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SunRail to Polk? Tampa-Lakeland Commuter Rail? Tampa-Orlando?

12 Jul 2009 5:50 PM | Jackson McQuigg (Administrator)

Commentary

Tampa-Lakeland-Orlando Service. Now, Not Later!

Fresh from the serious setbacks to SunRail, the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) is currently focused on the concept of building an all new rail line between Tampa and Orlando via the median of Interstate 4.

The new line would serve high speed rail, but might eventually also host other services, such as Tampa-Orlando commuter rail.

The bad news? Any new line between Tampa and Orlando is years away and will cost billions to build.

And thus far, connections between the high speed line and Amtrak services in Florida don't exist at all.

FDOT has repeatedly referred in the press to "freight train congestion" which exists on the existing CSX line between Tampa-Auburndale as a justification for the new Interstate 4 route.

The problem with dismissing the CSX line out of hand is that, aside from the issues of cost and Amtrak connectivity, Florida's continued population growth will ultimately justify the use of both lines.

Why can't FDOT do as California did and try a "keep it simple" approach?

Let's start running more, FDOT-funded, Amtrak trains Tampa-Lakeland-Orlando, on the CSX line, now.

The only passenger service on the Tampa-Auburndale line at present is the northbound and southbound Amtrak Silver Star each day. That's hardly enough to make a dent in the strangling automobile traffic on Interstate 4.

Despite its current concerns about "freight train congestion", in the recent past FDOT has demonstrated that it will consider the use of the CSX Tampa-Orlando line.

Just last year, FDOT was mandated to do a "mitigation" study that evaluated the impact of freight traffic diversions from the CSX A-Line through Downtown Orlando to a route through Downtown Lakeland.

The study, completed in December 2008, is available online via the following links:

http://www.fdotrailtrafficevaluation.com/index.html

The study also contemplated commuter rail options for Polk County. As possibilities, it included an extension of SunRail to Lakeland and/or the creation of a Tampa-Lakeland commuter rail service via the proposed new Interstate 4 right of way to be built Tampa-Orlando or the CSX line.

The CSX corridor study is here:

http://www.fdotrailtrafficevaluation.com/images/Maps%20and%20PDFs/Jan%2028th%20Public%20Meeting%20Docs/CSX%20Corridor.pdf

Like most of FDOT's plans, the concepts in the Lakeland study are no doubt likely to remain in a file in Tallahassee for the foreseeable future, but the fact that FDOT is at least willing to consider all options (including the CSX line, where stations and platforms are ready to go) is encouraging.

We believe that additional Tampa-Lakeland-Orlando Amtrak service is an attainable goal. It was part of the 2000 FDOT Intercity Vision Plan.

So let's run some trains. Surely there is Federal stimulus money to support this!

Such an initiative would take a page from the California playbook; as all rail observers are aware, the Golden State has had great successes, where the Sunshine State has not. California has demonstrated itself capable or pursuing both high speed and commuter rail systems simultaneously. Florida can, too.

With SunRail still mired in politics, Florida is likely to get a serious "failure to launch" reputation which will stick for a very long time if something doesn't change soon.

In other words, Florida DOT needs a new passenger rail success story. Now, not in a decade.

And there's a suggestion for one.

--Jackson McQuigg

Comments

  • 17 Jul 2009 6:21 PM | Anonymous
    Great comments Jackson. Is there any hope that the State will listen to our practical approach?
    Also , we need some support from someone in Corrine
    Brown's district (I have called Crenshaw) about getting #89 & #90
    extended at least to Jax? We are approaching it from the angle of new jobs for Jax. So far in the Jax area , seems like I am the lone ranger on this. Some of the local pro=passenger folks feel that with the Sunset project moving forward that it might muddy the water, to discuss another train . James Boyle of the JTA said he would ask Mike Blalock of the JTA to approach Brown.
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