Floridian

The Floridian loads passengers in the street in Lafayette, Indiana, in June 1977.

The Floridian loads passengers in the street in Lafayette, Indiana, on July 8, 1977.

Endpoints: Chicago-Miami/St. Petersburg, Florida

Numbers: 52/53 (Nov. 14, 1971 to April 24,1976); 56/57 (April 25, 1976 to Oct. 9, 1979)

Host Railroads: Penn Central, Louisville & Nashville, Seaboard Coast Line

Amtrak Operated: Nov. 14, 1971 to Oct. 9, 1979

Named for:  The state of Florida

Pre-Amtrak History: See the page for the South Wind

Amtrak History: This train operated as the South Wind for the first six months of Amtrak operation. Seeking to to give the train a fresh identity, Amtrak renamed it the Floridian on Nov. 14, 1971.

The Floridian would have one of the most tortured existences of any Amtrak train and route. Amtrak President Paul H. Reistrup told a Congressional committee in 1977 that if ever there was a train destined to have difficulties, it was the Floridian due to a slow travel time, bad track and a meandering route.

Five years earlier, Amtrak has described the Floridian as its worst train. Every time Amtrak experienced financial woes, the Floridian made the list of trains destined to be discontinued. Amtrak formally sought to end the Floridian in 1973, but backed off in the face of public and congressional pressure.

The difficulties of the Floridian were long, but topping them was finding a suitable route, particularly through Indiana. Initially, Amtrak routed the train between Chicago and Indianapolis via the Illinois Central and Penn Central route used by the Chicago-Cincinnati James Whitcomb Riley.

But track conditions on the former New York Central route were horrendous and the Floridian moved on January 23, 1972, to the ancestral route of the South Wind on the former Pennsylvania Railroad out of Chicago. That just traded one set of bad PC tracks for another.

Four derailments of the Floridian in Indiana in 1974 prompted the Federal Railroad Administration to take a closer look at Penn Central track. On Aug. 2, 1974, the FRA closed 67 miles of the route of the Floridian between Logansport, Indiana, and Louisville, Kentucky. That sent the Floridian to a temporary route over the former Chicago & Eastern Illinois via Evansville, Indiana, that had been used by that railroad’s Dixie fleet of passenger trains through the middle 1960s.

PC repaired the track and the Floridian returned to its regular route via Indianapolis and Louisville in September. But winter weather undid the repairs and in early 1975 the Floridian was again looking for a new route. It returned to the Dixie Route for a time and even used the former Illinois Central route once traveled by the City of Miami.

Another detour route involved using the former Monon between Chicago and Louisville. Those tracks were now owned by the L&N and in late March 1975 the ex-Monon became the permanent route of the Floridian between Chicago and Louisville although every timetable Amtrak published through 1979 insisted that service to Indianapolis and Logansport was temporary suspended.

Amtrak also continued to say that routing the train via Atlanta was its only hope for survival. But the L&N wouldn’t allow it on its Chattanooga-Atlanta route due to heavy freight traffic and the Southern wouldn’t take the Floridian unless Amtrak made $20 million in track improvements in the Atlanta area.

Another vexing problem was scheduling. Was it better to travel two days and one night, or to travel one day and two nights? Amtrak flipflopped the schedule five times before settling on two-night out starting in January 1978.

It didn’t help that the Floridian was a slow way to travel from Chicago to Miami. The South Wind covered the distance in 29.5 hours in 1940, but that had expanded to 34 hours by 1971. That would be the fastest running time during the train’s eight years of operation by Amtrak.

Between Oct. 31, 1976, and Sept. 3, 1977, the Floridian operated in combination with the Auto-Train between Louisville and Sanford, Florida. Amtrak moved into the Auto-Train Louisville terminal adjacent to L&N’s Osborn Yard in Louisville. The joint operation failed to substantially lower the losses incurred by the Floridian and Amtrak pulled out of the arrangement.

Auto-Train also lost buckets of money on the Louisville-Florida service, which it had begun in May 1974 and those losses played a key role in the company’s 1981 collapse.

The Floridian was the subject of Amtrak’s first route study, which began in February 1977. The study concluded that the train should be discontinued in early 1978. The Amtrak board of directors in November 1977 approved discontinuance of the Floridian unless Congress paid to reroute the train via Atlanta.

Instead, Congress imposed a route freeze on Amtrak while the U.S. Department of Transportation carried out its own Amtrak route restructuring study. The final version of that study was released in January 1979 and to no one’s surprise recommended ending the Floridian. It had lost $21 million in 1978 and had the highest short-term loss per passenger of any Amtrak train.

Amtrak’s board of directors approved discontinuance of the Floridian effective Oct. 1. A series of court actions kept the Floridian in operation a while longer with the last trains reaching Chicago and their Florida terminal points on Oct. 9, 1979.

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