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Pensacola Rallies To Bring Back Amtrak

Dave Dunwoody

The next step in efforts to get Amtrak service back to Pensacola rolled into the city Friday morning, and the crowd greeting the “Inspection Train” appeared to be part pep rally and part revival meeting.

On a chilly but otherwise “Chamber of Commerce” day, the train made its entrance from the west, where it had originated Thursday in New Orleans. There to greet it was a crowd – some in period costumes – in front of what was the Amtrak station before service was ended 12 years ago.

Steve Hayes, the President of Visit Pensacola, and served as Master of Ceremonies

“l feel like the conductor on [the movie] “Polar Express, when you go through and have Christmas wishes,” said Hayes. “And I think this is the wish that so many people from the Pensacola area want to see is to have Amtrak back.”

The VIPs riding the train were bussed to Pensacola from their overnight stay in Atmore. They’re getting a close look at the infrastructure and an idea of the economic, cultural and mobility impacts that resuming passenger rail service east of New Orleans would have.

Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward also praised the crowd for coming out and showing their support.

Credit Dave Dunwoody

“I cannot thank the people of Pensacola enough,” said the Mayor. “You guys have exceeded everybody’s expectations.”

One of the passengers -- Congresswoman Corrine Brown, [D-Jacksonville] says Amtrak should return to the route for two reasons – one being homeland security.

“We need to be able to move people out of harm’s way, where it’s man-made or a natural disaster,” Brown said. “After [Hurricane] Katrina, over 3,000 people died because we couldn’t move them. But more than that, it’s an economic engine for the region.”

Next up was Tom Carper, a member of the Amtrak Board of Directors.

“You’ve got great support; this is the start of getting passenger rail back,” said Carper. You’ve got people here from the Southern Rail Commission, [and] they’ve got a great plan. They’ve got a vision.”

But the key here – as with any large-scale transportation project – is money. The question is whether Congress would be amenable to funding an Amtrak resurrection to New Orleans, and expand to the east through the Florida Panhandle and downstate.

After the ceremony, Mayor Ashton Hayward said supporters would be giving their case to Cong. Jeff Miller’s office. He was also impressed with the turnout – which ran across the demographic board.

“We have the Millennials out here, we have Generation X, we have our seniors out here,” said Hayward. “It’s really cool to see all the different demographics. I think it’s doable, but it’s going to come down to financial numbers.”

The train pulled out of Pensacola precisely at 8:00 a.m. Friday morning, with stops planned in Crestview, Chipley, Tallahassee, Madison, Lake City, before ending in Jacksonville at 7:15 Friday evening.