admin / January 5, 2018
The Pensacola Amtrak Station project first came to view this past year when I began to look at government surplus property and to better understand why certain government-owned property would remain vacant and underutilized for so long. One such property that garnered attention was the former Pensacola Amtrak station. As the buzz began around the former Amtrak station, which is owned by the City of Pensacola, going back into service, this property quickly became the focus of my attention (see my blog article dated October 2015.) This was a particularly unique situation in that the Amtrak property was on the market for lease, however, it had lease terms that would require finding an equally unique tenant. Leasing this site was especially tricky because Amtrak reserved the right to restore passenger rail service and return the property to its original use as a train station, in perpetuity.
To better understand the future of this property, it helps to understand the past. The Pensacola Amtrak station was a part of Amtrak’s Sunset Limited route, which once offered passenger rail service from Los Angeles to Jacksonville including a stop in Pensacola. When the highly destructive and costly Hurricane Katrina made landfall in 2005 it destroyed the tracks along the gulf coast. As a result of the hurricane, the Pensacola Amtrak station was one of thirteen Amtrak stations in Florida that were taken out of service. Rail service was eventually restored to New Orleans, however, that is now the end of the Sunset Limited route. Pensacola’s iconic red brick Amtrak Station has been sitting vacant for 10 years.
At present, the rumored interest of restoring service to the Pensacola Amtrak Station may become a reality. Restored service would have a positive impact on the surrounding real estate market, as well as the surrounding neighborhoods. When a trial run took place with an Amtrak inspection train last month the community, local and state elected officials, and business leaders showed a strong turnout in support of the revamped service.
The trial run was from New Orleans to Jacksonville, which included a stop in Pensacola on February 19. Officials involved in the test run have stated that “re-establishing passenger rail service along the Gulf Coast within three to five years is a very realistic estimate.” If the Sunset Limited Route was restored it would run three days a week from New Orleans to Los Angeles.
The “FAST Act”, which is a bill with the aim of increasing multi-modal investments, allows authorization for passenger rail, which will help elevate passenger rail service into a higher profile effort. Included in the FAST Act is language that mandates establishment of “a working group to evaluate the restoration of intercity rail passenger services in the Gulf Coast region between New Orleans, Louisiana, and Orlando, Florida.” It appears that this group will be tasked with identifying funding sources to restore Amtrak services, as well as exploring options to create public-private partnerships. I’m looking forward to the findings and reports we should see from this “working group”, and even better, to see the impact of restoring passenger rail service in Pensacola.
Hopefully, when the time comes to write the third blog on this issue it will have a conclusion rather than a “to be continued” ending. I welcome our readers’ thoughts on the following: Could we still lease out this super cool Pensacola Amtrak Station property while the study is underway? How about a 36-month lease and perhaps find a use that would be complementary to a train station. Creativity and thinking out of the box could pave the way for bringing life to this ever vacant building while the powers that be sort out the future of rail service. For now, until the Southern Rail Commission makes the numbers work for ridership and revenue, the beautiful and iconic red brick Pensacola Amtrak station continues to sit vacant.
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