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A planned Chicago-to-Florida Amtrak service bypasses Tampa, raising concerns

Blue train on train tracks with "Amtrak" across its side.
Marc Glucksman
Last year, nearly 130,000 passengers passed through Tampa Union Station, making it the second busiest train station in Florida.

Some Tampa Bay area organizations are expressing their frustration with the study that shows the planned route and are urging residents to speak up.

Amtrak’s new service from Chicago to Florida is set to bypass Tampa.

That's according to a study by the Federal Railroad Administration, which looked at future plans for long-distance passenger rail services and evaluated the potential for new routes.

The group Friends of Tampa Union Station released a statement, expressing their frustration with the plan, saying that with Tampa’s long-time connection to the Midwest and the I-75 corridor, it should be included.

Bob O’Malley is president of Right Track Public Affairs and has worked in transportation affairs for over a decade.

He agrees that Amtrak should provide service to Union Station.

“Tampa is a popular destination,” O’Malley said. “As the state continues to grow in both population and visitors, they need different options on how to get here.”

Detailed image of a railroad.
Sergei Ramiltsev/Getty Images/iStockphoto
With Tampa’s longtime connection to the Midwest and the I-75 corridor, Friends of Tampa Union Station say they should be included in Amtrak's future Chicago-Florida route.

Bay News 9 reported that last year, nearly 130,000 passengers passed through the station, making it the second busiest in Florida.

Tampa itself had around 26.7 million visitors in the 2023 fiscal year.

“You only have to go to the beach and count the license plates from Ohio just to know how popular the west coast of Florida is to people in the Midwest, or just drive I-75,” O’Malley said. “So there definitely should be Amtrak service to Tampa, and I think that that's an important thing that the study needs to consider.”

In an email to WUSF, the FRA said that they “emphasize that the Proposed Network of Preferred Routes created by the Study is meant to be a vision of potential future long-distance service.”

The FRA added, “nothing in the study would prevent a new or restored long-distance route from serving Tampa in the future, and it is too early to definitively say where future Amtrak stations might exactly be located.”

O’Malley acknowledged that the study is not final, but he hopes that Tampa Bay area residents will speak up.

“The FRA listened in the past,” he said, referring to the restoration of Amtrak service along the Gulf Coast. “The fact that FRA is accepting comments as a part of the study tells me that they’re willing to listen and that they will listen.”

Corrected: March 4, 2024 at 2:58 PM EST
The Federal Railroad Administration was misidentified in a previous version of this story.
Kayla Kissel is a WUSF Rush Family Radio News intern for spring of 2024.