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Lakeland Ledger: SunRail Part of Florida's HSR Request

15 Jul 2009 3:20 PM | Jackson McQuigg (Administrator)


State Has New Plan to Buy CSX Line in Orlando

By Joe Follick

Published: Tuesday, July 14, 2009 at 9:16 p.m.

TALLAHASSEE | In the latest twist to the controversial plan to bring commuter rail to the Orlando area, state officials are seeking $432 million from the federal government to buy 61.5 miles of rail line from CSX Transportation.

But the request is part of $8 billion being provided by the federal government for high-speed rail that connects cities with few stops.

The SunRail proposal is not a high-speed rail line and would have many stops between DeLand in Volusia County and Poinciana in Osceola County, near the Polk County line.

The Florida Department of Transportation has also filed a separate pre-application for $2.5 billion in federal funding for a 95-mile high-speed rail line connecting Tampa and Orlando with a stop in Lakeland.

The application said the expected cost is $3.5 billion.

The department is also requesting $30 million to begin work on a high-speed passenger line between Orlando and Miami that would ultimately cost at least $8 billion.

Final word on the federal government's decision will come later this year with more detailed applications coming from the state this fall.

For the past two years, lawmakers have refused to sign off on the SunRail deal, objecting to a CSX demand that the company be held legally immune for damages involving accidents with passenger trains or motorists, even if CSX negligence was responsible.

Under the deal, CSX would continue to operate freight trains on the line.

State Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, has led the opposition to the CSX deal. She said Tuesday evening that she could not comment immediately because she had not had a chance to read the department's application.

The "High Speed Intercity Passenger Rail" program is an $8 billion stimulus plan. There is little mention of using that money for commuter rail lines like SunRail.

DOT Assistant Secretary Kevin Thibault said Tuesday the SunRail project would fit into the federal government's scope, in part by connecting the proposed SunRail project with the high-speed rail line in Orlando.

"The president's focus has been on both high-speed rail and inner-city passenger rail," Thibault said.

He said the final criteria for who will receive portions of the $8 billion stimulus plan have not been determined.

Should the state receive federal funding to buy the line from CSX, that would relieve state and local governments of the $432 million obligation.

Various states and communities nationwide are competing for $8 billion from the federal government for high-speed rail projects. With much of the planning already completed for the SunRail plan and the Tampa-to-Orlando high-speed route, Florida may be in a better position than other states.

Thibault said that even with the dispute over CSX's legal liability still unresolved, that should not affect the request for federal funding.


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