Amtrack's board of directors yesterday approved suspension of the daily Floridian, which travels between Chicago and several cities in Florida, as of Jan 19 - the first major passenger train discontinuance in the corporation's six-year history.
In addition, the directors ordered Amtrak's management to accelerate studies on possible curtailment of five trains in the West.
The vote to suspend th Chicago Florida train was unanimous, but former United Transpontation Union president Charles Luna, a board member, voted against the decision to speed-up consideration of dropping the other trains.
Amtrak officials emphasized that the vote on the Chicago-Florida train was not to cancel the service altogether. They held out the hope that if additional federal money is supplied sometime in the future, the route could be revived.
If the service is restored, Amtrak's director decided, the Floridian's route should be changed to attract more riders. Specifically, stops at Birmingham and Montgomery would be dropped and the train would travel from Chicago to Indianapolis, Louisville, Nashville, Chatanooga, Atlanta and Macon before reaching Florida points.
However, revival of the route would involve capital costs for stations along the way and resolution of a conflict with the bankrupt Penn Central Transportation Co., on rebuilding the tracks into Indianapolis, which currently are impassable.
The Floridian has been losing $10 million a year, but has carried a daily average of 578 riders.
Amtrak's decision to drop the train came after Congress agreed to a supplemental appropriation of $8 million for the current fiscal year instead of the $56 million sought by the national rail passenger firm.
Because of other spending cuts necessary to balance the budget, Amtrak's directors yesterday called on management to study the discontinuance early next year of the following trains.
The daily Empire Builder between Chicago and Seattle, via Minot, N. Dak., expected to lost $11 million in the which carries 1,025 riders a day and is fiscal year.
The three-times-a-week North Coast Hiawatha, between Chicago and Seattle via Billings, with 853 riders, loss of $7.3 million.
The three-times weekly Inter-American between Chicago and Laredo, loss of $3 million.
The daily Lone Star between Chicago and Houston, 962 riders, loss of $6.4 million.
The San Joaquin between Oakland and Bakerfield, 281 riders, loss of $1.4 million.
Under procedures ordered yesterday, Amtrak officials said they do not expect there will be enough time to hold public hearing on the train routes involved. Instead, public comments will be sought and telephone contacts will be encouraged.
One possible solution under review is the consolidation of several of the trains involved - such as the selection of one Chicago-Settle route and the elemination of one train.
There was discussion but no action at yesterday's Amtrak board meeting of another money-losing route that has been attracting more than 1,000 riders a day - the Lake Shore Limited between New York, New England and Chicago.