Ever grow tired of driving or relying on sometimes delayed planes when traveling in and out of Kentucky?
You have another choice: Catch a train.
And for those who want to kick back and relax (and are fine with longer travel times) while taking in the views, Amtrak has four stations in Kentucky.
Before getting to the rundown of where they are and where they can take travelers, it’s worth noting that no, Louisville once did but currently does not have passenger rail service.
However, some momentum formed in 2021 for expanding service to Louisville and other unserved cities with help from federal funding championed by President Joe Biden, though any such national growth could take years to become reality, if at all.
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David Coyte, a Louisville transit advocate who leads the Coalition for the Advancement of Regional Transportation, or CART, is one proponent of bringing more Amtrak service to the commonwealth.
“My wife and I have used Amtrak to go from KY to Washington, D.C., and beyond on several occasions,” Coyte told The Courier Journal in an email. “…Your patience will be rewarded. We find our train rides are like mini-vacations within the vacation. For longer trips, especially if you are older, we recommend getting a sleeper.
“Amtrak is changing and food service continues to change, but the freedom to walk around, meet interesting people, and not have to deal with airports makes it a wonderful experience. There is additional funding coming to Amtrak and it will hopefully reinvigorate this wonderfully efficient and safe mode of travel.”
Here are the different Amtrak stations in Kentucky and which areas of the country you can reach from them.
Ashland’s Amtrak station leaves from downtown
Located at 99 15th St. in downtown Ashland, which is along the Ohio River in northeastern Kentucky, this Amtrak stop features a platform with a shelter, restrooms and vending machines.
“The present station was originally built in 1906 as a Chesapeake & Ohio Railway freight depot,” Amtrak’s website says. “Restored by the city, it now serves as an intermodal facility and includes events space.”
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The Ashland stop is on Amtrak’s Cardinal line, which runs between New York and Chicago and has departures three days a week.
The line also stops in cities like Washington, D.C., Charlottesville, Virginia, Cincinnati and Indianapolis, with Amtrak’s website describing the route as “offering unforgettable views of the Southeast’s stunning natural beauty.”
“You’ll see gently rolling horse country, the Blue Ridge and Allegheny Mountains, the Shenandoah Valley, and the wild white-water rivers of West Virginia as they can only be seen by train,” Amtrak’s website says. “Heading westward, the train rolls along the banks of the mighty Ohio River — from the quaint towns of Ashland and Maysville, to the skyline of Cincinnati. From there, your journey continues to Indianapolis, and then northward to Chicago.”
Coyte said the trip from Kentucky to Washington, D.C., on the Cardinal line is “spectacular, going up the Ohio River and through the New River Gorge.”
“Fall and Winter are great times to take the train because you can see so much more of the scenery with the leaves off,” Coyte said. “You arrive in Union Station in the heart of D.C. with a great view of the (National) Mall.”
Prices vary depending on which day you travel. The three days the Cardinal line operates each week can change, but one schedule often has trains on the route operating on Sunday, Wednesday and Friday.
If wanting to visit New York, a search on Amtrak’s site shows a Friday departure in mid-December would leave Ashland at 6:45 a.m. and arrive in the Big Apple at 10:23 p.m. On a Friday, a basic coach seat could cost about $84, with entire rooms available from $384, though prices change.
Driving from Ashland to New York City, meanwhile, would normally take nearly 9 hours, 30 minutes. The extra six hours by train could feature some time for reading, relaxing, nature-watching, eating and sleeping.
Fulton‘s Amtrak station continues proud tradition
Located at 21 Newton Road in Fulton, which is on the Tennessee border in southwestern Kentucky, this stop has a station building with waiting rooms.
It has no bathrooms, no ATM, no pay phones, no vending machines and no WiFi.
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“Once the second-largest division headquarters on the Illinois Central Railroad, Fulton remains a community proud of its rich railroad heritage,” Amtrak’s website says.
The Fulton stop is on the City of New Orleans route, which has daily departures between Chicago, Memphis and New Orleans.
“Your journey on the City of New Orleans takes you 900 miles through the heart of our nation’s musical heritage — from Chicago with its world-class Chicago Symphony Orchestra and still vibrant electric blues scene, to Beale Street in Memphis,” Amtrak’s website says. “Then, travel the history-laden musical crossroads of Mississippi to New Orleans — the birthplace of jazz.”
A one-way ticket in mid-January from Fulton to New Orleans could cost about $78, though prices change, according to travel booking site Wanderu. Be prepared to wake up early to catch your train, as it would depart from Fulton at 3:14 a.m. and arrive in The Big Easy over 12 hours later at 3:47 p.m.
A one-way ticket in mid-January from Fulton to Chicago, meanwhile, would cost about $72, per Wanderu, with the train departing at 1:04 a.m. and arriving in the Windy City at 9:15 a.m.
Maysville station has architecture worth seeing
This Amtrak stop is at West Front and Rosemary Clooney streets in Maysville, the Mason County town on the banks of the Ohio River and at the mouth of Limestone Creek about 60 miles from Cincinnati.
“The colonial revival style C&O Railway depot, built about 1918, includes details such as quoins and a portico,” the Amtrak website says. (Quoins are mason blocks at the corner of a wall.)
The Maysville station includes a waiting room and restrooms. It joins Ashland on the Cardinal line.
A one-way ticket in January from Maysville to New York could cost around $86, per Wanderu, leaving the Kentucky city at 5:02 a.m. and arriving in New York at 10:23 p.m.
Going to Chicago from Maysville could cost around $59, with the train leaving at 11:52 p.m. and arriving at 10 a.m.
South Shore Amtrak station also serves Portsmouth, Ohio
The South Shore station in northeastern Kentucky sometimes also includes “South Portsmouth” in its title to refer to a neighboring town, and this stop also serves the city of Portsmouth, Ohio, located across the Ohio River.
The South Shore stop includes a platform and shelter.
“European-American settlers first arrived in the late 18th century, and the area later grew through coal mining and iron production,” the Amtrak site says.
South Shore joins Ashland and Maysville as a stop along the Cardinal line.
Traveling from South Shore to New York in mid-January could cost about $85, with the train leaving at 5:55 a.m. and arriving in New York at 10:23 p.m., according to Wanderu.
Getting to Chicago from South Shore would cost about $64, with the train leaving at 10:57 p.m. and arriving in Chicago at 10 a.m.
What does Amtrak offer in Louisville?
Amtrak has a Thruway motorcoach bus service that allows travelers to go from Louisville to cities like Atlanta, Indianapolis and Chicago. But it has been nearly 20 years since Amtrak ran trains to Louisville.
Louisville once enjoyed Amtrak service via the Floridian line, which covered roughly 1,600 miles between Chicago and Miami. The Floridian stopped operating in 1979.
The Kentucky Cardinal, which took travelers between Louisville and Chicago, ended its run in 2003.
Amtrak officials said then that the route, which also had a Southern Indiana stop in Jeffersonville, had seen too few passengers since it started in December 1999.
It took the train five hours to get to Indianapolis, since it could not travel faster than 30 mph because of track conditions. Travelers who went on to Chicago had a two-hour layover in Indianapolis and would arrive in Chicago at 9 a.m.
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The city’s Amtrak station still stands at 10th Street and Broadway, where Union Station has been home to the Transit Authority of River City, which operates buses around the Louisville area.
How to book an Amtrak trip
Go to Amtrak.com, and explore schedules, ticket prices, deals, trip statuses and more.
Reach Billy Kobin at firstname.lastname@example.org