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Amtrak in Louisville: past, present... and future?

All aboard? Time will tell.

An Amtrak train line.

It’s been over 20 years since an Amtrak train like this one rolled through Louisville.

Photo by Marc Glucksman via Amtrak

Last month, local officials announced that Louisville had taken a step toward restoring passenger rail service thanks to a $500,000 grant. The money will fund research looking into the viability of a rail line that would connect Derby City to Indianapolis.

This isn’t the first time Louisville has looked Amtrak’s way. Passenger rail has a long history here.

The Floridian + Kentucky Cardinal

Amtrak took over LOU’s passenger rail service in the 1970s with a line called The Floridian. It connected Louisville with Indianapolis and Chicago to the north, and Nashville, Orlando, and Miami to the south from 1971 to 1979.

Service to Chicago returned in 2001, with another Amtrak offering — The Kentucky Cardinal. The overnight line rolled over the 14th Street Bridge on its way from Derby City to the Windy City. The service reached the end of the line shortly after it began, in July 2003.

Passengers roam through Louisville, Kentucky's Union Station in 1936.

Seen here in 1936, the heyday of Louisville’s Union Station saw 50 passenger trains pass through daily.

Union Station

During its short run, the Cardinal line terminated at Louisville’s Union Station, at 1000 W. Broadway. Originally built in 1891 for major railroads like L&N, it was designed in the Richardsonian Romanesque architectural style, and features arched windows + doorways, turrets, and stained glass windows.

It now serves as office space for the Transit Authority of River City. It’s unclear if it would be utilized in a future Amtrak operation.

Amtrak in Louisville today

If you visit Amtrak’s website, you might get fooled into thinking that there is still passenger rail service in town. That’s because Amtrak offers bus service just a few blocks from Union Station, at 1211 W. Broadway.

All aboard? Not quite yet

The train hasn’t quite left the station on passenger rail’s return. The study is expected to take around a year and examine a number of factors, including where potential stations could be located and the speed of potential train service.

Bonus: Clarksville, IN was also involved in pursuing the grant, and has designs on a new train station across the river.