Citing a dearth of passengers because of the impact of the coronavirus, Amtrak will reduce its train service in much of America on Oct. 1. But Lakeland was included in a small number of regions where service has already been rolled back.
The reductions from the Lakeland station overlooking Lake Mirror began July 6 and a state rail passenger coalition is peeved about it.
Amtrak says the cuts in train service are temporary and should be restored by next summer.
Before the cutbacks, Amtrak provided daily service from Lakeland to passengers on both northbound and southbound routes.
Now northbound trains serve Lakeland three days a week; the same goes for southbound routes. On most other days, buses from the Lakeland station can take passengers to Orlando to catch a train.
The northern routes from Lakeland include service to Kissimmee, Orlando, Winter Park, DeLand, Palatka, Jacksonville and points north.
Southbound trains include service to Sebring, West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami.
See current schedules at the end of this article.
Jackson McQuigg, an administrator and blogger for the Florida Coalition of Rail Passengers, is a big fan of rail travel but not of Amtrak.
McQuigg said he believes Amtrak cares only about the Northeastern United States and California and wants to abandon places like Florida.
He said train schedules for places like Lakeland are deliberately hard to find online and not in one place.
McQuigg said he doesn’t believe the Amtrak cuts are temporary. He said Amtrak cut Florida-to-New Orleans service in 2005 because of Hurricane Katrina, saying the cut was temporary, “and we’re still waiting.”
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Former airline executives have been hired to run Amtrak and they are trying to run it like a business but are running it into the ground, McQuigg said.
“It should be run as a government agency, not a business,” he said, and as such Amtrak should receive government subsidies. He said if the federal government builds a highway, “it doesn’t make a profit from it.”
An Amtrak spokeswoman responded to an email from LkldNow but did not respond to criticism from the Florida Coalition of Rail Passengers.
A bus service hired by Amtrak with pickup in Lakeland is now necessary to catch several trains each week.
Tom Phillips, executive director of the Citrus Connection, Polk County’s bus service, said his agency has been offering a ride from Lakeland to Winter Haven so people can catch some trains.
Ridership on those busses has been off by about 25 percent, likely mostly because of coronavirus, he said.
But Phillips has more significant worries. Bus ridership countywide is down by more than that because more than half of Citrus Connection customers before the pandemic used a bus to get to and from work. But many have lost their jobs.
An Amtrak station heads east past Kentucky Avenue in downtown Lakeland on March 12, 2020.
Pat Landreth, a psychiatrist in a geriatric unit at Lakeland Regional Health, is a fan of rail travel for weekend trips. She lives near Munn Park, so it’s just a short walk to the train station.
Landreth takes Amtrak to Miami to visit friends and can’t wait to do it again. But she said she won’t do it again until the coronavirus is kaput.
She’s a stickler in fighting against the virus and follows a strict routine that includes sanitizing her clothes to protect hospital patients. Much of her work in the hospital is done by videoconference.
“I love riding the train,” Landreth said. “There’s a big seat, good wifi and good movies.”
Current Schedule, Northbound
- Mondays: Connecting bus to Silver Meteor at Orlando departs 11:15 a.m.
- Tuesdays: Connecting bus to Silver Meteor at Orlando departs 11:15 a.m.
- Wednesdays: Connecting bus to Silver Meteor at Orlando departs 11:15 a.m.
- Thursdays: Silver Star train service departs at 6:03 PM
- Fridays: Silver Star train service departs at 6:03 p.m.
- Saturdays: Silver Star train service departs at 6:03 p.m.
- Sundays: Connecting bus to Silver Meteor at Orlando departs 11:15 a.m.
Current Schedule, Southbound:
- Mondays: Silver Star train service departs 1:13 p.m.
- Tuesdays: No southbound service
- Wednesdays: No southbound service
- Thursdays: Connecting bus to Silver Meteor at Winter Haven departs 12:50 p.m.
- Fridays: Connecting bus to Silver Meteor at Winter Haven departs 12:50 p.m.
- Saturdays: Silver Star train service departs 1:13 p.m.
- Sundays: Silver Star train service departs 1:13 p.m.
Source: Florida Coalition of Rail Passengers
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