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Tampa Talks Connectivity Between High Speed Rail and CSX, Commuter Rail

14 Jan 2011 6:35 PM | Jackson McQuigg (Administrator)

A connection between the high speed rail station and CSX is finally being talked about in Tampa.


It has the potential of being a positive development, all the way around.


Adding such a connection would also make Tampa Union Station more useful and the planned high speed rail facility more useful, as well.


For instance, connections to Amtrak would exist then and, alternatively, the tracks which sit largely unused behind Union Station (station tracks) could be used for maintaining or staging commuter and high speed trains.


Further, Tampa Union Station could be used as a commuter rail facility in conjunction with the new high speed rail station.


But will common sense prevail?


--Jackson McQuigg



From the Tampa Bay Business Journal:


Orlando commuter rail could spur Tampa Bay system
The Tampa Bay Business Journal (FL)
By Mark Holan
January 14, 2011

What happens in Orlando may not stay in Orlando.

Establishing commuter rail service in central Florida could nudge development of a similar system in Tampa Bay, transportation experts are saying.

"I don't know if it's the only key, but it is one of the keys as far as having other conversations around the state," said Bob Clifford, executive director of the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority. "It's an element so we can begin our conversation."

Planners and business interests have talked for decades about building a regional rail network to relieve congestion, attract jobs and spur growth. Regional rail proposals using CSX Corp. (NYSE: CSX) lines are part of TBARTA's master plan.

Seeking analysis

In the coming weeks TBARTA and the Florida Department of Transportation will begin soliciting bids for an engineering analysis of using CSX tracks to provide more connectivity to the proposed high-speed rail system between Orlando and Tampa.

A major focus of the study will be a connection to the proposed Tampa high-speed rail station on the north end of downtown next to Interstate 275. CSX tracks do not run directly to the proposed site, but the study would explore connecting to existing lines nearby.

CSX owns more than 1,600 miles of track in Florida, including about 100 miles in Hernando, Pasco, Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. The DOT study is expected to cost $600,000 to $800,000 and take about a year to complete, Clifford said.

The $3 billion high-speed project, meanwhile, remains in limbo pending more financial analysis by Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature.

In late December, Florida DOT placed $173 million in escrow as part of a deal to buy 61 miles of CSX track for the SunRail commuter train, which would link DeLand to Disney World. Amtrak also would share the line.

Now state officials are waiting to hear from Washington, which is expected to kick in more than $300 million toward the $615 million project. U.S. Rep. John Mica, R- Winter Park, has said that won't be a problem.

Construction could begin by the end of the year with the first segments of the line open to commuters by late 2013.

CSX plans in Winter Haven

As SunRail moves forward, Jacksonville-based CSX is expected to get busy building its proposed Integrated Logistics Center in Winter Haven. The initial 318-acre facility would become a hub for transferring automobiles and containerized goods between trains and trucks.

"SunRail implementation would be an important driver for our construction," said CSX spokesman Gary Sease.

The project will take about 18 months to complete, Sease said, but added there is no starting date at the moment. CSX has additional plans to expand the facility to roughly 1,200 acres of warehouses and other distribution-related activity but won't move on that project until it sees more improvement in the economy, Sease said.

The logistics center would relieve some freight traffic in central Florida and Tampa Bay.

For example, to reach its Tampa automobile distribution center, CSX leases a 2.8-mile spur line that extends from its tracks near Linebaugh Avenue south to the north edge of Tampa International Airport at Hillsborough Avenue. The spur is owned by TIA and part of the regional rail service network envisioned by TBARTA.

When the Winter Haven logistics center is opened, the railroad company would cease its operations on the spur line, Sease said.

But he cautioned that CSX remains in the freight business with no plans to halt other important activity on its lines in Tampa Bay. The SunRail deal allows CSX to lease back the lines to haul freight during non-peak hours.

Resonating locally

Longtime rail advocate and Tampa mayoral candidate Ed Turanchik is pleased to see SunRail's progress. "I think it does help," he said.

Turanchik began pushing rail transit 20 years ago and has renewed his call on the campaign trail.

"CSX has offered us 95 miles of line" in the Bay area, he said. "Let's use them."

Hillsborough got "sidetracked" with talk of using CSX right-of-way for the proposed light-rail system rejected by voters in November, Turanchik said. Using hybrid rail technology that looks and operates like light-rail but uses existing CSX track would cut costs to $15 million to $20 million per mile from upward of $100 million per mile, he said.

CSX and TBARTA executives said they would continue discussing the potential for sharing the lines. But no studies of property values or freight capacity analysis are under way, Sease of CSX noted.

Still, Clifford said that having SunRail operational in central Florida could have a psychological impact on Tampa Bay.

"The reality is people need to see it, touch it, feel it. Once people get a better understanding of it that will certainly have an effect.

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