Passenger Rail Service Could Return To Pensacola, Atmore

December 3, 2015


Leaders from four states are pushing for the return of passenger rail service  along a New Orleans to Orlando route….including stops in Pensacola and  Atmore.

Amtrak’s Sunset Limited passenger train, which included service from New Orleans through Pensacola to Jacksonville, came to an end along the Gulf Coast due to damage from Hurricane Katrina. The new rail service would breathe life back into abandoned train stations in Pensacola and Atmore.

The Atmore train station has appeared in promotional materials for the city and the town’s chamber of commerce, appeared on t-shirts and been the background for many a photograph. It’s a quaint little building, with a single room,  a covered area with two benches and a long passenger ramp. To a passerby on Highway 31, it still appears as it did in in the day when the sounds of “All Aboard” echoed above the sounds of the diesel engines of the Sunset Limited and the Gulf Breeze.

atmoretrain11.jpgBut a closer look reveals the stresses of time on the building. The door to the single small room is missing. It’s nothing more than an empty room holding empty brochure racks. Outside, the ramp sits empty most of the time, occasionally playing host to a mom or  dad that stops by to show his children the passing freight trains as they rumble by quickly. The passenger ramp shows great age, with many boards cracked or turned upwards on their ends. Walking the ramp’s edge without tripping can prove a challenge.

Friday morning, Atmore Mayor Jim Staff is scheduled to address the quarterly meeting the Southern Rail Commission at the Battle House Renaissance Hotel in Mobile and explain what the return of the service would mean to his town and the surrounding area.

Staff is one of 22 Gulf Coast mayors, including Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward, that have provided letters of support calling for Congress to restore local passenger rail service.  The project is also supported by several regional transportation organizations, including the West Florida Regional Planning Council, the Florida-Alabama Transportation Planning Organization, the NW Florida Regional Transportation Planning Organization and the South Alabama Regional Planning Commission.

According to the Southern Rail Commission, the return of Gulf Coast passenger rail service:

  • Would provide improved accessibility for the more than 2 million residents in the proposed service area between New Orleans and Orlando that includes a growing senior population
  • Would boost Gulf Coast economy by connecting the growing population centers and tourist destinations, and supporting diverse jobs, health care, higher education, beaches, casinos and multiple military bases
  • Provides critical evacuation route for Gulf Coast cities
  • Provides alternate mode of transportation for more than 5 million people annually visiting the beaches of southern Alabama, alone, with similar numbers visiting the beaches of northwest Florida and southern Mississippi
  • Would support growing tourism industry which has increased revenue per available room by 27 percent in the Florida Panhandle, 20 percent along the Alabama Gulf Coast, 10 percent throughout the Mississippi Gulf Coast and 51 percent in Orleans Parish
  • Would serve the workforce of growing industries such as oil and gas, petrochemical, aerospace, shipping and the military
  • Would attract additional sales tax revenue from casino patrons, visitors and tourists
  • Will serve communities with very high poverty rates with limited access to transportation alternatives

Pictured: The empty train station in Atmore, file photos, click to enlarge.


26 Responses to “Passenger Rail Service Could Return To Pensacola, Atmore”

  1. Jim Catron on April 27th, 2016 8:52 am

    Emotion will trump reason every time except when it comes to the bottom line. We would not have electricity and telephone service in rural Florida (AL, LA, MS, etc) but for the fact that Congress authorized the experiment. Railroads opened the interior of this nation. We have an opportunity to provide rail service (public or private) which can benefit our economy and provide an exit option in the event of a major storm approaching. The demise of air service and bus service for rural American makes providing rail service an option again.

  2. Wanda on February 2nd, 2016 9:48 am

    This will be an amazing alternative to college students that only uses greyhound when are in break, to come home , that will be a great idea. Support 100%

  3. Alex on December 9th, 2015 5:40 pm

    It is incorrect to say that csx or any other rail company has priority over passenger railways. They cause mass delays for freight carriers, not the other way around. Get your facts straight, please.

  4. M in Bratt on December 7th, 2015 6:12 am

    Sounds like a great plan; Local Governments can spend hundreds of thousands of dollars rebuilding dilapidated train stations, and wait for Amtrak to shut down service again.
    Congress needs to quit subsidizing Amtrak, and they would shut down all the un-profitable routes and start running like any private business has to do.

  5. BaeBae on December 5th, 2015 9:45 am

    Yes its great…for those that are RR buffs…the reality is.. longer delays for freights…the conductor is correct…more money for him…I was with CSX for nearly 40 years and I went thru all the AMTRAK days in the 90’s and was involved heavily in the maintenance of the tracks during this time…very stressful for all employees on the trains….working on the track…dispatching the trains…hard on the supervision. One screw up at night and AMTRAK would be affected the next day and someone had to answer. Thankful I am retired now…but there is a different generation of railroaders out there now…some are great…others I wont comment on. Oh yeah…by the way I worked on the AMTRAK derailment in the Mobile swamp that took 47 lives that foggy night in 1993…Something I will never forget…Can we make it without AMTRAK ?…We have for 10 years …

  6. Betty on December 3rd, 2015 9:48 pm

    My husband and I took the train from Pennsylvania to Jacksonville to Crestview (Sunset Limited), Now we take the train to Jacksonville, take a taxis to the airport, rent a car and drive to Crestview .. You would get more tourist for the area if the Sunset Limited was back in serve.

  7. Inspector on December 3rd, 2015 8:22 pm

    When the track was washed away on the bay front in Pensacola in hurricane Ivan is when Amtrak stopped running. that was in 2004. Took weeks to build the track back and Amtrak never ran again. And the conductor is correct. Freight trains were put in holding patterns, so Amtrak could run, which cost csx money. Amtrak is funded by the government and does not make money it cost tax payers to run. do not think it will come back.

  8. Rufus Lowgun on December 3rd, 2015 6:06 pm

    I have great memories of riding the train with my nana and my brother from Los Angeles to San Diego for a day at the zoo and museums when I was a kid. I support this 100%. How cool would it be to be able to make a trip to New Orleans a day trip? This needs to happen yesterday.

  9. Just thinking on December 3rd, 2015 5:15 pm

    It would seem to make more sense stopping in Flomaton as there are multiple tracks and loading and or unloading wouldn’t hold up the main lines. Apparently all it takes is a one room building to make it happen and some interest from the leaders there.

  10. Chad Depew on December 3rd, 2015 4:37 pm

    I also believe there would still be some updates to the track to be done to fit the new positive train control requirements not 100% on that though.

  11. Chad Depew on December 3rd, 2015 4:32 pm

    Would love to see it and would probably use it a few times a year.that said it all comes down to CSX if they don’t give the trains priority it is useless. Also it must be a daily train not twice weekly for it to be successful witch is a lot to ask for. fingers crossed we will just have to wait and see!

  12. Kay on December 3rd, 2015 4:24 pm

    I was under the impression that Mayor Hayward sold the train depot in Pensacola.
    I just love traveling by rail, and took the Sunset Limited a dozen times or more to south Florida. I would also like to see the old Hummingbird route through Alabama return.

  13. Citizen on December 3rd, 2015 2:52 pm

    I would use this service. South Florida relatives expressed an interest just last weekend. I would like to see a stop in Flomaton.

  14. Susan on December 3rd, 2015 2:50 pm

    I rode the Sunset Limited out to Arizona and loved the train ride. However, it did take a while to get there. Flying would have been quicker especially when we got to Texas and there was a car wreck on the tracks. As long as the passenger rail use CSX lines instead of building their own, it will always be slow and for people who just want to enjoy riding a train.

  15. david lamb on December 3rd, 2015 1:23 pm

    While stationed in Thailand, I rode trains and buses. The train service was diesel-Electric and steam.
    I remember the passenger train service thru Cantonment and Flomaton and watched the transfer of mail in Cottage Hill as I grew up.
    I have had a vision for along time of train service between Flomaton and Pensacola. There are still many train stations, still in use from WWII days across Iowa . AMtrac still uses them and the fixtures/terminal will give one the feeling that the soldiers are still waiting on trains.

  16. Sunshine on December 3rd, 2015 12:39 pm

    Yes Please!

  17. Molino Mom on December 3rd, 2015 11:17 am

    I would LOVE to see this happen, and I would definitely use the train to travel to the Ms casinos as well as going to New Orleans when I take cruises (and now the cruise line is coming back to Mobile, Al in 2016). I would really like to have this as an alternative to driving.

  18. jeeperman on December 3rd, 2015 10:51 am

    Conductor is spot on correct.
    CSX owns the rails, at least the majority along that route.
    When Katrina came thru the service was suspended.
    CSX made repairs and continued business as usual.
    But AMTRAK decided to not restore passenger service east of New Orleans.
    The reason being it was loosing too much money east of NO.
    Another reason is the delays incurred when the passenger train has to make way for all the CSX trains as they get priority.
    People are not too interested in a spending 18 hours on a train when they can drive the same in 8 hours.

  19. Atmore Citizen on December 3rd, 2015 10:17 am

    These are old pictures of the train depot. The door to the small room has been replaced, and the building was painted by the fire department a few months ago. I’m not saying it’s in the best condition, but it has been improved recently. It would be nice to have the train service offered again.

  20. Bob C. on December 3rd, 2015 9:45 am

    Hope this rail service will return as would be fun to take the grandkids on a REAL train and see what is behind the trees on the Interstate.
    Recall riding the trains as a kid with my parents to go visit far away family and on vacations.
    Understood right off that the Conductor was the BOSS Man of the passenger cars and spent many nights watching lights of towns and homes and farms go by while listening to the clackety-clack of the wheels on the tracks.
    Gonna have to play some Johnny Cash music.

  21. fred on December 3rd, 2015 9:35 am

    @Conductor – Forgive my ignorance, but how would this impact CSX’s bottom line?

  22. Conductor on December 3rd, 2015 8:20 am

    People, please don’t get your hopes up. CSX will never let this happen. It cuts into there bottom line and now there trains are too long to fit in any sidings. I would like to see the sunset limited come back because that’s more overtime for me.

  23. Jackie Johnson on December 3rd, 2015 7:54 am

    My oldest sister would ride the Amtrak in 2000 and 2001 from Orlando to Atmore to visit our family and help with our dad. If indeed the train runs again it would be nice for Johnson Ford or Chuck Stevens Chevrolet to offer some rent of cars for passengers when they arrive in Atmore. We have no taxies in the area to transport to the nearest car rental area. Hopefully, this will come into being as my sister would probably ride it again.

  24. Lisa Weaver on December 3rd, 2015 6:54 am

    It would be nice to have this service back. I was able to ride the Sunset Limited in the past and loved it. I would use it again if it stopped in Pensacola or Atmore.

  25. lewis on December 3rd, 2015 6:47 am

    Although, I don’t want to get my hopes up, it would be a great idea. To bad all those shovel ready jobs weren’t really shovelready for real American hard work. They were ready for shoveling Washington and political part crap and wasted a trillion of hard working American tax dollars.

    Just what would a trillion dollars buy in roads, trsins, and other infrastructures. What a wasted opportunity to do something for people.

    This is still a great idea! Let’s do it.

  26. Crystal on December 3rd, 2015 6:34 am

    I know a couple that lives in California. doesn’t drive nor fly. Their son lives in the area and has health issues. Currently they travel by train to New Orleans and someone picks them up. Train service to Atmore/Pensacola would be a great thing.

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