Possibility of Amtrak’s return excites Tallahassee

Thousands of Tallahassee residents showed up to support the city's campaign for the return of Amtrak service between New Orleans and Jacksonville.  Photo by Shamara Bizzle

Thousands of Tallahassee residents showed up to support the city’s campaign for the return of Amtrak service between New Orleans and Jacksonville.
Photo by Shamara Bizzle

By Shamara Bizzle

Outlook writer

Rebecca Clemons has always enjoyed a train ride, so the news that Tallahassee was making a push to have Amtrak service resumed in the area got her fired up.

So much so that she thought nothing of the 90-minute drive from Shell Point to be a part of the push for resumption of rail travel. She and about 1,000 Tallahassee residents turned out at Rail Road Avenue, where government officials made their case for the resumption of Amtrak service.

“I think we need to increase our options of traveling for people,” said Clemons, who carried a sign of support through the crowd. “Not everybody flies, not everyone can drive, not everyone even has a car.”

Travel to and from Tallahassee was discontinued when Hurricane Katrina damaged rails along the Panhandle in 2005, disrupting service from New Orleans to Jacksonville. Nearly $15 million in local government and federal funding will be required to get the train service back on line.

Clemons was one of those who rode the train before service stopped 10 years ago. During her previous travel on Amtrak, she has 23,000 miles, she said.

“I’m just excited about them returning, but I know that I’ll be the first passenger within the first week.”

Government officials are convinced that there are enough travelers like Clemons to make the service worthwhile. If they had any doubt, they needed to look only at the electric in the crowd of people, most wearing red, white, and blue – a symbol of Tallahassee being an All-American city.

In an effort to persuade Amtrak, both the city and county governments partnered to encourage a large turnout. Social media was their primary platform, said Sandra Manning, community relations director for the city. Good old-fashioned word-of-mouth also helped, she said.

“It just spread like wild fire,” Manning said. “It most certainly brought everyone from around Tallahassee to unite together to pull in support to support.”

The city’s effort also has some heavy hitters supporting it. Representative Corrine Brown served as head conductor of this initiative and is helping in persuading Congress to assist with funds for the project.

“We need to be able to move our people and that’s why we need this train,” Brown said. “Failure is not an option. We’re going to get this train rolling again!”

Former mayor John Marks said having supporters like Brown could help the cause when it comes to show Congress that it should clear the way by approving funding for Amtrak’s return.

The message from the crowd was clear. “Ready to roll,” was a constant.

“That’s why this is so important,” Marks said. “I want to tell them (Congress) about the economic development opportunities that we have here (and) that is another important part of having Amtrak.

“The model has changed. We are going to move people, but we also want to have economic development around our station and there’s no better example than what we’re doing in the city of Tallahassee.”

Expectations are really high, with hopes to bring in Amtrak, this opportunity will give residents a chance to travel far at a fair price and create job opportunities.

City Commissioner Scott Maddox has long been the driving force behind restoration of train service to Tallahassee. He’s been in constant contact with Amtrak and the Southern Rail Commission.

“What we are hoping to do now is get the State of Florida involved with this Southern Railroad Commission,” Maddox said. “It’s just one more transportation option for the residents of Tallahassee.”

 


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