Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Amtrak Tests New Local Train Route; the Route Would Start in Jacksonville and Head to Miami

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Amtrak Tests New Local Train Route; the Route Would Start in Jacksonville and Head to Miami

Article excerpt

Byline: LARRY HANNAN

A passenger train traveled Saturday from Miami to Jacksonville for the first time since 1968 on the Florida East Coast railroad tracks. But obstacles remain before passenger service can be an everyday occurrence.

Saturday's train, populated with Amtrak senior staff and transportation officials from throughout Florida, conducted a test run to look into the feasibility of passenger rail service.

Amtrak Board Chairman Tom Carper said officials like the route and want to move toward reestablishing service on the rail line.

Michael Blaylock, executive director of the Jacksonville Transportation Authority, was on the train and said the test run indicated Amtrak's seriousness in getting something done.

"I believe something is going to happen within the next few years," he said.

The transportation authority hopes to move the Jacksonville Amtrak station from its current location on Clifford Lane to the Prime Osborn Convention Center downtown. Amtrak officials toured the convention center on Thursday before coming to Miami.

Blaylock would like to turn the Prime Osborn into a regional transportation center, with the convention center moving elsewhere. It would take years to raise the $180 million it would cost to make the change, but Blaylock said it's possible Amtrak could move to the convention center while it is still being used for its present purpose.

"Our plan is to do this in phases, and we're flexible on what phase comes first," he said.

This transportation center would house Amtrak, bus services, the Skyway and possibly a commuter rail.

Almost every city on the FEC route will need to either build or renovate a building to create an Amtrak station. The cities are expected to pay to build the stations, although some hope to get federal help.

St. Augustine plans to build a downtown station. Other cities that would build stations include Daytona Beach, Titusville, Cocoa, Melbourne, Vero Beach, Fort Pierce and Stuart.

Money issues, and questions of who would be liable when an accident occurs, remain stumbling blocks. …

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