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Fast Train's Wheels Still Rolling

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Fast Train's Wheels Still Rolling

Authority agrees to a new route and gets an offer for an extra $500 million.

By Bill Rufty

The Ledger

ORLANDO -- The Florida High Speed Rail Authority is alive and approving projects -- at least until the Legislature meets in March.

The authority Wednesday agreed on a new route for a bullet train and heard an offer of up to $500 million in additional private funding at its first meeting since Floridians voted overwhelmingly last week to repeal the 2000 constitutional amendment requiring the state to build a high-speed rail system.

In what many thought was going to be its last meeting Wednesday, the authority also approved the final $240,000 to complete an environmental engineering study.

The 2000 amendment, which was proposed by Lakeland businessman C.C. "Doc" Dockery, mandated the state build a highspeed rail system connecting at least five metropolitan areas in the state. Dockery is now a member of the authority.

Gov. Jeb Bush supported repealing the amendment.

Since the project's initial approval in 2000, no construction had begun but a route and contractor were selected. The system's first leg -- Orlando to Tampa -- was forecast to cost

$2.3 billion.

Supporters of high-speed rail said last week's vote to repeal the 2000 amendment has not killed the project, and they noted it did not wipe out the High Speed Rail Authority. Dockery said that in addition there is still a highspeed rail provision in state law.

"It is still in the Growth Management Bill passed in 1995," Dockery said. "Some day it will be built, even the governor has said as much. It is just the right thing to do."

Authority members got backing from some powerful legislators at their meeting.

"I have been wondering what to say to you all today," said Sen. Jim Sebesta, R-St. Petersburg and recent chairman of the Florida Senate Transportation Committee. "I supported repeal because I didn't want the residents of Florida to foot the whole bill and it didn't belong in the constitution."

"I know efforts are being made this morning and in the Legislature to deep six this authority, but I also believe that high-speed rail is an important segment to solving our transportation problems in this state. My message to you is: Don't quit," he said.

State Sen. Lee Constantine, R-Altamonte Springs, also encouraged the authority not to dissolve.

"I truly believe we still need to move forward and have innovations in transportation and in high-speed rail," he said. "Let's continue to look for innovative approaches and not look at this (repeal) as a rejection."

Chairman Fred Dudley opened the meeting by saying, "I was scheduled for a few remarks, but before I make the motion to adjourn, let me say . . ."

The audience of 80 people, many of whom were contractors or subcontractors, laughed nervously. People had entered the meeting at the Hyatt Regency wondering whether the authority would end that day.

Dudley said he has no idea whether the Legislature will repeal the commission when it convenes in March.

"But when I have two state senators here urging us to keep going, I have to think that we are meeting their wishes," he said.

The authority abruptly changed the route of the train that would leave Orlando International Airport and head toward Tampa, with a possible stop in Lakeland.

Last year the authority approved a route along the southbound Greeneway, connecting with Disney World at its Celebrations development and then heading down the median of I-4 to Lakeland and Tampa.

But authority staff members said Disney had dropped negotiations during the repeal movement and, more importantly, the Orange County Expressway Authority was not negotiating on a route down the Greeneway.

The route change could benefit the people who paid the most money and worked the hardest to defeat the rail system with its old alignment: Universal Studios, Sea World and the hotels and businesses along International Drive, all of whom opposed the Greeneway route in favor of the Bee Line near their attractions.

While the authority made no mention of a stop on the Bee Line, most observers thought that those businesses now will ask for one.

Authority member Leila Nodarse recommended the route change, noting that the Greeneway members were not likely to give the right of way because of deed restrictions along the roadway. She urged fellow members, some who were dragging their feet, to spend another $240,000 so that the consultants could finish an environmental engineering study to get approval for the first phase of the bullet train from the Federal Railway Administration, which also would release federal money for the project.

"We have spent $8 million on this project so I am willing to spend $240,000 to finish it and at least have it on the shelf and ready to go," she said.

In another unexpected development, Global Rail Consortium, which was the authority's No. 2 choice for the construction and operation of the bullet train, sweetened the pot by offering to provide $500 millio'n in private funds for the first phase.

Authority members agreed to include the offer in their report to the Legislature, which is due Jan. 2. A representative for the first choice, Fluor-Bombardier said his company was ready to respond at the December meeting, which will be held in Tallahassee.

Material from The Associated Press was used in this article. Bill Rufty can be reached at [email protected] or 863-802-7523.

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This is great news. I'm happy about the private funding, though that may drive up the costs of riding it. We shall see.

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Keeping the Train Rolling

Shortly after Jeb Bush became governor in 1999, he took major action that would haunt him through his first term and his next. Florida was about to embark on a major project to connect the Orlando, Tampa and Miami areas with a high-speed bullet train. Bush killed the project. He had signaled during his campaign that he didn't believe ridership projections and didn't think the state's financial condition could support it.

So Bush stopped it -- even though the state had committed $28 million already.

That's a haystack of money. And perhaps it is why the governor wasn't more vocal about the High Speed Rail Authority's action last week.

The authority members know that the voters giveth and the voters taketh away. In the 2000 elections, they approved an amendment to the state constitution that mandated construction of highspeed rail. Construction, the amendment specified, would begin by November 2003.

The governor managed to outwait the deadline. This month, he managed to convince voters to pass another amendment that repealed the previous one.

Last week, the authority voted to spend another $240,00 to complete an environmental study of the proposed route for the train's first leg between Tampa and Orlando. To have done otherwise would be like building a car but leaving the engine on the assembly line.

"Basically, they had to ask themselves if they walk away from about $8 million in work they've already done, or spend another $250,000 to give the project a shelf life of about three more years," Gary Brosch, chairman of the Center for Transportation Research at the University of South Florida, told the St. Petersburg Times. "They opted to give the train a future chance."

Spending $240,000 to finish an $8 million report that will prove useful later is prudent -- and a lot less costly than the $28 million in work Bush left unfinished when he stopped the train six years ago.

While the voters overturned the amendment, the state's commitment to high-speed rail is still a part of state law. "It is still in the Growth Management Act," said C.C. "Doc" Dockery, an authority member and prime mover behind the original amendment mandating the train.

Passed in 1987, the Growth Management Act addressed highspeed transportation and mandated a system to be in place by 1995. The Florida High-Speed Transportation Act, passed by the Legislature in 1992, also mandated highspeed mass transit for the state.

"Some day it will be built, even the governor has said as much," said Dockery. "It is just the right thing to do."

Moreover, there have been some new developments since the Nov. 2 election that may make the train more feasible -- while substantially reducing the exposure of the state. At last week's authority meeting, Global Rail Consortium, an alternate company that wants to build and operate the TampaOrlando train, offered $500 million in private funding to help build the first phase.

"Under the new proposal, the state's share might be closer to $20 million a year for 20 years, and I think that's doable," said Sen. Jim Sebesta, R-St. Petersburg. Sebesta, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, has been a proponent of highspeed and commuter rail, but has said in the past that such systems should wait until a funding plan of "federal, private and state dollars is in place."

Also last week, the route of the bullet train changed. The authority noted that the Orlando/Orange County Expressway Authority wouldn't agree to allow the use of right-of-way along the Central Florida GreeneWay. So instead of a stop at Walt Disney World, the train would have a terminal near the Orlando Convention Center and International Drive.

What happens to high-speed mass transit in Florida is up to the Legislature. In one election, voters mandated high-speed transportation for the state (which, by the way, the Legislature had also mandated, but refused to fund) and then, in a separate election, they determined that the issue didn't need to be in the Constitution.

The voters are right on both counts: It shouldn't need to be in the Constitution. And, as the first vote indicated, the Legislature should have vision.

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This story isn't over by a long shot... stay tuned.

http://www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald/news/state/10369834.htm

Bush asks high-speed rail authority to disband

Associated Press

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Now that Gov. Jeb Bush has succeeded in getting voters to repeal the high-speed rail project they approved in 2000, he wants the panel overseeing the train venture to close up shop.

Bush made that request in a letter faxed Wednesday to C.C. "Doc" Dockery, the Lakeland businessman who got the high-speed train measure on the ballot four years ago.

Dockery is also a member of the Florida High Speed Rail Authority that lawmakers created in 2001 to oversee the train project.

"Passage of constitutional amendment 6 on November 2 removed the mandate for developing and operating a high-speed rail system," Bush wrote. "Therefore, I ask the Authority to conclude its work and execute agreements to transfer remaining activities to the Department of Transportation."

Not so fast, Dockery said in his response.

Passage of the repeal measure last month doesn't impact the state law that created the authority, Dockery wrote back.

"In my humble opinion, it would be a violation of Florida law for us to attempt to comply with your request," Dockery wrote.

The authority was scheduled to meet Thursday. When it met in mid-November, a week after nearly 64 percent of voters supported the repeal measure, authority members said the vote has not killed the project.

Instead, they said, the vote was a cue for freer thinking.

And a key lawmaker, state Sen. Jim Sebesta, a St. Petersburg Republican who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee, said he wants the work to continue.

Since the project's initial approval in 2000, no construction had begun but a route and contractor were selected. The system's first leg - Orlando to Tampa - was forecast to cost $2.3 billion.

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I'm fascinated that this issue doesn't cut cleanly across party lines... that gives some hope that some type of intra-state rail project will come through... and it may not be as easy to repeal the existing statute if any ranking legislative committee members in both houses don't let it go to the floor for a vote... And even if it did reach one house, it could be blocked in the other... 120 representatives, 40 senators -- I wonder..

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not much new here, but for the record...

http://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/local/sou...-home-headlines

Despite vote against Florida's bullet train, the project lives on

By Mike Branom

Associated Press Writer

Posted December 29 2004, 11:02 AM EST

ORLANDO -- Did voters halt Florida's bullet train in its tracks, or just tap the brakes?

Again, a proposed high speed rail line that would span the state has reached a roadblock. On Election Day, citizens overwhelmingly chose to repeal a state constitutional amendment requiring the construction of a network.

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Four years ago, when the voters first approved the amendment, high speed rail was touted as a 21st-century solution to the state's traffic woes. This time, Gov. Jeb Bush successfully portrayed the project as an express train to financial ruin.

The system's first leg _ Orlando to Tampa _ was forecast to cost $2.3 billion, with the entire network carrying a price of $25 billion. No construction has begun.

``The original ballot question was, 'Would you like?''' said David Luberoff, a Harvard University expert on the politics of decision making for transportation. ``And then it was, 'Would you pay?''' There is no doubt the state needs either a drastic improvement to its tangle of roadways, or an alternative. Year after year, studies declare Florida as home to bloody asphalt and choking gridlock.

A month after the election, the Washington, D.C.-based Surface Transportation Policy Project said Florida's roads are the nation's most dangerous for people walking along them. Tampa ranked first among the state's metropolitan areas with 3.69 pedestrian deaths annually per 100,000 people. Orlando was next with 3.15, and Miami-Fort Lauderdale had 2.94.

This is the second time Bush has stopped a high speed rail line from being built. One of his first acts when taking office in 1999 was to kill the proposed Florida Overland Express. But the bullet train's biggest backer isn't about to let his dream derail into oblivion.

C.C. ``Doc'' Dockery, the Lakeland businessman who spent $3 million in 2000 to get the amendment passed, believes work can and should continue on the system's construction. Indeed, at the first meeting of the Florida High Speed Rail Authority after the election, the talk was not about disbanding but of choosing a new route while renewing discussions with a rejected contractor who had come forward with a more lucrative offer.

``Interestingly enough, a lot of newspapers are beginning to pick up editorially ... to not do away with the authority, that we need an alternative'' for transportation, Dockery said.

A recent poll showed some support for the train. Of 800 voters living in the Interstate 4 corridor surveyed earlier this month, 45 percent believe the Legislature should move forward with the project, with 34 percent against it. The poll by Political/Media Research Inc. carries a margin for error of 3

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We currently have an intra-state rail system (Amtrak) that is completely underused. Why is that? I believe it is because our entire state is not conducive to rail travel. Every Florida city (and most of the towns) are sprawled and feature multilane avenues, parking lots, strip malls, and freeways. For this reason, existing bus systems and light rail options are minimal or non-existent. Florida cities are downright hostile to biking and walking, therefore all forms of mass transit will see little usage.

With this new rail line, evidently the vision is that to get from Tampa to Orlando I need to drive to a rail station, ride the train, then arrive in Orlando with no vehicle. Orlando without a vehicle is like being in the Atlantic Ocean without a boat. I don't know of a solution to this problem, because the sprawl development pattern is hopelessly reliant on personal automobiles. This is why light rail schemes and train lines are nothing but money pits.

For this reason I am completely opposed to government financing of passenger trains like the "high speed rail" that will probably reappear on the ballot before too long.

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We currently have an intra-state rail system (Amtrak) that is completely underused.  Why is that?  I believe it is because our entire state is not conducive to rail travel.  Every Florida city (and most of the towns) are sprawled and feature multilane avenues, parking lots, strip malls, and freeways.  For this reason, existing bus systems and light rail options are minimal or non-existent.  Florida cities are downright hostile to biking and walking, therefore all forms of mass transit will see little usage.

Amtrak has its own unique bag of problems that help make it the unsuccessful system it is today. These include high ticket prices and bad scheduling. High speed rail would work very different than Amtrak.

With this new rail line, evidently the vision is that to get from Tampa to Orlando I need to drive to a rail station, ride the train, then arrive in Orlando with no vehicle.  Orlando without a vehicle is like being in the Atlantic Ocean without a boat.  I don't know of a solution to this problem, because the sprawl development pattern is hopelessly reliant on personal automobiles.  This is why light rail schemes and train lines are nothing but money pits.
This is a very shortsighted view. High speed rail is only to connect the state's largest areas with an alternative transportation network than highways. Imo, there should be only one high speed rail stop in each major or mid-sized city. Form that point its up to each individual city to provide transportation services to move rail riders around town. Miami already has this in place with Metrorail, Metromover & Tri-Rail. Tampa has a streetcar system that's planned to the expanded in the future, while Jacksonville is currently purchasing right-a-way for a citywide BRT transit system. I believe Orlando is also looking at one day building a light rail system and Fort Lauderdale will be breaking ground soon on a streetcar system as well. With these systems in place, one could effectively have breakfast at a mom and pop diner in Riverside (Jacksonville), spend the afternoon in Ybor City (Tampa) and party the night away in South Beach (Miami), without even thinking about renting or driving a car.

For this reason I am completely opposed to government financing of passenger trains like the "high speed rail" that will probably reappear on the ballot before too long.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

The high speed rail plans are still in motion. Gov. Bush's appeal only took them out of the Constitution. How do you feel about Florida's continued reliance on roads. Most of our existing and planned highways are money pits as well, and continue to be built on the backs of the average taxpayer, as well as continue to destroy and degrade our State's quality of life. With our state rapidly continuing to grow in population, it only makes perfectly good sense to look and incorporate alternative transporation systems in our state's transporation network.

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Amtrak has its own unique bag of problems that help make it the unsuccessful system it is today.  These include high ticket prices and bad scheduling.  High speed rail would work very different than Amtrak.

From a perspective of passenger rail, I believe it is far wiser to invest in our existing infrastructure (Amtrak basically) than constructing new rail lines and corporations that are completely unproven. Private passenger rail went bust in the 1960s for very clear reasons and I don't think those reasons have fundamentally changed.

This is a very shortsighted view.  High speed rail is only to connect the state's largest areas with an alternative transportation network than highways.  Imo, there should be only one high speed rail stop in each major or mid-sized city.  Form that point its up to each individual city to provide transportation services to move rail riders around town.  Miami already has this in place with Metrorail, Metromover & Tri-Rail.  Tampa has a streetcar system that's planned to the expanded in the future, while Jacksonville is currently purchasing right-a-way for a citywide BRT transit system.  I believe Orlando is also looking at one day building a light rail system and Fort Lauderdale will be breaking ground soon on a streetcar system as well.  With these systems in place, one could effectively have breakfast at a mom and pop diner in Riverside (Jacksonville), spend the afternoon in Ybor City (Tampa) and party the night away in South Beach (Miami), without even thinking about renting or driving a car.
I agree completely that it would be great if that sort of thing were possible. Basically a European city concept. However Florida's major cities are completely dysfunctional and I don't believe there would be sufficient traffic to a metro-area station to justify the cost. The problem with Florida's cities is that the destinations (restaurants, movie theaters, sports complexes, universities, etc) are so spread out that building any kind of functioning transit system between them is almost pointless.

I am most familiar with Jacksonville - a high-speed rail station near Riverside (or downtown, or wherever) would leave travelers with limited options in the immediate area. A functional mass transit system, that delivers travelers to key destinations quickly and without excessive switching, currently does not exist and would clearly be expensive to implement. I believe to be useful, a system in Jacksonville should connect the airport, downtown, sports complex, San Marco, Riverside, UNF, Beaches, and realistically probably many more neighborhoods than that. I consider that a daunting challenge given the physical layout of the city and I consider such a system to be a prerequisite for high-speed-rail access.

The high speed rail plans are still in motion.  Gov. Bush's appeal only took them out of the Constitution.  How do you feel about Florida's continued reliance on roads.  Most of our existing and planned highways are money pits as well, and continue to be built on the backs of the average taxpayer, as well as continue to destroy and degrade our State's quality of life.  With our state rapidly continuing to grow in population, it only makes perfectly good sense to look and incorporate alternative transporation systems in our state's transporation network.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Our present road system is shockingly expensive and wasteful. Somebody from 100 (or maybe even 50) years ago would surely be mortified at the concrete scars across our landscape. I was on I-75 recently (in Georgia actually) and the six-lane deluxe freeway, a dream to planners of the 1950s and 1960s, was completely stacked with stop-and-go traffic. The cost to upgrade and even maintain such an artery must be stratospherical and I believe our highway system is reaching a point of dysfunction - that is, it is too overcrowded to provide quality transit yet too expensive to expand or even maintain adequately.

I believe high-speed rail interconnects between cities (the European and Japanese model) would be great, but prerequisities for their success have not been met. Today, it is still very cheap to drive somewhere due to relatively low oil/gas prices. Also, Sunbelt cities are not at all designed for such rail access - few have useful mass transit systems and those that do (Atlanta comes to mind) still are not used by enough of the population to structure the city's development.

The fundamental issues are cheap automobile usage and the layout of our cities - the suburban growth model, in other words. Without addressing that issue, I believe investments in mass transit will continue to be boondoggles.

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From a perspective of passenger rail, I believe it is far wiser to invest in our existing infrastructure (Amtrak basically) than constructing new rail lines and corporations that are completely unproven. Private passenger rail went bust in the 1960s for very clear reasons and I don't think those reasons have fundamentally changed.

Amtrak's system is beyond the State's control. Investing in rail, doesn't mean you have to only build rail, you should also invest in the existing transportation network as well. The goal of rail is just to provide an alternative mode of transportation and introduce a transportation concept to the state that encourages urban development instead of continuing to only finance the expansion of sprawl. Like building new roads, its only a part of the solution, not the final answer to traffic gridlock.

I agree completely that it would be great if that sort of thing were possible. Basically a European city concept. However Florida's major cities are completely dysfunctional and I don't believe there would be sufficient traffic to a metro-area station to justify the cost. The problem with Florida's cities is that the destinations (restaurants, movie theaters, sports complexes, universities, etc) are so spread out that building any kind of functioning transit system between them is almost pointless.

Other than Orlando, Florida's major cities (Miami, Tampa, Jax) already have local rail systems of various sizes in place. Imo, the ideal thing, would be for high speed rail to only provide a stop in each city's downtown or airport. From that point, one could transfer to local rail or bus to get around. In the future this should be very possible and effective since each city already has plans in place for local rail or bus rapid transit systems.

I am most familiar with Jacksonville - a high-speed rail station near Riverside (or downtown, or wherever) would leave travelers with limited options in the immediate area. A functional mass transit system, that delivers travelers to key destinations quickly and without excessive switching, currently does not exist and would clearly be expensive to implement. I believe to be useful, a system in Jacksonville should connect the airport, downtown, sports complex, San Marco, Riverside, UNF, Beaches, and realistically probably many more neighborhoods than that. I consider that a daunting challenge given the physical layout of the city and I consider such a system to be a prerequisite for high-speed-rail access.

Jacksonville is already in the process of spending $100 million to buy right-of-way for a BRT (future light rail) system with routes extending from downtown, four different ways into various parts of the city. A large part of this system will already be in place by the time high speed rail reaches the city, if its not delayed any longer by the state. All of those areas of town you mentioned would be connected by then.

I believe high-speed rail interconnects between cities (the European and Japanese model) would be great, but prerequisities for their success have not been met. Today, it is still very cheap to drive somewhere due to relatively low oil/gas prices. Also, Sunbelt cities are not at all designed for such rail access - few have useful mass transit systems and those that do (Atlanta comes to mind) still are not used by enough of the population to structure the city's development.

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This is a very shortsighted view.  High speed rail is only to connect the state's largest areas with an alternative transportation network than highways.  Imo, there should be only one high speed rail stop in each major or mid-sized city.  Form that point its up to each individual city to provide transportation services to move rail riders around town.  Miami already has this in place with Metrorail, Metromover & Tri-Rail.  Tampa has a streetcar system that's planned to the expanded in the future, while Jacksonville is currently purchasing right-a-way for a citywide BRT transit system.  I believe Orlando is also looking at one day building a light rail system and Fort Lauderdale will be breaking ground soon on a streetcar system as well.  With these systems in place, one could effectively have breakfast at a mom and pop diner in Riverside (Jacksonville), spend the afternoon in Ybor City (Tampa) and party the night away in South Beach (Miami), without even thinking about renting or driving a car.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

I believe that the main problem with high speed rail connecting to the Tampa area is the fact that we have a poorly developed mass transit system. Yes, we have a rail trolley, but it only connects a few areas in the southern part of downtown to the resturants/etc. in Ybor City. (Grand total of 2.4 miles.) People in northern half of downtown aren't even in walking distance to it and have to catch a bus to get to the train. And even if they get around to extending the trolley north, it is still only less than a mile (at a cost of several million) and will only serve the downtown lunchtime business crowd. We also have a bus system here, however it doesn't go to 75% of the places someone riding a high-speed rail from Orlando would want to go, nor does it get them there in a reasonable amount of time. (Sometimes they are not all that convenient for existing Tampa residents.) The buses run either every half hour or every hour, and depending on the route it may not run on weekends. Travelling between two locations that are less than 10 miles apart could take up to an hour by bus. This makes it very unattractive for both commuters and tourists (which is the purpose for building the rail lines). The last thing I want is to be stranded in another city without access to transportation (not an unrealistic situation if you arrive after the local bus system stops running).

I would assume that people travelling out of Tampa towards Orlando would run into similar issues there. I've only been to Orlando a couple of times, however many tourism spots are very spaced out. I doubt that anyone could get around without their own vehicle. And even if a tourist from Tampa rode a train to Orlando and rented a vehicle, they would have to drive to the rail station (and pay for parking), wait for the scheduled train to arrive, ride to Orlando, then find a way to a car rental location (probably by cab, because you don't want a family to carry a bunch of suitcases on a bus), then drive to their destination. On longer trips (i.e., Tampa <=> Miami) this may be a major time saver, however the Tampa <=> Orlando run may not be able to justify it.

I also think its a big misconception to believe that the State of Florida will by paying for the most of this system. Private investors have also been very interested in having a part of it. One company has even offered to donate $500 million (1/4 of the $2 Billion needed) for the intial route between Tampa and Orlando. If the State (Gov. Jeb Bush) moves out of its way, its very likely that more money would come from other private interests (ex. large land owners and companies near the route) and the Federal Government, as well. This thing will very easily make more money or at least pay for itself than any major road project under construction (ex. I-4, I-295 "9A" beltway, I-95) or planned (ex. I-395 in Miami or I-795 in Jax) in the state that's being fully financed by taxpayers, with no hope of bringing in any revenue when their finished.

Even though the route from Tampa to Orlando is only $2 billion (estimates so far, but cost overruns will probably occur), completing the routes through out the rest of the state could be 5-10 times that. Even if we get funding for Tampa <=> Orlando, there are hundreds of other miles of track to pay for. Also, it does not look like there will be a significant amount of money provided by the Federal government. Unlike the congested interstates, this is not viewed as a "critical project". Even if it was, the interstates are far easier (and faster) to fix by adding extra lanes to their existing rights of way.

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I believe that the main problem with high speed rail connecting to the Tampa area is the fact that we have a poorly developed mass transit system. Yes, we have a rail trolley, but it only connects a few areas in the southern part of downtown to the resturants/etc. in Ybor City. (Grand total of 2.4 miles.) People in northern half of downtown aren't even in walking distance to it and have to catch a bus to get to the train. And even if they get around to extending the trolley north, it is still only less than a mile (at a cost of several million) and will only serve the downtown lunchtime business crowd. We also have a bus system here, however it doesn't go to 75% of the places someone riding a high-speed rail from Orlando would want to go, nor does it get them there in a reasonable amount of time. (Sometimes they are not all that convenient for existing Tampa residents.) The buses run either every half hour or every hour, and depending on the route it may not run on weekends. Travelling between two locations that are less than 10 miles apart could take up to an hour by bus.  This makes it very unattractive for both commuters and tourists (which is the purpose for building the rail lines). The last thing I want is to be stranded in another city without access to transportation (not an unrealistic situation if you arrive after the local bus system stops running).

I would assume that people travelling out of Tampa towards Orlando would run into similar issues there. I've only been to Orlando a couple of times, however many tourism spots are very spaced out. I doubt that anyone could get around without their own vehicle. And even if a tourist from Tampa rode a train to Orlando and rented a vehicle, they would have to drive to the rail station (and pay for parking), wait for the scheduled train to arrive, ride to Orlando, then find a way to a car rental location (probably by cab, because you don't want a family to carry a bunch of suitcases on a bus), then drive to their destination.

Once again, high speed rail, like new roadways, isn't the "end all" answer in to problem of solving traffic gridlock. Its only part of the answer. Both Tampa (light rail & streetcar expansion) and Orlando (commuter rail) have current plans for future local rail systems. These would be intergrated with the bus lines and high speed rail, thus providing alternatives to get around those towns.

On longer trips (i.e., Tampa <=> Miami) this may be a major time saver, however the Tampa <=> Orlando run may not be able to justify it.
I actually agree with you, on the Tampa to Orlando route. I think commuter rail, between the two, on existing CSX railroad tracks, would be a much better alternative.

Even though the route from Tampa to Orlando is only $2 billion (estimates so far, but cost overruns will probably occur), completing the routes through out the rest of the state could be 5-10 times that. Even if we get funding for Tampa <=> Orlando, there are hundreds of other miles of track to pay for. Also, it does not look like there will be a significant amount of money provided by the Federal government. Unlike the congested interstates, this is not viewed as a "critical project". Even if it was, the interstates are far easier (and faster) to fix by adding extra lanes to their existing rights of way.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

We don't know what the cost of building routes for this system will ultimately be, because it hasn't been given a chance. All I do know is that, with our grow and density, rail (or an alternative mode of public mass transportation) is needed. Unfortunately, most of us lack the vision to plan for the future and instead, act on reaction to solve problems, once they're already here.

BTW, when considering the cost of right-of-way to expand interstates in urban areas and the negative effect on our natural environment from added sprawl and pollution, high speed rail may ultimately turn out to be a cheaper option.

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Here's an interesting e-mail response, I just recieved from a friend who just read this thread.

Heh:

Interesting discussion! Paradoxically the discussion goes back over and over again to the same point. Most people are skeptical to the idea of the HSR because they underestimate the impact of such transportation alternative, they don

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Florida has always been a state (like many other sunbelt states) that has been married to more and more expressways. I see it changing some as they build up and get slightly denser. I hope Florida (or some state) can finally get that HS rail line built so the detractors no longer can say "can't happen in America" :)

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I hope this high-speed rail network gets approved and built so USA's transportation system could be enhanced to be just like Europe. This network in Florida is probably the first step to this goal and California is planning the same thing.

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^^ Pennsylvania actually has a MagLev that Congress has approved for Metro Pittsburgh (first step of many many more though) as well as one on the burner for the Baltimore/DC corridor, I know Florida was in the hunt for Maglev money as well . . . wonder if this is the same project of if "highspeed" is a different system.

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^^ Pennsylvania actually has a MagLev that Congress has approved for Metro Pittsburgh (first step of many many more though) as well as one on the burner for the Baltimore/DC corridor, I know Florida was in the hunt for Maglev money as well . . . wonder if this is the same project of if "highspeed" is a different system.

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MagLev is not a cost effective way to move people and I doubt the test system in Pittsburgh will ever be built.

Most likely the first new HSR project to be built in the Unites States is the South East High Speed rail project currently in the planning phases. It is a colaboration of North Carolina & Virgina and is moving forward based on the success of the North Carolina Railroads twice daily train service currently operating between Charlotte and Raleigh. This is the only system to actually have reached approval to begin Tier II Environmental studies of the proposed route.

This is a map of the system. The red portion will be the first section built. Eventually there may be a connection to Jacksonville where it would provide incentive for Fla. to build its system.

sehsrmap.gif

South East High Speed Rail Project

North Carolina's Passenger Train Service

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Hey, that would make Jacksonville a valuable transfer station, and a gateway to the Florida system of rail. I wonder, if the entire eastern seaboard gets high-speed rail in place, Amtrak will probably pack up its bags and leave.

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Although there are many private dollars at work on these, each one will need Federal aid to get off the ground, Amtrak is basically just the way the money is spent, instead of it going away it might just have its federal "responsibilities" morph into HSR or Maglev. All it takes is an act of Congress, although Amtrak is semi private, the government pays most of the bills and you know who makes the call then.

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Although there are many private dollars at work on these, each one will need Federal aid to get off the ground, Amtrak is basically just the way the money is spent, instead of it going away it might just have its federal "responsibilities" morph into HSR or Maglev.  All it takes is an act of Congress, although Amtrak is semi private, the government pays most of the bills and you know who makes the call then.

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The North Carolina Railroad operates passenger trains completely with state funding. As I mentioned earlier, trains run twice daily between Charlotte & Raleigh with stops on all the major towns in between. No federal dollars are needed or the service would have never gotten off the ground. The current SESHR route is a colaboration of NC & Virginia, not the federal government and much of the route would be over the same route used by the NC RR.

I do agree however that Maglev is officially dead. Congress has at least seen the light and ended that boondogle.

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Another said that a HSR system has never been proven; just look at the system connecting Paris and Brussels, when it was a conventional rail system barely 20% of the traveler used it, the air industry and car driving took the other 80%, after the HSR the air connection between the two cities disappear in less than 5 years and today the number reversed itself, more than 80% of the passengers make the trip on the HSR.

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We can't really compare HSR in Florida to HSR in Europe (or Japan for that matter) for several reasons:

Their cities are more friendly to pedestrian traffic.

Many major roads in Tampa are not friendly to those without a protective shielding of metal, plastic, and glass. Crossing certain 6-10 lane roads such as Busch Blvd., Fowler Ave, Florida Ave., Nebraska Ave, or Dale Mabry Hwy. require amazing concentration and great bursts of speed to avoid being run down. Unless you are already near where you need to be, it is very difficult (and often unsafe) to get there on foot.

Viable mass transit systems are already in place.

In Florida they would have to greatly expand the existing mass transit systems before it would be viable for people that don't wish to drive. And since a lot of funding has just been killed off for the next few years, it becomes just that much more difficult to do this. It is not guaranteed that the money will be available for local areas to improve their mass transit, especially when there are other pressing issues to tend to like decaying surface roads and issues with drainage.

They have a much higher population density.

A large part of Florida consists of swamps and forests, with small population centers spread out over hundreds of miles. Most places in Europe have large population centers spread out over dozens of miles. Their trips aren't going to be as long as some of our trips are. Plus once you arrive at your destination city there will be mass transit waiting.

Gas prices are a bigger factor.

This is important because this has created a mindset of choosing mass transit over individual cars. (You will have to pry the car keys from some people from their cold, dead hands.) Until we can break this mindset, HSR may not be viable in certain areas. (Yes, I know that this is a chicken & egg problem...) The mass transit mentality only works in a handful of areas, mainly along the Boston <=> DC corridor (which happens to be Amtrak's only profitable rail line).

I'm not saying that HSR should never be built. (I would prefer it to exist so that I don't have to drive all the time, and I would also prefer if Tampa actually had a decent mass transit system, but that is a different discussion...) I got soured on HSR in Florida when it was mandated into the constitution without the voters knowing exactly how much it would cost, where the money would really come from, and how long it would take to build. (Some people still don't know how much it will cost, and they still say we should build it anyway, and estimates are 5 years after construction starts before Tampa <=> Orlando is up and running.) It was touted as something that tourists and commuters would like to ride, however I personally believe that we should not spend $2bil. on a 90 mile rail line for tourists and a small percentage of commuters. I also don't want to end up in the situation where we have the line from Tampa <=> Orlando, but we can't afford to build a single mile of the rest of the system...

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Why should high speed be be strictly the domain of walkers? People keep bringing this up over and over again. Just because it's rail does not mean that it's mass transit per se. You don't see people walking from the airport do you? Why should we not assume that rental car agencies along with taxi and bus stands will locate near HSR terminals.

As bad as it is, Tampa does have a pretty walkable downtown. I can think of many instances where HSR would work great.

Take a conventioneer. They take the train into tampa. Get a taxi to the Channelside Marriot. Walk to the convention, hop the trolley to Ybor. This is the same thing he'd be doing from the airport.

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I agree that until our cities take the initiative to build effective networks and transit, HSR won't be as effective. The only city in Florida that has decent transit and massive plans to expand is Miami. But one small problem: Miami just found out that they can't pay for it!

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