Amtrak is a possibility for Pensacola, but would it benefit UWF students?

By Sara Agans
Staff Writer

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Pensacolians might get another choice for transit in the near future.
Graphic courtesy of https://nextcity.org

All aboard? An Amtrak train stopped in Pensacola on Friday, Feb. 19, for the first time since Hurricane Katrina (2005) to gauge the interest of reopening the stop.

“Amtrak, which is a company that owns and operates passenger trains, is considering the possibility of passenger trains again,” said Rick Harper, assistant vice president for UWF’s Office of Economic Development and Engagement. “Amtrak would run trains along Central Gulf Coast and Northern Florida, including Pensacola. These trains would allow passengers to connect to other train services in places like New Orleans and Jacksonville.”

Harper also said this could benefit UWF students who live in areas close to where the trains will stop.  For instance, it might be convenient to ride a train back home from Spring Break instead of driving. However, Harper said most students might still find it more convenient to drive, whether to save the expense of a train ticket or because driving is usually faster.

“Amtrak has to figure out whether they can attract enough passengers to make it profitable to run the trains in our area,” Harper said.

A couple of students shared their responses when asked how many trips they would take over the next 12 months on Amtrak if the fares for a round trip were $50, $75 or $100.

Nicole Mills, a UWF senior majoring in telecommunications, estimated she would take three to five trips by train, because she said it would be a nice experience. If the fare for a round-trip was $50, Mills said she would take maybe five trips; if the fare price was $75, then three trips; and for $100, maybe only two trips.

David French, a UWF junior majoring in journalism, said he might take between five and 10 trips over the next 12 months. If the fare for a round-trip to Orlando was $50, French said he would easily take more than 10 trips; for $75, at least five trips; and for $100, probably no more than three.

Stephen LeMay, UWF visiting associate professor in the Department of Marketing and Economics said in the 1970s, when Amtrak first started advertising, they oversold their service – meaning they promised luxury performance the system could not provide.

“Consequently, they attracted a large number of one-time riders,” LeMay said. “They promoted luxurious cars and pleasant conditions, not to mention on-time arrivals and departures. They delivered rail cars that smelled like bad gas station bathrooms, 15-hour late arrivals, and other problems.”

LeMay said that this time around, the problems seem to be fixed. The big issue for UWF students will be whether the service fits the needs of the students. If the schedule does not work, LeMay said students are likely to ignore the service. If the schedule does work – the train will depart from Pensacola at 9 a.m. on Friday, arrive in Orlando sometime in the early afternoon, and return around 9 p.m. Sunday – students could visit Disney World or Universal Studios for the weekend.

“Personally, I would like to see the service succeed, but it will depend on frequency, time of day and reliability,” LeMay said.

For more information on current Amtrak routes, schedules and services click here.