Aug. 23 marked the seventh anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, one of the five deadliest natural disasters in the history of the United States.
The catastrophic storm reached winds of 174 miles per hour and killed more than 1,800 people, mostly New Orleans residents.
New Orleans is approximately 386 miles and about six hours from Tallahassee. Between Jacksonville and New Orleans lie 13 suspended train stations, according to the Amtrak Gulf Coast Service Plan Report.
After Katrina, Amtrak suspended passenger rail service due to excessive damage near the Gulf Coast.
There are four stations in Mississippi, two stations in Alabama, and seven stations suspended in Florida.
“The Florida Department of Transportation is not actively working to restore Sunset Limited service or any passenger rail service to serve the Tallahassee railroad station,” said Ed Bryant, a rail capacity production engineer.
Without a passenger train running through Tallahassee, transportation is limited for students who don’t drive.
“It does affect FAMU students because it’s an alternative from busses and planes,” said Victoria Barnes, a sophomore from Tallahassee.
In case of an emergency, what’s the safest, fastest way for students to get home?
“Some students don’t have a car to drive home,” said Kamren McCloud, a freshman business administration student from Pompano, Fla. “They would have to find a ride or have their parents come and get them.”
However, the National Association of Rail Passengers has been actively promoting restoration of passenger rail service to Tallahassee and other communities. Before Katrina, passenger trains made rounds from Orlando all the way to New Orleans.
As some students feel it’s unfortunate they can’t travel by train, some feel it impacts the community financially.
“I think it would be beneficial to the city and state if they did reopen it,” said Barnes. “I understand it takes time, money and resources to operate, but I feel that it would balance out when people start using it.” Others agree. “My wife and I traveled to New Orleans for the Jazz Fest before Hurricane Katrina via the train and had a wonderful trip,” said Bart Bibler, the chief of water programs at the Florida Department of Health. “There are a lot of economic benefits in having a rail system here in Tallahassee.”
Officials said as the city and other private investors focus on Gaines Street, having an up-and-running train station could possibly boost traffic into the local businesses in the area.
The Amtrak report said there are strategic plans to identifying the most feasible options for restoring services to the suspended stations. The report also says that officials are considering the best cost efficient ways to restore service of passenger trains back through the Gulf Coast.