Bringing back passenger train service in the Panhandle

Gulf Coast Passenger Rail- New Orleans to Orlando
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WALTON COUNTY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - More than ten years ago, a passenger rail service went through multiple stops here in Northwest Florida, but was never re-established after Hurricane Katrina.

For the past six months, there's been discussion between Amtrak, the Southern Rail Commission, and leaders across Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Florida about restoring a passenger line from New Orleans to Orlando.

And for some Northwest Florida cities, they are hoping as this project moves forward that they can be one of those stop locations.

"I am constantly being asked about the possibility of it ever coming back," Crestview Mayor David Cadle said. "There is great interest in this area for it to come back."

While Mayor Cadle says the interest of this rail in his city is high, there was one issue Crestview ran into last time a passenger train came through.

"When the Sunset Limited went through here before, it was always 1 a.m. or 2 a.m. for pick up for departure, and that did not go over well," Cadle said.

Just east of Crestview, DeFuniak Springs Mayor Bob Campbell is hopeful his historic city could be in line for a stop location as well.

"This is an old railroad town," said Mayor Campbell. "It is still set up for this. It would take very little to upgrade our depot, to bring it to ADA and those types of things."

Representatives from Tallahassee, Chipley, Milton, and Pensacola, also have an interest in the Gulf Coast Passenger Rail.

Funding isn't on the table yet, but there are a number if options, which could even include federal dollars.

The passenger service rail from New Orleans to Orlando has been approved, but it is up to the train service, which could be Amtrak or another company, on which cities will be the stop locations.

While many cities have come forward interested in being a "stop" location, Gregory White, Chairman of the Southern Rail Commission, says this process is still in the beginning phases, and it could be some time until actual stop locations are chosen.

White says the plan is one daily trip from New Orleans to Orlando, seven days a week. Studies will also be conducted to look at the railroads throughout this service line from New Orleans to Orlando, to see what "shape" they are in.

White also stated, he expects this passenger service line to be up and running in three to five years.