PASSENGER RAIL LINES
- Silver Meteor/Silver Star
- JTA Skyway
Much like in Miami, passenger rail first came to Jacksonville with the Florida East Coast Railroad at the turn of the twentieth century. Henry Flagler, who made his fortune with Standard Oil, began developing Florida railways after a visit to St. Augustine in 1878 convinced him of the need of an efficient and interconnected rail system throughout the state. The business founded to make that happen, the Florida East Railway Company, is still based in Jacksonville today.
Interstate passenger rail along the Gulf Coast first came specifically to bring visitors to the 1984 World’s Fair in New Orleans. That original line only ran as far as Mobile, Alabama, right on the edge of the Florida panhandle, but it did prove that there was a possibility of a permanent line along that route that could extend further. Finally, in 1993, Amtrak agreed to bring service on its Sunset Limited line to Jacksonville, which created a transcontinental line along the Southern US from Florida to California. Hurricane Katrina brought an end to the Gulf Coast stretch of that line, and advocates have been fighting for a return of daily Amtrak service along the same route ever since.
Commuter rail lines are receiving more and more attention in Jacksonville. The new Jacksonville Regional Transportation Center’s (JRTC) Second Phase plan could bring in commuter rail, whether it’s run by the local transportation authority (JTA), Amtrak, or Brightline.
BRINGING BACK THE SUNSET LIMITED
Following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, nationally connected passeger rail in Northern Florida and Jacksonville by extension was severely reduced. Track repairs returned Sunset Limited trains to New Orleans, but ultimately Amtrak decided not to repair tracks all the way to Jacksonville. An Amtrak report estimated that 153,900 new riders could be added if rail lines were to be re-extended along the Gulf Train route from New Orleans to Jacksonville. The repairs would cost about $15 million in total.
The twenty-year old monorail system in Jacksonville, called the Skyway, is in need of a refresh. The Jacksonville City Council has acknowledged the need and begun researching update options, including a network of passenger vehicles running on fixed routes. Although these would definitely be an improvement, some are worried that the size of the vehicles – and their operation at-grade – could reduce capacity and cause safety issues.