I took a trip up to Orlando this weekend, and couldn’t help but think of how much more pleasant the trip would have been if I didn’t have to play road warrior to get there. At about 230 miles away, Orlando is not very far in high speed rail talk, considering that the base speed for a train to be considered ‘high speed’ is 125 mph or faster. That would make the trip to Disney almost two hours (allowing for a certain number of stops between here and there).
The future of rail travel within the State of Florida is might look different in ten years if legislators agree to meet this December to revisit state funding of Sun Rail (and Tri Rail).
The battle lies in Atwater’s Senate, where critics twice have defeated SunRail despite well-financed pushes by special interests. The most recent proposal included the state paying $150 million for CSX rail track in Central Florida then paying an additional $496 million for improvements to CSX facilities and to a CSX freight line west of the commuter system. Hundreds of millions more would come from local and federal governments to complete the $1.2 billion project. (Herald)
With the feds ready to give half a billion for the construction of Sun-Rail, and construction set to begin within a year of approval by the state legislature, what are they waiting for?? Regardless of the future of high speed rail in Florida, this is a worthy project that will help produce a modal shift in Central Florida.
Observers say that funding Sun-Rail and Tri-Rail now is pivotal in order to be taken seriously by the feds for high-speed rail funding (not to mention funding for our own much needed FEC corridor). Local commitments to fund rail and transit projects are vital in securing federal dollars for constructing infrastructure. If the feds don’t see that local officials are going to participate, then why should they try to help? Awards will be made by next December, with construction estimated to begin on the Tampa/Orlando segment in late 2011.
Our state representatives need to act quickly to provide a dedicated revenue source for Tri-Rail and commit to funding Sun-Rail. Other issues also remain, such as the exact alignment of the Miami/Orlando route, and the location of stops within the Orlando area (currently including Disney, International Drive and the airport). Disney world currently offers its own free shuttle service from the airport called Magical Express:
Begin your vacation the moment you step off the plane. Bypass baggage claim and avoid the hassle of having to find transportation and drive, as Disney’s Magical Express service transports you from Orlando International Airport to your Walt Disney World Resort hotel, and pick ups and deliver your bags to your room. And when your vacation ends, we’ll transport you and your luggage back to the airport. (Disney)
Disney has signed on to SunRail by donating land, BUT has not made clear whether it will encourage visitors to use the new service because of concerns over potential stops at International Drive (with hundreds of other potential hotels for visitors to go to).
The state, in its $2.5 billion application for federal funding for the high-speed train, does not count on picking up any passengers with Disney or I-Drive stops. They put the potential ridership at 1.9 million to 2.2 million. The I-Drive stop could add 530,000, while Disney could go from none to 2.2 million.
In a perfect world, the Orlando/Miami segment would be scheduled to begin running in 2017, just in time for my son’s 11th birthday. It would be nice to take him up to Orlando in a nice new train! If you support this project, please use the contact info below (or email your state representative) and let our leaders know that high speed rail (and Sun-Rail) are important to the residents of Miami-Dade. (Also contact Commissioner Carlos Gimenez, who recently told me that he didn’t hear anyone in Miami asking for a rail connection to Orlando!)
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