The Floridian at Winter Park in 1973.
|Service type||Inter-city rail|
|Locale||Eastern United States|
|First service||November 14, 1971|
|Last service||October 9, 1979|
|End||St. Petersburg, Florida|
|Average journey time|
|Class(es)||Sleeping cars and reserved coach|
|Catering facilities||Dining car and on-board cafe|
|Observation facilities||Dome coach|
|Louisville and Nashville Railroad|
Seaboard Coast Line Railroad
The Floridian was a train operated by Amtrak from 1971 to 1979 that ran from Chicago and-via two sections south of Jacksonville-Miami and St. Petersburg, Florida. Its route mainly followed that of several former Louisville & Nashville Railroad (L&N) passenger trains, including the Humming Bird (Cincinnati—Louisville—New Orleans). Originating in Chicago, the train served Lafayette and Bloomington, Indiana; Louisville and Bowling Green, Kentucky; Nashville, Tennessee; Decatur, Birmingham, Montgomery and Dothan, Alabama; and Thomasville, Valdosta and Waycross, Georgia.
The Floridian was notorious for lackluster on-time performance, owing to poor track conditions and the poor condition of the equipment it inherited from railroads previously operating on the route. The train used the lines of L&N (in Indiana, over the former Monon Railroad, which merged into the L&N shortly before the formation of Amtrak), and Seaboard Coast Line. All are now part of CSX Transportation; some parts of the former route have since been abandoned by CSX.
Amtrak discontinued the Floridian in October 1979, leaving Louisville and Nashville without passenger train service, two of the largest such cities in the nation to have this distinction. (Louisville briefly regained Amtrak service with the Kentucky Cardinal, which operated 1999-2003.)
The Floridian as conceived by Amtrak was a successor of the Pennsylvania Railroad's (PRR) South Wind, which operated over PRR track from Chicago to Louisville via Logansport and Indianapolis, Indiana; then L&N from Louisville to Montgomery, Alabama; the Atlantic Coast Line (ACL) from Montgomery via Waycross to Jacksonville; and then either the Florida East Coast Railway (FEC) to Miami or the Atlantic Coast Line to St. Petersburg.:79-80
Amtrak retained the South Wind as a through daily Chicago-Miami train. However, the train was rerouted away from Logansport to the James Whitcomb Riley route via Indianapolis, changing its northern terminus to Chicago's Central Station (owned by Illinois Central Railroad [IC]), which it shared with Amtrak's Panama Limited (the renamed City of New Orleans and not the original all-Pullman flagship) until that facility was vacated later in favor of consolidating all Amtrak services at Chicago's Union Station. The Floridian began using Union Station on January 23, 1972.:82
Amtrak also began serving the west coast of Florida by splitting the now-daily South Wind into St. Petersburg and Miami sections. The train split at Auburndale, with one section continuing to Miami and another going to St. Petersburg via Tampa. On November 14, the South Wind was reconfigured as the Floridian. The St. Petersburg and Miami sections were retained. but the split now occurred in Jacksonville, with the St. Petersburg section serving Orlando and Tampa and the Miami section serving Winter Haven. These two legs crossed each other near Lakeland, Florida. The reconfigured train also added a stop in Nashville, which had long been served by the South Wind but had initially been left out of Amtrak for much of the spring and summer.
On paper, the new Floridian should have been a success. It ran through several major Midwestern and Southern cities (Chicago, Louisville, Nashville, Birmingham) en route to Florida, and its predecessor had existed for over three decades. However, it was fraught with problems. It had to contend with deteriorating Penn Central (PC)/ex-New York Central (NYC) track in Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky, which resulted in occasional use of MoPac (former Chicago & Eastern Illinois) and L&N (former Chicago, Indianapolis & Louisville: Monon) routes north of Louisville. In January 1977, the Floridian was cancelled for two weeks due to severe winter weather in Chicago. Two other long-distance Penn Central trains retained by Amtrak, the National Limited (successor to another PRR mainstay, the Spirit of St. Louis) and the James Whitcomb Riley, were plagued by similar problems.
During Amtrak's tenure, it continued to utilize E-units from many railroads before replacing them with the SDP40Fs which began arriving in the mid 1970s. Unfortunately, these engines had a tendency to derail, especially on rickety PC trackage. The train suffered terrible delays and frequent derailments, including one at 10 mph. The consists remained steam-heated.
The Floridian was briefly combined with the Louisville—Sanford run of Auto-Train. The success with the original Lorton—Sanford Auto-Train did not replicate itself on the Louisville-Sanford run, in part due to the severe delays on the Floridian, and this train was discontinued before Auto-Train itself finally succumbed to financial difficulties in the early 1980s. As part of this move Amtrak stopped serving Union Station in Louisville on November 1, 1976, instead using Auto-Train's station near Louisville International Airport. This continued until the Floridian's discontinuance.:221
In 1979, the United States Department of Transportation compiled a report that recommended the reduction of services on several routes that did not meet a metric for cost coverage. Per this report, the Carter administration required all Amtrak routes to meet a minimum cost/farebox ratio or face discontinuance. Unfortunately, the aforementioned track issues and delays resulted in a steep decline in ridership for the Floridian. It made its last run on October 9, 1979 and was shuttered along with the National Limited, North Coast Hiawatha, Lone Star, and Champion, thus rolling back some of the key parts of the Amtrak system and also alleviating some of the losses it had incurred since its May 1, 1971 founding.
There has been no concrete effort to re-establish direct Chicago-Miami service, either on the route of the South Wind/Floridian or on that of its partners the City of Miami and Dixie Flagler. During the early 2000s, Amtrak extended the Kentucky Cardinal to a re-opened Louisville Union Station, then discontinued the train again.
While there have been no proposals to restore Amtrak service to Nashville, there have been repeated calls from residents. However, in 2007 Tennessee state officials said resumption of service was unlikely. Besides a lack of federal funding, they claimed that Nashville, despite its large size, was not large enough to support intercity rail. "It would be wonderful to say I can be in Memphis and jump on a train to Nashville, but the volume of people who would do that isn't anywhere close to what the cost would be to provide the service," said Ed Cole, chief of environment and planning with the Tennessee Department of Transportation. Ross Capon, executive director of the National Association of Railroad Passengers, said rail trips would catch on if routes were expanded, but conceded that it would be nearly impossible to resume Amtrak service to Nashville without a substantial investment from the state.
In the diesel era, the South Wind was originally powered by PRR engines. Later, when a second train set was added, the train was typically headed by the E-units of the PRR on one set, and ACL on the other set. Though the train used the L&N for a significant portion of its run, a run-through agreement between the PRR and ACL provided that L&N units were only used in emergencies.
Soon after the Central of Georgia (CofG) took delivery of E8s 811 and 812, they were sent to Chicago and repainted in IC colors, returning to the CofG only on diesel run-throughs of IC power. They were used on the IC system. As a result, the IC supplied power to the City of Miami from Chicago to Miami and in the mid-1960s on the Seminole between Chicago and Columbus, Georgia. These engines were returned to the CofG after Amtrak came into being, but were retired from service.
The Dixie Flagler was originally steam powered with each railroad supplying their own power. Some had specifically designated streamlined engines.