Promoting passenger trains as a transportation alternative in Florida since 1983.  We are citizens who advocate for Amtrak, commuter rail, intercity rail and transit for Florida's future.

The Silver Rail Blog

  • 06 Jun 2009 10:50 AM | Jackson McQuigg (Administrator)

    South Florida Sun-Sentinel.com

    Failure to fund Tri-Rail hurts road and transit projects

    sun-sentinel.com/news/local/florida/sfl-tri-rail-funding-roads-f060509-copy,0,4904952.story

    By William E. Gibson

    South Florida Sun-Sentinel

    June 5, 2009

    WASHINGTON

    Florida has hurt its chances of luring additional federal dollars to help unclog roads and expand train service because the state has failed to put up enough money to keep Tri-Rail running, members of Congress warned this week.

    Florida's shortfall not only puts the commuter-rail service at risk, but it weakens the state's negotiating power in Congress to boost its share of federal highway and transit money.

    "I can tell you the rest of the country will clean our clock if we continue to stumble. It's just unconscionable," Rep. John Mica of Winter Park, the ranking Republican on the House transportation committee, told fellow Florida members.

    "Increasing Florida's share is going to be even more difficult this time," he said.

    Florida's attempt to get a bigger piece of the federal pie is intensifying now that Congress is preparing to renew a transportation bill that determines how gas-tax money will be divided among states for the next 10 years.

    All states face a potential squeeze because the federal transportation trust fund is expected to run short by August. Congress must pour more general-purpose tax money into the fund or raise the gas tax.

    Florida motorists pay their full share of federal gas taxes, 18.4 cents per gallon. But for every dollar contributed, the state gets back only about 87 cents for highways and 73 cents for buses and trains, according to state officials.

    This is the money that pays for such things as widening Interstate 95 and I-75 and adding a new interchange in Boca Raton.

    Florida members of Congress said it's hard to make the case for getting a bigger share when the state may be forced to return millions.

    Federal officials have threatened to force Tri-Rail to return $256 million if it fails to meet an obligation to provide full service.

    Declining contributions from the state and South Florida counties make service cutbacks almost inevitable. The Legislature's rejection of a $2 surcharge on rental cars to pay for rail systems leaves Tri-Rail without enough money to keep full service beyond October.

    South Florida riders are paying the consequences in the form of a 25-percent increase in Tri-Rail fares. The hike comes just as thousands of commuters are leaving their cars and jumping on trains to avoid fuel costs.

    "The higher fares you charge, the less people are going to use it," said Rep. Ron Klein, D-Boca Raton. "Now that gas prices are going up again, this has a real impact on people in Florida."

    Florida is pushing to increase its share of federal highway funds to 95 cents for every dollar it contributes in gas taxes.

    But some other states get back far more than they contribute.

    The biggest shares tend to go to vast rural states with small populations. Florida officials have long argued that growing Sunbelt states should get more to help absorb dense traffic.

    Using the latest available numbers, a 95 percent return on the state's gas taxes would have meant an additional $270 million for Florida in 2007, according to David Lee, director of policy planning at the state Department of Transportation.

    A 95-percent return since the trust fund began in 1956 would have brought an extra $4.5 billion to the state, Lee said.

    That additional spending would have made traveling through Florida a lot easier, said Doug Callaway, president of Floridians for Better Transportation, an advocacy group in Tallahassee.

    "If we had been getting our fair share for the last 20 years, we would have had additional lanes to ease capacity, and you probably would also not need so many toll lanes," Callaway said. "People would have a better quality of life with less stress and fewer tolls."

    The quest for future spending is unrelated to the $1.3 billion of transportation funds the state was allotted from the Economic Recovery Act, a one-shot deal designed to create jobs and help meet transportation needs. The state also is competing for a piece of the $8 billion provided for high-speed rail projects. U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, is rounding up support from other "donor states" -- those that get back less than they pay in taxes -- to change the way the money is divided.

    "We're talking about hundreds of millions of additional dollars that can go to Florida," Diaz-Balart said. "You are looking at potentially speeding up projects way down the road. I don't mean to say we would have clear highways. But we can make a substantial difference in keeping up with our growth and improving our capacity.

    "It could be a huge impact."

    William E. Gibson can be reached at wgibson@sunsentinel.com or 202-824-8256.

  • 02 Jun 2009 9:02 PM | Jackson McQuigg (Administrator)

    http://www2.tbo.com/content/2009/jun/01/na-florida-perfect-for-high-speed-rail/

    Florida perfect for high-speed rail
    States are competing hard for a part of $8 billion in federal money to build high-speed rail lines, and if decisions are merit-based as promised, Florida is well positioned to win a big share.

    It's important to be first because the new trains will bring an economic boost more lasting than a Super Bowl or Olympics. And Congress might not approve future rounds of stimulus spending on trains, so those left behind may never catch up.

    "Send us the money and we'll start digging," Lee Chira, head of the Florida High Speed Rail Authority, told federal railroad officials at a recent meeting in Orlando.

    He wasn't exaggerating. Florida has spent some $30 million to complete environmental studies on a high-speed rail route from the Tampa area to Orlando.

    A state's contribution deserves considerable weight in the selection process. Florida also has reserved right of way on I-4 for a train. The head of the state Department of Transportation, Stephanie Kopelousos, says that contribution is worth $1.5 billion.

    The distance between Tampa and Orlando is also perfect to compete with airlines, and many drivers on busy I-4 will be happy to switch to a relaxing train, especially one they can see passing them.

    Central Florida also is a major tourist destination, perfect for showcasing the new technology.

    Federal Railroad Deputy Administrator Karen Rae tells us she expects 30 states to apply. Officials will be tempted to spread the money thin to avoid disappointing anyone, but that would be a mistake. A few prime routes should be chosen and quickly completed.

    They should be routes, like Florida's, where high ridership is guaranteed, terrain is flat and obstacles are few. Florida's train could easily be extended to Miami, then north to Jacksonville, and from there into Georgia to connect with an eventual Southeast regional network.

    One factor working against Tampa and Orlando is the lack of a local rail system in either city. But federal officials should factor in the reality that Florida has long received less transit money than other states. It wouldn't be fair to penalize Florida again, especially now that transit enhancements are in the works in both areas.

    Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio told Rae and other officials that a referendum on rail will be held in 2010 in Hillsborough that will lead to major transit improvements. As for high-speed rail, she said, "We are ready for it in Tampa." Hillsborough Commissioner Mark Sharpe and many others from Tampa also attended to lobby for a Florida line.

    Such political endorsements might not be officially required, but they're essential to win.

    Gov. Charlie Crist, who has angered some fellow Republicans by supporting President Obama's stimulus spending, should become a high-profile advocate for a Florida train. His leadership could help Orlando, Lakeland, Tampa, St. Petersburg and Miami pull in the same direction.

    He needs to make it clear that Florida's support is solid. State voters had demanded that the state build a high-speed train, but a few years later they changed their minds.

    That shouldn't count against Florida. States don't have the resources to build inter-city high-speed rail without shortchanging their own underfunded highway and local transit programs.

    It can be argued that the federal government can't afford it either. But that decision has been made.

    Crist can campaign with a clear conscience to convince railroad officials to invest where the money can bring high visibility and certain economic payback, right here in Florida.
  • 28 May 2009 4:58 PM | Anonymous

    This is just one of several recent articles on this subject.  Andy Healy

    http://blogs.orlandosentinel.com/news_politics/

  • 28 May 2009 9:15 AM | Anonymous

    Silver Star ridership grows as overall Amtrak demand drops

    By TED JACKOVICS

    Published: May 28, 2009

    TAMPA - Despite a 10 percent decline in Amtrak ridership in March compared with a year ago, down to 2.2 million passengers, Tampa ridership on Amtrak's Silver Star gained 3.8 percent to 8,423.

    The number of Silver Star passengers rose 1.6 percent in March to 31,028, indicating that more than one in four passengers on the train between New York and Miami arrived at or departed from Tampa's Union Station.

    "The deepening economic recession, high unemployment, steep cuts in business travel and continued low gasoline prices are increasingly depressing Amtrak demand, and in particular, demand for most short distance trains," the Amtrak performance report for March stated.

    On-time performance improvements continue to offset the negative effects of the economy and low gasoline prices on long-distance trains such as the Silver Star, the report said.

    Ridership in Amtrak's Northeast region was off 15 percent compared with a year ago. Ridership on the Acela, which travels between Boston and Washington, declined 9 percent in March.

    Reporter Ted Jackovics can be reached at (813) 259-7817.



  • 25 May 2009 1:47 PM | Anonymous

    Good article in current edition of Passenger Train Journal. Split Sunset into two seperate trains; one from L.A. to Dallas and the other from Dallas to Orlando, on a daily basis. I believe the idea has some merit.

    The link shown below explains the concept.  Andy Healy

     

    http://trains4america.wordpress.com/2009/05/22/passenger-rail-journal-sunset-proposal/

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

  • 21 May 2009 11:22 AM | Jackson McQuigg (Administrator)

    Update on Contributions to Tampa Union Station Preservation Fund

     

    My thanks go to all of you who have contributed thus far to the Tampa Union Station Preservation Fund, the endowment fund for the ongoing restoration of Tampa Union Station at the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay.

     

    To date, nearly $25,000 has been raised through tax-deductible donations to the Fund.

     

    We are on our way to our goal! Once $37,500 in contributions have been made, the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay will award a $12,500 matching grant to the Fund.

     

    This will, of course, establish a permanent $50,000 endowment for the perpetual care of one of Florida’s railroad landmarks, Tampa Union Station.

     

    Please join me and other passenger rail advocates in this important cause by making a personal commitment to the Fund. And please tell others about it, as well!

     

    More details and a contribution form are available at the Friends of Tampa Union Station website: www.tampaunionstation.com

     

    Sincerely,

    Jackson McQuigg

    Secretary and Board Member, FCRP

    President, Friends of Tampa Union Station

    Southern Division Council Leader, NARP

  • 20 May 2009 9:36 AM | Anonymous

    County officials endorse Amtrak project


    BUNNELL -- County commissioners Monday unanimously passed a resolution to support the reintroduction of Amtrak passenger rail service between Jacksonville and Miami, despite one commissioner's reservations.

    "I think this is a waste of public money," said Commissioner Alan Peterson.

    He didn't oppose the resolution that offers up local support for a state project that would be completed using federal stimulus funds. But he said his experiences in northern U.S. states led him to worry that reintroducing the rail service could bring more problems than benefits. Peterson also said he couldn't envision the service being a moneymaker for rail officials.

    "I fail to see how they're going to get much business running from Jacksonville to Miami," Peterson said, adding that service between Jacksonville and Orlando might be more worthwhile.

    He also pointed out that no boarding stations are planned between Daytona Beach and Jacksonville in the railway proposal so the service would be "of limited value" to residents in Flagler County.

    In other business at the meeting:

    · Commissioners approved a new contract for bulk fuel purchases for county fleet vehicles. The contract will be signed in conjunction with Volusia County Council, Volusia County School Board, Votran, South Daytona, New Smyrna Beach and Port Orange.

    County Administrator Craig Coffey said the newly negotiated fuel and delivery rates will save taxpayers greatly in the coming years. Fuel prices are calculated daily under the agreement, using a published daily fuel price index. The contract that commissioners approved is for one year with the ability to renew the contract each year for the next four years.

    · The commission accepted a $76,000 federal stimulus grant to purchase a new wheelchair-accessible bus for the county's public transportation system.

    · Commissioners also accepted two grants from the Florida Department of Transportation. The first grant -- $680,000 -- will allow officials to install new sidewalks and complete partial sidewalks along State Road 100 between Belle Terre Parkway and Bulldog Drive. The work will enhance safety for pedestrians and students at Flagler Palm Coast High School, Coffey said.

    The second grant -- $1 million -- will pay for the design and construction of a new turn lane and traffic signal at the intersection of U.S. 1 and Royal Palms Parkway.

    · Commissioners approved the purchase of 97 acres of land at Sweetbottom Plantation along Bulow Creek for $2.5 million in a divided vote. The approved purchase is nearly $900,000 more than the most recent appraisal done on the property. Peterson and Commission Chairwoman Milissa Holland voted against the land buy, saying the difference between the seller's bottom line and the assessed value of the property was simply too great.

    heather.scofield@news-jrnl.com

  • 20 May 2009 9:16 AM | Jackson McQuigg (Administrator)

    Amtrak breaks ground on
    new Sanford station

    http://www.myfoxorlando.com/dpp/traffic/051809amtrak_auto_train_groundbreaking

    Updated: Monday, 18 May 2009, 11:41 PM EDT
    Published : Monday, 18 May 2009, 3:23 PM EDT

    SEMINOLE COUNTY, Fla. (WOFL FOX 35) - A groundbreaking ceremony was held in Sanford Monday for a new $10 million Amtrak auto train station.

    It will be in the same location as the current building. The old one was damaged during the 2004 hurricane season. When the new station is finished it will be about four times the size of the current building.

    Last year some 235,000 passengers traveled on the Auto Train, which takes passengers and their vehicles to the Washington D.C. area. The auto train has operated between Sanford and Lorton, Va., since 1983.

    The new station is scheduled to be complete in the fall of 2010.

  • 19 May 2009 12:57 PM | Anonymous
    http://www2.tbo.com/content/2009/may/19/na-hillsborough-panel-backs-high-speed-rail-from-t/news-metro/

    Published: Tampa Tribune

    May 19, 2009

    TAMPA - Hillsborough County's Transportation Task Force is backing a high-speed rail plan linking Tampa and Orlando.

    The task force approved a motion Monday to formally endorse the project, one of several across the nation that emerged after the federal government proposed that $8 billion in stimulus funds go toward high-speed rail.

    The Federal Railroad Administration is holding workshops across the country to gauge support for high-speed rail projects.

    The motion by task force members comes as the railroad administration is set to meet Thursday in Orlando to consider Florida's plan to connect Tampa, Orlando, Miami and Jacksonville.

    The first leg of that plan, Tampa to Orlando, would cost about $2 billion.

    Ray Chiaramonte, executive director of the county's Metropolitan Planning Organization, said the Tampa-Orlando leg is farther along than others across the nation and could begin in 18 to 24 months if funding is in place. About a dozen other states are floating their own proposals.

    "We have an advantage for a short period of time over the other proposals with the work that has already been accomplished," he said.

    In addition, Chiaramonte said the system could complement a future light-rail program in the Tampa area.



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