Jacksonville, Fla., February 11 and 12
Amtrak Florida poster from the 1970s
K-9 Unit demonstration in Jacksonville
Mr. C entertains visitors, but never created a balloon locomotive
The Exhibit Train arrived in Jacksonville pulled by the Silver Meteor, one of the two trains (along with the Silver Star) that make up Amtrak’s popular Silver Service running along the East Coast from New York to Miami. The Silver Meteor, whose name suggests luxury and speed, has a long and rich history that goes back more than seven decades. It originally went into service in 1939 under the Seaboard Airline Railroad, which later merged with the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad in 1967 to form the Seaboard Coast Line Railroad. The Silver trains continued to operate under Amtrak after it took over the nation’s intercity passenger rail services on May 1, 1971.
In addition to welcoming tens of thousands of passengers every year, the Jacksonville station also functions as an important train and engine crew base. An enthusiastic group of employees, organized by Cathy Fleming, came out to staff the Exhibit Train and welcome visitors to their “second home.”
People are always drawn to the colorful posters in the first Display Car that represent different regions of the country. The one for Florida provided the perfect backdrop for quite a few photos. Frolicking under a warm glowing sun, vivid pink flamingos give the viewer a sly glance that beckons one to hop aboard the gleaming train running across the lower end of the poster. Symbols of the “Land of Sunshine,” such as the castle at Disney World and a rocket blasting off from Cape Canaveral, are framed by the birds’ bodies and long, elegant legs.
Even if you had no idea when this piece of art was created, the drawing of the train does provide some clues. True rail buffs would certainly notice that the locomotive wears the short-lived Phase I livery introduced in 1972. Locomotives in this paint scheme bore a distinctive red front, which rail fans refer to as the “bloody nose.” Amtrak’s first logo, an inverted arrow in red and blue, was painted on the side.
Inside the station, kids had a lot to keep them occupied. The Chuggington play area is always the place to be, and it’s fun to watch the children learn how to share and take turns with Koko, Brewster, Wilson, and friends. Little hands love to move the locomotives through the car wash—any railroad would be proud to have such a sparkling fleet! Vee must be very proud of her little Chuggers for staying so neat as they travel around town and through the countryside.
Nearby, a clown named Mr. C created animal balloon sculptures. While a locomotive never emerged from his hands, he did create dogs, birds, dolphins, and other creatures. People also enjoyed the presentations given by three Amtrak K-9 officers who showed off the skills of their specially trained dogs. Kids really like the trading cards that the officers hand out. Each one features a photo of the officer and dog, as well as fun facts about the team.
The sun-drenched waiting room, which has large floor-to-ceiling windows, was lined with tables staffed by a wide array of exhibitors, including Florida Operation Lifesaver, the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra, the Jacksonville Transportation Authority, and Visit Jacksonville—the local convention and visitors bureau. The National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP), an organization that advocates for passenger rail service, has joined us at every stop. At Jacksonville, NARP Chairman Robert Stewart organized the display and chatted with passersby about the group’s work with Congress as well as its outreach and advocacy efforts at the state level and in local communities.
Across the room, volunteers from the Palatka Railroad Preservation Society told visitors about the museum that they operate out of the historic Palatka station. Located about an hour south of Jacksonville, the former Atlantic Coast Line Railroad depot houses the David Browning Railroad Museum, which contains documents, photographs, maps, signs and other items related to local railroad history, as well as a popular HO scale model railroad that depicts the Pennsylvania countryside. Amtrak passengers waiting for the Silver Meteor and Silver Star use the adjacent platform. In the fall, the society hosts Rail Fest, a celebration of all things railroading.
Well, as they say, the railroad never stops—this week we leave the First Coast for Tampa Bay. Come see us at historic Tampa Union Station, which will mark its centennial this year during a special National Train Day celebration on May 12th.