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Pro-Rail Forces Have to Regroup

Dockery won't say if he has a plan to keep the train on track.

By Andrew Dunn

The Ledger

LAKELAND -- The bullet train was effectively derailed Tuesday, leaving its supporters to decide whether to pick up the pieces or walk away from the wreckage.

High-speed rail's biggest supporter, C.C. "Doc" Dockery of Lakeland, wouldn't say whether he had a plan. But that's not to say he doesn't have one.

"I won't speculate on what I might do," he said, with a bit of a chuckle. "A crazy old man might do anything."

Dockery, longtime Republican backer and husband of state Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, spent $3 million of his own money to win passage of the high-speed rail issue four years ago. And he spent an additional $75,000, according to the St. Petersburg Times, to protect the train against the derailing Amendment 6.

His efforts pitted him against Gov. Jeb Bush, who supported Amendment 6, which repealed the 2000 amendment.

Amendment 6 passed with 4,345,057 votes, or 64 percent, to 2,484,861 votes, or 37 percent against it. Those figures were with 98.9 percent of precincts reporting.

Opponents of the train seized upon a cost estimate of $25 billion over 30 years to convince voters the project was an unaffordable boondoggle that would take money away from schools and other more worthwhile programs. The first leg, running from Orlando to Tampa, with a stop in Lakeland, was projected to cost at least $2.3 billion.

Dockery said he thinks Amendment 6 passed because of the commercials funded by train opponents. He said Gov. Bush and his cohorts tied the bullet train to everything from teachers losing jobs to prisoners released from jail to the coup de grace: a state income tax.

"I think the defeat was the mention of a state income tax," he said. "You mention a state income tax and folks go bananas."

As for what happens to high-speed rail's future, Dockery was unsure.

"You have to ask the governor that," he said. "The fact is he never funded the bullet train to begin with."

Other high-speed rail backers say their fight will go on until Florida's gridlock ceases.

"High-speed rail will re-emerge," Keith Lee Rupp, president of the pro-train Florida Transportation Association, said Wednesday. "It'll probably require more visionary leadership in Tallahassee, and for people to begin applying more pressure on leaders as time goes on. That's something that will increase as roads become more congested, as air travel continues to be as inconvenient and expensive as it is."

This was the third abortive attempt in 15 years to build a rail network, and about $84 million has been spent studying and planning the projects, according to state and industry officials.

Two-thirds of that money came from the private sector. Fluor-Bombardier, a Canadian-based consortium selected as contractor for the latest project, now is wondering whether it will ever see a return on its $11 million investment.

"It's been a troubling process," said Lecia Stewart, Bombardier's North American vice president for high-speed rail. "It's a bit confusing for the private sector to be invited in under one criterion and ushered out under another."

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