Best Chicago-Florida Route?

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What's the best Chicago-Florida route


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west point

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Carolina special - Morristown Tn no longer available as passenger track removed and ROW no longer available . 2 -3 miles west of downtown OK for new station.
 
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In my opinion via Atlanta is the best option.
Hi, I'm new here, just joined last night!

I totally agree! In fact I talked about this on Reddit three days ago: https://www.reddit.com/r/Amtrak/comments/oqmxnn
Not only do I think Indianapolis and Atlanta should be included on the stop list, but also Nashville and Louisville, and I did find one track between Louisville and Nashville though it wasn't easy to find. But as I said on Reddit, this track between Louisville and Nashville goes through these towns:

  • Hendersonville, TN
  • Gallatin, TN
  • Portland, TN
  • Mitchellville, TN
  • Franklyn, KY
  • Woodburn, KY
  • Bowling Green, KY
  • Rocky Hill, KY
  • Park City, KY
  • Horse Cave, KY
  • Bonnieville, KY
  • Sonora, KY
  • Colseburg, KY
  • Shepherdsville, KY
I followed the track southward on Google Maps and then followed it back up northward listing the towns from south to north although I would have preferred to do north to south but I did it the way I did so I wouldn't get lost! Very easy to get lost on an e-map! Some of you probably already did what I did, finding a track between Louisville and Nashville.

I also like this idea better than the Floridian though I was born 6 years too late to see it! If the Floridian did come back that would be okay too but I prefer via Atlanta. I know I don't live on that side of the country, I'm all the way out in Arizona, closest to the Sunset Limited territory, but still!

"I don't know about where the rails are, but it seems that Chicago - Indianapolis - Louisville - Nashville - Chattanooga - Atlanta would maximize the number of larger intermediate markets that the train would serve. Anything further east would have to go through a whole lot more of Appalachia, slowing down the train, and anything running further west is taking the train out of its way, increasing travel time. Plus, both alternatives bypass all those big intermediate markets."

I could not agree more with you @MARC Rider

I haven't read every message in this post but I did want to chime in!
 

Willbridge

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Hi, I'm new here, just joined last night!

I totally agree! In fact I talked about this on Reddit three days ago: https://www.reddit.com/r/Amtrak/comments/oqmxnn
Not only do I think Indianapolis and Atlanta should be included on the stop list, but also Nashville and Louisville, and I did find one track between Louisville and Nashville though it wasn't easy to find. But as I said on Reddit, this track between Louisville and Nashville goes through these towns:

  • Hendersonville, TN
  • Gallatin, TN
  • Portland, TN
  • Mitchellville, TN
  • Franklyn, KY
  • Woodburn, KY
  • Bowling Green, KY
  • Rocky Hill, KY
  • Park City, KY
  • Horse Cave, KY
  • Bonnieville, KY
  • Sonora, KY
  • Colseburg, KY
  • Shepherdsville, KY
I followed the track southward on Google Maps and then followed it back up northward listing the towns from south to north although I would have preferred to do north to south but I did it the way I did so I wouldn't get lost! Very easy to get lost on an e-map! Some of you probably already did what I did, finding a track between Louisville and Nashville.

I also like this idea better than the Floridian though I was born 6 years too late to see it! If the Floridian did come back that would be okay too but I prefer via Atlanta. I know I don't live on that side of the country, I'm all the way out in Arizona, closest to the Sunset Limited territory, but still!

"I don't know about where the rails are, but it seems that Chicago - Indianapolis - Louisville - Nashville - Chattanooga - Atlanta would maximize the number of larger intermediate markets that the train would serve. Anything further east would have to go through a whole lot more of Appalachia, slowing down the train, and anything running further west is taking the train out of its way, increasing travel time. Plus, both alternatives bypass all those big intermediate markets."

I could not agree more with you @MARC Rider

I haven't read every message in this post but I did want to chime in!
Chicago - Indianapolis - Louisville - Nashville - Chattanooga - Atlanta has survived as a Greyhound route. Here are photos from Indianapolis, Nashville and Chattanooga. A lot of station work would be needed. In Chattanooga the Southern station still stands. The Union Station is gone.

Indianapolis Union Station...

P1030629.JPG

Indianapolis Union Station...

P1030632.JPG

Nashville Greyhound Station...

P1030633.JPG

Chattanooga, the Southern station...

P1030640.JPG

Chattanooga, the Union Depot...

P1030651.JPG
 
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Thanks for the photos @Willbridge

The first photo didn't look like a train station but I'll believe you! I've been to the Indianapolis station a few times but only have one memory of it and that's back in 2005 while riding the Cardinal, which I've also ridden in 1997 and 1998 back when it had Superliner. Never actually boarded at Indianapolis, I just rode through there!

If I was hungry and had a hankering for some burgers of a Philly I'd have really been upset to see that sign because I like burgers and Philly!
 

Tlcooper93

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Amtrak will definitely not be opening any new long distance routes in the foreseeable future. It simply won’t happen.

At this point, resurrecting a former route is the same as opening a new one.

We are lucky they keep the current ones alive, and that they lasted through the pandemic.
 

Willbridge

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Thanks for the photos @Willbridge

The first photo didn't look like a train station but I'll believe you! I've been to the Indianapolis station a few times but only have one memory of it and that's back in 2005 while riding the Cardinal, which I've also ridden in 1997 and 1998 back when it had Superliner. Never actually boarded at Indianapolis, I just rode through there!

If I was hungry and had a hankering for some burgers of a Philly I'd have really been upset to see that sign because I like burgers and Philly!
The Amtrak and intercity bus waiting room and ticketing are in the former baggage and/or express room as best as I could tell. In 1969 when I caught the Big Four train to Marion, Ohio there the passengers were upstairs. This time there was a private party going on upstairs when I went out off the station and snapped the photo. I walked under the tracks to a burger place.
 

neroden

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Amtrak will definitely not be opening any new long distance routes in the foreseeable future. It simply won’t happen.
I wouldn't be entirely sure about that in regards to every single potential long distance route -- the North Coast Hiawatha continues to have support from every state along the route except Idaho, which is a lot of backers -- but on a route going through a bunch of states with totally unsupportive state governments like this -- indeed, no. A new route is hard enough to start with state government support -- with state leadership opposing it, it's very unlikely.
 

Tlcooper93

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I wouldn't be entirely sure about that in regards to every single potential long distance route -- the North Coast Hiawatha continues to have support from every state along the route except Idaho, which is a lot of backers -- but on a route going through a bunch of states with totally unsupportive state governments like this -- indeed, no. A new route is hard enough to start with state government support -- with state leadership opposing it, it's very unlikely.
It seems like you just listed (as far as I know), the only actually possible LD route resurrection, but then explained why it won’t happen.

Support isn’t the only reason that route won’t happen. Track slots, upgrades, and insufficient rolling stock also pose formidable hurtles to overcome.

If Idaho suddenly backs the route, and Amtrak orders the right number of superliner replacements for additional LD routes, then maybe I’ll change my stance.

I’d be curious to of any other legitimately possible LD route additions.
 
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George Harris

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Several random thoughts:
Louisville to Nashville is very much alive as a railroad main line, now CSX. This is the original Louisville and Nashville main line. 3 1/2 to 4 hours should be practical. Extending from Nashville to Birmingham is continuation of the same, about 205 miles and was scheduled for 4 hours in the early 60's. This was originally the Nashville and Decatur between those cities which ran via Columbia TN, but a more direct and level route bypassing Columbia TN was built in the early 1900's. It did not make it into Decatur AL on its own rails. The bridge across the Tennessee river is owned by NS. This was Southern Railroad, originally the Memphis and Charleston, one of the first lines to get as far west as the Mississippi River. This line also remains a fairly heavily used main line. South of Decatur to Montgomery AL, through Birmingham is also still a heavily used main line. Now CSX after long years as part of the Louisville and Nashville. A note: This line was built as the S&NA shortly after the War Between the States. That was South and North Alabama. In those years you did not put "north" as the first part of the name of anything in the South if avoidable. All this was the main stem of the Floridian, formerly South Wind route. North of Louisville, as others have noted there are multiple options, none of them really very good. South of Montgomery I believe most of the old South Wind route is in place, but much was unsignalled and not heavily traveled, so would probably need a lot of work if it still remains fully in place. Following this more or less Floridian route no one seems to consider the possibility of taking a right turn at Bainbridge GA onto the line that goes to Tallahassee FL. This is a branch, but if all still in place could probably be upgraded at lower cost than the rest of the Floridian line to Waycross GA, This would also be a shorter route to Jacksonville than the original Floridian route.

As to going Nashville-Chattanooga-Atlanta, anything less than 8 hours for this route is highly unlikely to be practical. The railroad route is something like 30 miles longer than the highway distance, and much of it very curvy for much of its length.

Likewise, to go Knoxville-Chattanooga-Atlanta seems a somewhat irrational detour rather than the direct Knoxville to Atlanta CSX main. In the past that was scheduled for slightly over 4 hours. Knoxville to Chattanooga was a 3 hour passenger train run for the about 110 miles distance due to multiple curves. Chattanooga to Atlanta was another 3 hours minimum, and would probably be more like 4 now.

Interestingly, of the original every third day Chicago to Florida streamliners the only route with most, maybe even all its track still in place and essentially main line was the Dixie Flagler which was the first to go. Much if the track on its route south of Nashville was fairly curvy and not high speed in general, so it was probably the least reliable and worst ride quality of the three. The fastest and lastest was the City of Miami but several chunks of its route are no more.

No one seems to have mentioned going on the City of New Orleans route as far as Memphis and then taking the BNSF (formerly Frisco) route to Birmingham. This could be considerably faster and shorter than going all the way to New Orleans. Between Chi and B'ham this would probably be some 3 hours slower than the now abandoned ICRR direct line into B'ham via Jackson TN.
 

zephyr17

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Thanks for the photos @Willbridge

The first photo didn't look like a train station but I'll believe you!
It isn't. It is the Illinois St. underpass beneath the platform tracks.

Indianapolis Union Station is not in any of the pictures and it has not been used as a rail station for decades. The Indianapolis Amtrak/Greyhound Station is on the other side of the street and on the opposite side of the tracks from Indianapolis Union Station. It is in part of what used to be the Railway Express Agency offices and it is indeed a pit. It does use one of Union Station's old platforms, though, and one of REA's old freight elevators.

For the record, my grandfather was the manager of Railway Express Agency at Indianapolis and my mother worked there.
 

neroden

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I’d be curious to of any other legitimately possible LD route additions.
I think increased frequencies on existing LD routes -- ones which require no new stations and where all the tracks already host passenger trains -- are a real possibility. Multiple trains per day on the Lake Shore Limited route. Or the combined Pennsylvanian-Capitol Limited route ("Broadway Limited"). Daily service on the Cardinal and the Sunset Limited. A second frequency from Chicago to Denver. These all seem far more likely than any route which does not currently host passenger service.
 

Tlcooper93

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I think increased frequencies on existing LD routes -- ones which require no new stations and where all the tracks already host passenger trains -- are a real possibility. Multiple trains per day on the Lake Shore Limited route. Or the combined Pennsylvanian-Capitol Limited route ("Broadway Limited"). Daily service on the Cardinal and the Sunset Limited. A second frequency from Chicago to Denver. These all seem far more likely than any route which does not currently host passenger service.
Yes, all of those are plausible.
I meant new routes though (or resurrecting long dead routes), not increasing frequencies.
 

neroden

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Yes, all of those are plausible.
I meant new routes though (or resurrecting long dead routes), not increasing frequencies.
I suppose the Broadway Limited would technically be a new route (no change at Pittsburgh). Or, maybe, a New York to Detroit "long-distance" / overnight service, which would be on about 60 miles of track from Detroit to Toledo which currently does not host passenger trains.

I simply don't see the political support for any new long-distance route on substantial amounts of tracks which are currently unserved by passenger trains, other than the North Coast Hiawatha. Most of the other routes people propose run through states whose governments are still notoriously hostile to passenger train improvements. Until the state politics change, I don't see it happening; the feds aren't going to give money to states which are going to be hostile to accepting it.

The one which depresses me the most is actually Iowa: there should be a Denver-Chicago train running via Des Moines and Iowa City, rather than via the city-free route the California Zephyr currently takes, but political shifts in Iowa mean that the Iowa government is now hostile to passenger trains and rejected federal money to rehab the line for passengers from Moline to Iowa City, let alone further.

The states which do have governments supportive of passenger trains don't have a lot of reasonable opportunities for new long-distance service, and most of those are increased frequencies on existing routes, such as the ones I noted before.

If, say, pro-passenger-train Democrats take control of the Texas State Government, or the Georgia State Government, then suddenly a whole lot of new long-distance trains would become plausible. But that still seems some years away.
 

jruff001

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Good luck getting the host railroads to agree to new routes, or increased frequencies on current routes, even if there is state government support.
 

danasgoodstuff

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I think a revived Pioneer is a possibility, if not a likelihood. And since all but the Louisville to Nashville leg is on the 2035 ConnectsUS map, Chicago to FL will probably happen too, but the full trip won't be its focus. And Something allowing E-W that doesn't involve Chicago, say Savana - Atlanta - Nashville - Memphis - Denver. And I think the Cincinnati - Columbus - Cleveland will happen. Freight RR will get onboard when you make it worth their while, either positively or negatively or a little of both. Since transit and commuter rail have been where the growth has been in recent decade, Amtrak needs to build their regional/corridor/whatever service as an extension and connector of that. It's not 1971, much less 1951. How big is the Chicago to Florida market? It has to be big enough for 10% or less of it to support a train. I'm sure someone has numbers on this, and intermediate stops (NARP or some State or Regional Rail Plan?). I think there are expansions on what's done now that can work, but it may be the last chance to do something that's not a variation on what Amtrak's always done. Hard choices to be sure, since being able to take next steps will depend on the success of the first steps.
 

George Harris

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Sorry, much as I would like to see it, Atlanta-Nashville-Memphis would probably take 12 to 14 hours, highly unlikely anything less than 12, and you can drive it in about 7 hours.
 

Palmland

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Sorry, much as I would like to see it, Atlanta-Nashville-Memphis would probably take 12 to 14 hours, highly unlikely anything less than 12, and you can drive it in about 7 hours.
Yes, it would be hard to resurrect the Georgian segment of that route. But the City of Memphis service might be viable.

Perhaps a better solution (but still not fast) for FL-Chicago might be using a portion of the Tennessean route: FL-Savannah-Atlanta-Chattanooga-Memphis and connect to CONO. Part of that would fit into Atlanta’s discussions for commuter service (Macon-Cartersville).
 

Tlcooper93

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I think a revived Pioneer is a possibility, if not a likelihood.
While I don’t want to knock anyone’s enthusiasm, calling it a likelihood is misplaced faith.

Even if the politics change, and the host railroads give the ok (that won’t happen in the near future), Amtrak in unprepared to revive an old route.

They need to get more sleepers in their superliner replacement, as they don’t really have the equipment to run a brand new LD train. Plus, there are other things that Amtrak may consider before starting a new route, like a daily Sunset Limited.

And since all but the Louisville to Nashville leg is on the 2035 ConnectsUS map, Chicago to FL will probably happen too, but the full trip won't be its focus.
New LD trains won’t happen. Amtrak isn’t interested in running them. Again, we are lucky Amtrak seems to be ok with keeping the ones we have.
 
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jis

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The original Pioneer was introduced as an overnight Regional service between Salt Lake City and Seattle with only Coaches and Cafe.

With our current desire for every service to be gold plated we have also made it much harder to introduce any service. A bit more insistence on thicker plating and we will never introduce any new service, since there is no way left to test the waters with a relatively inexpensive trial introduction, something that was allowed by the original 403(b) program too, when states wanted to fund it. Afterall, that is how even the Lake Shore Limited came into existence.
 

danasgoodstuff

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While I don’t want to knock anyone’s enthusiasm, calling it a likelihood is misplaced faith.

Even if the politics change, and the host railroads give the ok (that won’t happen in the near future), Amtrak in unprepared to revive an old route.

They need to get more sleepers in their superliner replacement, as they don’t really have the equipment to run a brand new LD train. Plus, there are other things that Amtrak may consider before starting a new route, like a daily Sunset Limited.



New LD trains won’t happen. Amtrak isn’t interested in running them. Again, we are lucky Amtrak seems to be ok with keeping the ones we have.
Sorry if Ii wasn't clear, I meant possible but less than likely. The now over 10 years old study on reviving it showed standing stations and increased population all along the Oregon section of the route, and Boise is much bigger than it used to be too.
 

George Harris

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Yes, it would be hard to resurrect the Georgian segment of that route. But the City of Memphis service might be viable.

Perhaps a better solution (but still not fast) for FL-Chicago might be using a portion of the Tennessean route: FL-Savannah-Atlanta-Chattanooga-Memphis and connect to CONO. Part of that would fit into Atlanta’s discussions for commuter service (Macon-Cartersville).
The portion of the City of Memphis route through Jackson TN is not possible because the track is gone, and that part west of Jackson TN gone for over 50 years. To go between Nashville and Memphis by rail now requires going through McKenzie TN where the ex NC&StL and ex L&N lines connect. This line is unsignalled west of Bruceton TN. Incidentally the direct Memphis-Louisville line is no more, either.

No matter how you slice it, Memphis to Atlanta is going to be a 10+ hour trip. Two practical routes, NS (ex Southern) via Chattanooga, or BNSF-NS (ex Frisco and Southern) via Birmingham.
 

west point

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IMO the problem with restored routes or a new route is ADA requirements for any service. It has to be ADA compliant from day one as far as I know from other posts ?. Anyone know how Hope AR was handled ? ADA makes station stops expensive.

EDIT do not know if ADA requires a high platform but if it does then a station track or at least a gantlet track would be needed. That then requires the establishment of 2 expensive CPs switches and signals and PTC modifications.
 

Palmland

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This line is unsignalled west of Bruceton TN. Incidentally the direct Memphis-Louisville line is no more, either.
Yes, it was TT/TO when I rode over it on the Memphis Pan. Are you sure that portion hasn’t been upgraded for PTC. Large chemical plant at New Johnsonville (ex DuPont) plus traffic to/from Old Hickory would require PTC if routed via Memohis. The ex L&N Memohis branch stops at Cumberland City. Rode there a few times on current operator RJ Corman.
 

jis

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Yes, it was TT/TO when I rode over it on the Memphis Pan. Are you sure that portion hasn’t been upgraded for PTC. Large chemical plant at New Johnsonville (ex DuPont) plus traffic to/from Old Hickory would require PTC if routed via Memohis. The ex L&N Memohis branch stops at Cumberland City. Rode there a few times on current operator RJ Corman.
Well, if they operate the trains nice and slow then they could get away operating without PTC perhaps.
 
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