On March 31, intercity passenger rail provider Amtrak released its 2035 Vision plan to improve and expand rail service throughout the country, including more than 30 new routes and improving service on more than 20 existing routes. Amtrak revealed its proposed map of new routes and service Wednesday that would be paid for under President Joe Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure and jobs plan.

*“President Biden’s infrastructure plan is what this nation has been waiting for. Amtrak must rebuild and improve the Northeast Corridor and our National Network and expand our service to more of America. The NEC’s many major tunnels and bridges – most of which are over a century old – must be replaced and upgraded to avoid devastating consequences for our transportation network and the country. In addition, Amtrak has a bold vision to bring energy-efficient, world-class intercity rail service to up to 160 new communities across the nation, as we also invest in our fleet and stations across the U.S. With this federal investment, Amtrak will create jobs and improve equity across cities, regions, and the entire country – and we are ready to deliver. America needs a rail network that offers frequent, reliable, sustainable and equitable train service. Now is our time, let’s make rail the solution.”

Amtrak CEO Bill Flynn*

Recently released Amtrak Connect Us plan (Amtrak)

Broad goals of the plan state that up to 160 new communities would see passenger rail, and 15 more states would see multiple daily trips. Of those, new rail service would be established in Florida. Florida’s potential new passenger rail service would start in Jacksonville and end in Miami, following the existing route of the Silver Meteor and Silver Star lines that run between Miami and Boston. Currently, there is one southbound train a day from Jacksonville departing at 6:59 a.m. every Saturday through Monday and 9:34 a.m. each Tuesday and Thursday. In addition, one northbound train a day leaves the Jacksonville station at 10:25 p.m. on Thursday through Saturday and 5:07 p.m. every Sunday and Wednesday.

During FY 17, Jacksonville’s Amtrak station recorded 70,539 boardings and alightings, ranking 4th behind Sanford (228,943), Orlando (133,248) and Tampa (110,577) of the Florida’s 18 stations. Precise details of the new Florida service proposed by Amtrak are not known at this time. Nevertheless, with the Biden administration currently proposing $80 billion in passenger rail funding, now would seem like a perfect time to advance decades long delayed plans to bring intercity passenger rail back to downtown.

A historic aerial of the Jacksonville Terminal passenger rail station. (State Archives of Florida)

Built in 1919, during its heyday, the downtown Jacksonville Terminal was the largest passenger railroad station in the South and an official gateway to worldwide travelers entering Florida, handling as many as twenty thousand passengers and 200 trains each day. In 1974, passenger trains were relocated to a much smaller station in Northwest Jacksonville, four miles from downtown. Now part of the Prime Osborn Convention Center, the old station sits as a largely underutilized space, surrounded by new infill development in Brooklyn and LaVilla, including the new Jacksonville Regional Transportation Center.

The former Jacksonville Terminal in LaVilla.

Locally, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and the Jacksonville Transportation Authority have proposed a plan for a 10-year extension of the Duval County gas tax through 2046 and increasing it from 6 cents to 12 cents per gallon. Raising $930.2 million in revenue over a 25 year period, the funds would be spent on roadway, drainage and transportation improvement projects throughout the city. However, while $379 million of the $447 million set aside for transit would be used to revamp, expand and convert the JTA Skyway into the Ultimate Urban Circulator (U2C). When it comes to brining intercity passenger rail back to downtown, the plan only sets aside $3.36 million for studies to eventually eventually accomplish the task.

A rendering of a U2C station in Brooklyn. (JTA)

In the meantime, Amtrak states, “With a growing and diverse population, a global climate crisis and longer traffic jams, America needs a rail network that offers frequent, reliable, sustainable, and equitable train service.” Other cities in line for additional rail service include Houston, Atlanta, Cincinnati, Nashville, Phoenix, Las Vegas and Columbus, Ohio. Perhaps this may be an opportunity to advance plans for the return of rail back to downtown Jacksonville as well?

Editorial by Ennis Davis, AICP. Contact Ennis at edavis@moderncities.com