your train.

Join us aboard the Florida Special.... THE CHAMPAGNE TRAIN RIDES AGAIN, hardly. We have a state rail pass and no longer have a state network to ride to. They have replaced so many trains with connecting "Thru-Way Buses" that if we removed all the thru-way buses, there wouldn't be any trains left to connect with. At the very least one would think the State and Amtrak would work to make this market unique.

We need to think in terms of many routes, not less. In terms of many trains not fewer. In terms of destinations like Chicago, Nashville, Birmingham, Memphis, New Orleans, Tallahassee, Ocala, Gainesville, Sarasota, Ft. Myers, Daytona Beach, Melbourne, Pensacola, Charlotte, Atlanta, Macon, Chattanooga and Cincinnati. What better time then now to push for a return to "THE GATEWAY CITY OF FLORIDA" at Jacksonville Terminal? What better time than $4.00 per gallon gas? Maybe $5.00 or shall we wait until it hits $8.00? If Jacksonville would just stand up and move forward, this game is ours for the taking.

The thin line of two daily Florida trains, still call Jacksonville a major service stop and spend 30 minutes or more topping off the tanks, water, ice etc. Shouldn't this be at a REAL train station downtown?

Editorial by Robert Mann