VERO BEACH – A few dozen Vero Beach and county residents turned out to the city’s Historic Train Station Saturday afternoon to catch a glimpse of Amtrak’s passenger train – a sign of what once was and could be again.
Five-year-old Jackson Talmage sat atop his father’s shoulders, dressed in a train conductor’s uniform and carrying a blue sign stating his support of the train.
“He watches train shows 24-7,” John Talmage said of his son.
The pair, from Sebastian, traveled to Vero Beach to watch the train come in and imagine what it would be like to ride the rails.
“Without a doubt,” Talmage said of supporting the proposed rebirth of passenger rail along Florida’s east coast. “It’d give us access. It would be great.”
Amtrak, in conjunction with the Florida Department of Transportation, is exploring the possibility of bringing passenger rail service back to life – something that the east coast hasn’t had since 1968, three years before Amtrak was formed.
The Florida Department of Transportation has submitted a $268 million grant request to the federal government for funds that would be used to get passenger rail going again between Miami and Jacksonville.
According to FDOT, if awarded, the rail project would create 2,100 jobs and take three years to complete.
“I think it’s wonderful,” Vero Beach City Councilman Brian Heady said while standing near the Vero Beach train station when the Amtrak train pulled in.
Though he believes bringing passenger rail would be a “great idea,” Heady questioned whether there would be enough people wanting to use the rail service from Vero Beach to support having a stop along the way.
Officials plan to have a stop in Ft. Pierce and another in Melbourne, with Vero Beach between them.
“I think this would be a real good step for downtown,” Mayor Kevin Sawnick said if Vero Beach could get a stop along the service.
Mayor Sawnick rode the train from Ft. Pierce north to Melbourne during the rail inspection Saturday.
He said if the train could make a stop in Vero Beach that it would bring more people to the city’s downtown, which would be a boon for those downtown businesses.
More customers at the shops and restaurants would mean more jobs at those businesses, too, he said.
Saturday’s train did stop traffic at its various stops, including Vero Beach and Ft. Pierce as it waited for passengers to disembark or board. However, each stop was scheduled to take between five and 10 minutes, causing minimal traffic interruption.
In Vero Beach, police cruisers stopped traffic well before the train crossing to allow room for the passengers and public.
Mayor Sawnick said while riding the train that he still has several logistical questions he would like to have answered, including whether traffic would regularly be stopped for passengers loading and unloading from the train, how long traffic would be stopped and what the emergency ramifications could be.
The train that rolled through Saturday consisted of two engines, at least three coach cars, a dome car and a business car. The dome car has two levels, offering space for the kitchen and dining below and a unique vantage point above with a domed roof. Passenger could sit at booth-style tables to eat or work on laptops while watching the scenery pass at a quick clip.
Kelly Menger, of Vero Beach, watched the train pull in at the Historic Train Station, with her mother-in-law, Connie Menger.
Kelly said the thought of having passenger rail was exciting, that it would offer less expensive opportunities for families to travel.
Connie Menger agreed and added that the train would also help the environment by taking passenger cars off the road.
“I want to ride the train,” she said.
New stations Amtrak wants:
Existing stations to tie into:
West Palm Beach
Expected Amtrak service:
Connect Florida East Coast and CSW railways in West Palm Beach
2 trains running northbound and southbound – could grow to 4 or 6 trains daily
Trip between Miami and Jacksonville to take 6 hours
Amtrak Passenger Rail at a Glance:
Total Est. Cost: $268 million – Federal stimulus
Est. Cost/Mile: $750,000
No. Stops: 15
Est. Jobs Created: 2,100
Est. Project Construction: 3 years
Est. Annual Ridership: 175,000-plus