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Proposals for Restored Gulf Coast Service


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#21 Philly Amtrak Fan

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Posted 27 April 2016 - 04:19 PM

 

The two main points I took away from the article are (1), as previously noted that Congress has already authorized resumption of the route, and (2) the budget estimate is being provided to Congress as well.  This should properly and legally be a completely federally funded train, and thus it appears to be the intention.  But there has been person after person on these and other forums pronouncing that Amtrak will only run the route if the states foot the bill.  

 

It's actually not people here but Amtrak itself, that has previously made it clear, that it will not be run on Amtrak's dime. Someone else will have to pay for the operating deficit (and probably any capital expenses for rebuilt stations etc too, but that's less controversial).

 

As I understand the current rules Amtrak has to fully fund the operation of the current LD routes out of its operating subsidy. But the 750 mile rule says nothing about having to fund newly started (or restarted) LD routes. Under some conditions (which the Gulf coast service fulfills) Amtrak could fund the train out of its present budget and thus make it federally funded, but the law nowhere states that it should. I think this is probably what is meant by congress already having authorised the route. AFAIK there has been no act specifically mentioning the Gulf Coast service, but I can be mistaken.

 

On the other hand the length over 750 miles does excempt it from the PRIIA corridor rules, where the states are required to fund not only the immediate operating deficit but also most of the allocated overhead. And what Amtrak has stated is that in order to run the train, someone else has to pay the avoidable costs not covered by ticket revenue including network effects = roughly the amount that the train would increase Amtrak's total operating deficit with. But the bill will not be slashed with overhead as the shorter state supported corridors are.

 

Is that fair? Maybe not, but it is the political realities that the proponents of the service face. 

 

This leaves three options as I see it:

 

- The states or other local entities gang together and pay up.

- Congress increases its operating subsidy to Amtrak to cover the costs of the route

- Congress tells Amtrak to run the train within the current budget

 

Each of these options lets lose its own political brouhaha. But as the amount is pretty limited (can be found in the study released a while ago) there might be enough momentum to push one of the models through, or some combo of them. 

 

So clearly Marks is lobbying for Congress to pick up the tap. The current do-nothing Congress doesn't look very likely to do that, but the political climate might be somewhat different after the election. If not the states or the cities en route will have to pony up, also for the operating subsidy, however likely that is...

 

 

The age old question: Who should pay, the federal government and/or the states? I guess it would depend on whether a route is "national" or "regional". I feel the 750 mile rule is stupid. I can argue some trains that run fewer miles than that benefit the nation and some trains than run more miles than that benefit certain states/cities much more than others. If Amtrak did run a train from LAX to Vegas, anyone from the country that can get to LAX can get to Vegas so even if that train is only a few hundred miles and only passes two states that would clearly be IMO a national train. On the other hand the Downeaster is clearly a regional/local train (unless more people want to visit Maine than I think). Of course what separates Vegas from Maine is a judgment call. Maybe all trains (old and new, long and short) should be jointly funded by the federal government and the states/cities it passes through. Make it some percentage for each (50-50, 25 national-75 local, whatever you think is reasonable). I don't think it should be 100% federal or 100% state/local and that includes current trains.


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#22 jis

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Posted 27 April 2016 - 04:24 PM

Basically who should pay will be decided by Congress and depending on how well the Southern Rail Commission and its supporters in Congress manage to play it.

 

Afterall all these 750 mile rules and whatever are Congressional inventions. What they giveth they can taketh away generally or on a case by case basis.

 

In general it is probably a good idea to substantially fund operating subsidies for trains that cross multiple states federally, just like national highways that cross multiple states are substantially funded federally.


Edited by jis, 05 May 2016 - 01:41 PM.


#23 Eric S

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Posted 27 April 2016 - 05:52 PM

I think we sometimes focus too much attention on the 750 mile rule (not that it can be completely ignored either).

 

But, if Congress changed the law tomorrow, it's not as if that would magically mean that Amtrak suddenly has the funding to add new trains. We would still face the question of who will fund any additional service. And without increased federal funding it would still largely fall to non-federal entities (states or local governments) to do so.

 

The 750 mile rule is obviously an arbitrary one and I agree with some of the arguments that have been made against it. It has, however, had the effect of prodding states to increase funding for (what are now "their") trains.



#24 Philly Amtrak Fan

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Posted 27 April 2016 - 06:32 PM

I think we sometimes focus too much attention on the 750 mile rule (not that it can be completely ignored either).

 

But, if Congress changed the law tomorrow, it's not as if that would magically mean that Amtrak suddenly has the funding to add new trains. We would still face the question of who will fund any additional service. And without increased federal funding it would still largely fall to non-federal entities (states or local governments) to do so.

 

The 750 mile rule is obviously an arbitrary one and I agree with some of the arguments that have been made against it. It has, however, had the effect of prodding states to increase funding for (what are now "their") trains.

 

Would Amtrak/Congress be more likely to start a long 1000+ mile train which requires sleepers, multiple sets, more labor, and more food or a short 100-200 mile train which requires a lot less (and are more reliable)?

 

If I was in charge and there was no rule, I'd ask Congress for LAX-Vegas, DAL-HOS, and CIN-CLE in a heartbeat.

 

Do you think Congress put in this rule to discourage Amtrak from starting any new trains?


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#25 jis

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Posted 27 April 2016 - 07:06 PM

Nope. Congress with the approval of Amtrak put in the rule to force states to pay a larger share of the cost of trains that primarily serve a single state thus reducing pressure on Congress to increase Amtrak's operating budget and give some small level of protection to the LD trains. That was pretty much it if you see the history behind what went into PRIIA.

#26 Eric S

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Posted 27 April 2016 - 08:40 PM

There is nothing to prevent Congress from appropriating the funds now for a less-than-750-mile route and directing Amtrak to operate it. Congress can change or choose to ignore the 750 mile requirement. (Notwithstanding PRIIA section blah blah blah, Amtrak is directed to operate blah blah blah.)

 

The rule only matters to the extent that Amtrak has extra/unallocated/unassigned funds and is looking to start a new route. And last I checked, Amtrak is hardly swimming in extra cash. Yes, it reduces Amtrak's flexibility to experiment with shorter routes (although this is due as much to the issue with needing to serve existing endpoints as much as 750 miles), but your (or my) Representative or Senators could still choose to amend or rewrite an Amtrak appropriation bill to fund some new route. Or your (or my) state elected officials could choose to fund a new route too.

 

EDIT: Perhaps it's rather *unlikely* that Congress would choose to fund a train through what would be essentially an earmark, given that those have fallen out of favor. And maybe I'm rambling on and just repeating myself - I just keep coming back to the idea that whether or not there is a 750-mile requirement or not, the funds for this Gulf Coast train, or any other train, still need to be found. Anyway, back to regularly scheduled programming...


Edited by Eric S, 27 April 2016 - 08:58 PM.


#27 ScouseAndy

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Posted 28 April 2016 - 12:16 AM

When the service was suspended between New Orleans and Florida did Amtrak state funding go down? If not surely it could be argued that Amtrak are already getting funding to run this route?



#28 WoodyinNYC

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Posted 28 April 2016 - 01:15 AM

When the service was suspended between New Orleans and Florida did Amtrak state funding go down? If not surely it could be argued that Amtrak are already getting funding to run this route?

As a general rule, the Long Distance trains do not receive ANY state funding.

 

The LD trains usually run overnight (the Palmetto is not), and so have sleepers and diners. The corridor trains are state-supported routes, where Amtrak pays 15% and the state sponsors put up 85%. They run shorter distances with no overnight service and so no sleepers and diners. The two types of trains have very different cost structures.

 

The Sunset Ltd. never had any state support. When it was suspended, it affected Amtrak's budget, but had no effect on any state's spending.

 

The proposed "Gulf Coaster" would be a new and unique arrangement. We don't know how much, or if, CSX will demand for returning a passenger train to their line. If CSX demands upgrades as compensation, apparently the states could be asked to help out. But nothing is for sure at this point.

 

We do have estimates for the operating loss; but it is calculated differently from any other LD train, putting aside costs that other trains carry. As a result, the forecast operating loss is as low as $5 million.  Whether that puny amount will be covered by Congress is one possibility. Or the states and cities could be asked to contribute. We just don't know at this point.

 

Clearly Amtrak wants to do the thing. And clearly, some powerful members of Congress want to have this train. It is an awkwardness that the general position of the majority in Congress has been anti-Amtrak, trying to make it go away. Now here come some senior members asking for Amtrak to expand in their states.

 

Fun to see how it will turn out.



#29 west point

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Posted 28 April 2016 - 07:16 PM

One has to wonder if the support for the NOL - ORL train is passed  then maybe other congress critters might put in funds for other routes ?



#30 Deni

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Posted 29 April 2016 - 09:26 PM

I like the idea of an extended CONO, if only because it restores a Chicago to FL service that has been missing for decades, but I would prefer to see a restoration of a service more like the Floridian that hits Louisville and Nashville on the way to Orlando and Miami.



#31 nshvlcat

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Posted 30 April 2016 - 07:19 AM

..... but I would prefer to see a restoration of a service more like the Floridian that hits Louisville and Nashville on the way to Orlando and Miami.

I am in agreement with you.  The TN Gen. Assembly, TDOT, and Mayor Berry of Nashville need to get behind this.  I am also an advocate of expanded Amtrak day service to Memphis via the Illini or the Saluki out of Carbondale.  There is also some movement in Bristol TN/VA to get train service to DC.  The TN Assoc. of RR Passengers is a tireless advocate for restoring/expanding passenger rail in TN.                                                       


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#32 WoodyinNYC

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Posted 30 April 2016 - 07:37 AM



I like the idea of an extended CONO, if only because it restores a Chicago to FL service that has been missing for decades, but I would prefer to see a restoration of a service more like the Floridian that hits Louisville and Nashville on the way to Orlando and Miami.

Don't get hung up on the far points of LD service. Usually the end-to-end riders, in this case say Chicagoland to Miami/Ft Lauderdale/West Palm Beach, will be only about 15% of the total. The maximum is about 30% on the Capitol Ltd and that's a short route.

 

Usually the trains pile on riders going to or coming from the intermediate points.

 

On the City of New Orleans, for example, the CHI-New Orleans city pair is the 4th busiest, and at more than 900 miles, we can see that's only 8.3% of the total riders. That CHI-NOLA share is far behind the city pair figures for Memphis-NOLA, CHI-Champaign, and Jackson-NOLA.

 

One strong feature of the proposed CONO/Gulf Coaster service is the dense string of intermediate points -- Biloxi and the casino coast (390,000 metro)-Mobile (415,000)-Pensacola (478,000)-Tallahassee (378,000)-Jacksonville (1,450,000). It won't depend on mainly riders NOLA (1,263,000)-Orlando (2,387,000), tho those are good anchor cities..

 

Lots of good info at the NARP site:

http://www.narprail....trains_2015.pdf



#33 WoodyinNYC

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Posted 30 April 2016 - 08:09 AM


..... but I would prefer to see a restoration of a service more like the Floridian that hits Louisville and Nashville on the way to Orlando and Miami.

I am also an advocate of expanded Amtrak day service to Memphis via the Illini or the Saluki out of Carbondale. ... The TN Assoc. of RR Passengers is a tireless advocate for restoring/expanding passenger rail in TN.                                                     

 

The day train to Memphis should come first, of course.

 

No extra equipment required. Just extend the Saluki. It now departs CHI at 7:15 a.m., reaches Champaign at 10:25 a.m., and stops at Carbondale at 1:45 p.m. Instead keep it going for 220 miles, another 5 hours or so at the same speed as the CONO, and it would stop in Memphis in the evening, 7ish. Morning return, the same equipment could head northbound at 11:15 a.m., picking up the existing schedule of the Illini at Carbondale at 4:15 p.m., arriving CHI 9:45 p.m. as now. Riders would have a choice of the overnight CONO or the new day train to/from Memphis, and riders love choices.

 

This extension of the existing state-supported train would double the service to Memphis (1,344,000 metro). And it would require very little additional subsidy, because Illinois already pays for most of the mileage, and the ridership gains from Memphis would greatly help the revenue side.

 

Of course you'll know that Amtrak floated this idea, even sent representatives to Memphis to talk it up, but got no money from Tennessee. So it's no go.

 

Adding, or restoring, the train along the Gulf Coast, and adding service Atlanta-Dallas-Ft Worth, would change the Southern conversation from "When will Amtrak die?" to "Can we get one of them new trains?" Virginia will help by talking up its plans to serve Bristol -- and then Knoxville and Chattanooga. That would build political support for trains at the two ends of Tennessee. Then a successful second train to Memphis will have a big impact. It will take a while, no doubt, but keep up your good work.


Edited by WoodyinNYC, 30 April 2016 - 08:20 AM.


#34 Hytec

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Posted 30 April 2016 - 08:47 AM

One strong feature of the proposed CONO/Gulf Coaster service is the dense string of intermediate points -- Biloxi and the casino coast (390,000 metro)-Mobile (415,000)-Pensacola (478,000)-Tallahassee (378,000)-Jacksonville (1,450,000). It won't depend on mainly riders NOLA (1,263,000)-Orlando (2,387,000), tho those are good anchor cities..

 

Lots of good info at the NARP site:

http://www.narprail....trains_2015.pdf

 

I agree, intermediate stop ridership can be significant.  When I rode the Crescent on business between NOL and WAS in the 90s, I was surprised by the number of passengers on the intermediate stop platforms, especially between ATL and NOL. The number of weekly tour buses serving the Coast casinos is significant. I have no figures, but see them almost every day on I-10 and US-49.  So there is a market for a daily MEM-NOL-ORD train.


Edited by Hytec, 30 April 2016 - 08:49 AM.


#35 zepherdude

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Posted 04 May 2016 - 09:57 PM

I found this article, sounds pretty positive.........what do you think?

 

http://weartv.com/ne...ross-gulf-coast

 

Note, it says Daily Service!

 


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#36 Hytec

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Posted 05 May 2016 - 09:30 AM

I found this article, sounds pretty positive.........what do you think?

 

http://weartv.com/ne...ross-gulf-coast

 

Note, it says Daily Service!

 

Positive article, though superficial. I'm concerned that the Commission members are meeting once a month, giving only four meetings before the report is due to Congress in September.  This gives very little time for the extensive analysis to determine route, schedule, equipment, facility repairs, operating costs, and funding sources. I sincerely hope the commission has the staff, resources, and information sources in place to accomplish this.  Even more concerning is that the article implies that no decision has been made whether to run one train (NOL/ORL), or two trains (NOL/ORL & NOL/Mobile). This decision must be made before any further analysis can even begin.


Edited by Hytec, 05 May 2016 - 09:37 AM.


#37 jis

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Posted 05 May 2016 - 12:35 PM

 

I found this article, sounds pretty positive.........what do you think?

 

http://weartv.com/ne...ross-gulf-coast

 

Note, it says Daily Service!

 

Positive article, though superficial. I'm concerned that the Commission members are meeting once a month, giving only four meetings before the report is due to Congress in September.  This gives very little time for the extensive analysis to determine route, schedule, equipment, facility repairs, operating costs, and funding sources. I sincerely hope the commission has the staff, resources, and information sources in place to accomplish this.  Even more concerning is that the article implies that no decision has been made whether to run one train (NOL/ORL), or two trains (NOL/ORL & NOL/Mobile). This decision must be made before any further analysis can even begin.

 

I suspect you have not yet come across the detailed analysis document somehow:

 

http://static1.squar...Report 2015.pdf

 

The choice is basically among (1) running a CONO extension to Mobile (2) Running a self standing NOL - ORL train with connections at NOL and JAX to other trains, (3) Running a NOL - Mobile train plus a thruway bus Mobile to JAX. The routes, schedules, costs and benefits are spelled out in the report referred to above. it is the equivalent of an EIS for this service restoration. The choice will partly depend on how much resources can be mobilized. In the future there may be a Mobile or Atmore terminator from NOL, but it is highly unlikely that that would be the first thing to happen. That would really not be restoration of Gulf Coast Service in a complete sense.

 

So yeah, the analysis is more or less already done. Now it is the time to actually execute.

 

From the discussions that we had in Senator Nelson's (D-FL) office where the Florida, Mississippi and Alabama delegations from NARP were present it seemed like minimally the Senator will push for the NOL - ORL train and not be opposed to the CONO extension. The Thruway bus would not be acceptable. Senator Wicker (R-MS) concurred later in a conversation in which Senator Thune (R-SD) who Chairs the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, was also supportive of that position. I was told by Nelson's staff, who also seems to work part time for Cory Booker (D-NJ), that he is a strong supporter of the proposal. It was Booker and Wicker that led the charge on the Senate PRRIA and the more recent proposed appropriation bills.

 

On the House side there are several Congresspeople both R and D, from the states involved who are on board, and Rep Corrine Brown (D) from Florida is all over it.

 

That is why the chances look good that something positive might fall out


Edited by jis, 05 May 2016 - 12:38 PM.


#38 Hytec

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Posted 05 May 2016 - 01:43 PM

 

 

I found this article, sounds pretty positive.........what do you think?

 

http://weartv.com/ne...ross-gulf-coast

 

Note, it says Daily Service!

 

Positive article, though superficial. I'm concerned that the Commission members are meeting once a month, giving only four meetings before the report is due to Congress in September.  This gives very little time for the extensive analysis to determine route, schedule, equipment, facility repairs, operating costs, and funding sources. I sincerely hope the commission has the staff, resources, and information sources in place to accomplish this.  Even more concerning is that the article implies that no decision has been made whether to run one train (NOL/ORL), or two trains (NOL/ORL & NOL/Mobile). This decision must be made before any further analysis can even begin.

 

I suspect you have not yet come across the detailed analysis document somehow:

 

http://static1.squar...Report 2015.pdf

 

The choice is basically among (1) running a CONO extension to Mobile (2) Running a self standing NOL - ORL train with connections at NOL and JAX to other trains, (3) Running a NOL - Mobile train plus a thruway bus Mobile to JAX. The routes, schedules, costs and benefits are spelled out in the report referred to above. it is the equivalent of an EIS for this service restoration. The choice will partly depend on how much resources can be mobilized. In the future there may be a Mobile or Atmore terminator from NOL, but it is highly unlikely that that would be the first thing to happen. That would really not be restoration of Gulf Coast Service in a complete sense.

 

So yeah, the analysis is more or less already done. Now it is the time to actually execute.

 

From the discussions that we had in Senator Nelson's (D-FL) office where the Florida, Mississippi and Alabama delegations from NARP were present it seemed like minimally the Senator will push for the NOL - ORL train and not be opposed to the CONO extension. The Thruway bus would not be acceptable. Senator Wicker (R-MS) concurred later in a conversation in which Senator Thune (R-SD) who Chairs the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, was also supportive of that position. I was told by Nelson's staff, who also seems to work part time for Cory Booker (D-NJ), that he is a strong supporter of the proposal. It was Booker and Wicker that led the charge on the Senate PRRIA and the more recent proposed appropriation bills.

 

On the House side there are several Congresspeople both R and D, from the states involved who are on board, and Rep Corrine Brown (D) from Florida is all over it.

 

That is why the chances look good that something positive might fall out

 

Thanks Woody, I was unaware that comments in this thread were anything more than speculation by members, not a discussion based on the completed studies. I believe that Steven Palazzo (R-MS4) also supports this, though I haven't seen anything formal from his office. I hope the commission resolves the "options" before September, and presents a single recommendation to Congress, even if the recommendation contains two trains. I learned long ago to never present options to the federal bureaucracy, it only serves to muddy the waters.



#39 jis

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Posted 05 May 2016 - 02:04 PM

 

I suspect you have not yet come across the detailed analysis document somehow:
 
http://static1.squar...Report 2015.pdf
 
The choice is basically among (1) running a CONO extension to Mobile (2) Running a self standing NOL - ORL train with connections at NOL and JAX to other trains, (3) Running a NOL - Mobile train plus a thruway bus Mobile to JAX. The routes, schedules, costs and benefits are spelled out in the report referred to above. it is the equivalent of an EIS for this service restoration. The choice will partly depend on how much resources can be mobilized. In the future there may be a Mobile or Atmore terminator from NOL, but it is highly unlikely that that would be the first thing to happen. That would really not be restoration of Gulf Coast Service in a complete sense.
 
So yeah, the analysis is more or less already done. Now it is the time to actually execute.
 
From the discussions that we had in Senator Nelson's (D-FL) office where the Florida, Mississippi and Alabama delegations from NARP were present it seemed like minimally the Senator will push for the NOL - ORL train and not be opposed to the CONO extension. The Thruway bus would not be acceptable. Senator Wicker (R-MS) concurred later in a conversation in which Senator Thune (R-SD) who Chairs the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, was also supportive of that position. I was told by Nelson's staff, who also seems to work part time for Cory Booker (D-NJ), that he is a strong supporter of the proposal. It was Booker and Wicker that led the charge on the Senate PRRIA and the more recent proposed appropriation bills.
 
On the House side there are several Congresspeople both R and D, from the states involved who are on board, and Rep Corrine Brown (D) from Florida is all over it.
 
That is why the chances look good that something positive might fall out

Thanks Woody, I was unaware that comments in this thread were anything more than speculation by members, not a discussion based on the completed studies. I believe that Steven Palazzo (R-MS4) also supports this, though I haven't seen anything formal from his office. I hope the commission resolves the "options" before September, and presents a single recommendation to Congress, even if the recommendation contains two trains. I learned long ago to never present options to the federal bureaucracy, it only serves to muddy the waters.

 

Don't know what you are thanking Woody for considering that I posted the response to your post giving you all the information :P

BTW the name Steven Palazzo sounds familiar, though I don't think I met him when I was on the Hill a few weeks back.

 

it seems that the primary choice of the local folks is to have their own self standing train which is not perturbed by late running of other trains etc. though the fact that the CONO extension actually performs better, might sway the decision.

 

We will probably find out from Nelson's office which way the wind blows before things get taken up for consideration in Senator Thune's Committee, which is the one that has to find the funds for it from the Senate side. It is unlikely that the House will do anything about it. If it gets into the final bill it will be through reconciliation between the House and the Senate bill. Most likely all that will have to wait until after the election anyway.


Edited by jis, 05 May 2016 - 03:19 PM.


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Posted 05 May 2016 - 02:10 PM

I have no problem with an extended CONO but if they are going with a standalone NOL-ORL they should consider running it to SAS to give daily service for NOL-HOS-SAS. Passengers wanting to go from Florida to California could then do it with a single transfer instead of two.


Trains Traveled:
 
Broadway Limited (CHI-Harrisburg, PA) 
Three Rivers (Harrisburg, PA-CHI, Altoona, PA-CHI, PHL-CHI)
Capitol Limited (CHI-WAS)
Lake Short Limited (NYP-CHI)
Silver Meteor (PHL-ORL)
Southwest Chief (CHI-LAX)
California Zephyr (CHI-SLC, SLC-EMY)
City of New Orleans and/or Illini (CHI-Champaign, IL)

 

Bring back the Broadway Limited (or Three Rivers or any Chicago-Pittsburgh-Philly train)!
 

https://www.facebook...roadwayLimited/

 





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