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

  • 20 Jul 2009 12:51 PM | Jackson McQuigg (Administrator)

    Bullet train risk

    OUR OPINION: High-speed rail can be economic spark but only if done right

    http://www.miamiherald.com/opinion/editorials/story/1146859.html

    It's tempting to jump on the bandwagon for a new high-speed rail from Tampa to Orlando and eventually Miami. Certainly, high-speed rail can serve as a catalyst for economic development.

    It can also be an expensive boondoggle -- a train with few riders costing taxpayers billions.

    A decade ago, this editorial board warned that the state should do everything in its power to ensure Florida wouldn't get stuck with a money-losing railroad, no matter how fast it ran. That proposal, which was supposed to be a private-public partnership, ended up derailed -- thanks to former Gov. Jeb Bush, who wisely concluded the bullet train entailed too much risk for Florida taxpayers.

    Now the Florida Department of Transportation is looking for $2.5 billion in federal stimulus money to build the first leg of a high-speed rail system from Tampa to Orlando -- and a smaller portion of $30 million to begin work on an Orlando-Miami link that could cost more than $8 billion.

    This new project isn't off the drawing board yet, but already it's estimated to cost $11 billion overall -- almost double what the fast train in 1999 was projected to cost. There are promises that private partners will be found to cover the costs of operation and maintenance.

    All of this may work this time around -- but taxpayers should not be stuck with a project if ridership estimates are irrationally overzealous (as they were in 1999) -- or if the deal hits taxpayers for operations and maintenance. The decade-old rail deal began as a partnership that morphed into a taxpayer burden.

    At a time when South Florida's TriRail service needs support as ridership climbs but public contributions are cut, this high-speed train raises alarm about the state's priorities. Yes, high-speed rail could be an exciting way for locals and tourists to travel quickly to major cities in the state. It's a smart call to have the Miami segment start at the Miami Intermodal Center near the airport, too.

    Lots more planning needs to be done, though, to see if this new high-speed train proposal can add up to a win-win for Florida.

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

    Sunrail

    State Has New Plan to Buy CSX Line in Orlando

    http://www.theledger.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20090714/NEWS/907145044&template=printart


    By Joe Follick
    LEDGER TALLAHASSEE BUREAU

    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.

     

  • 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

  • 08 Jul 2009 9:12 AM | Stephen Sayles (Administrator)

    Here is another plug for the current Tampa-Orlando High Speed Rail proposal which in my opinion is not at all practical. It will bypass smaller communities and will bypass Tampa Union altogether with no proposal for a connection.

    This was just posted on Bay News 9 here locally in the Tampa Bay area.

    http://www.baynews9.com/content/36/2009/7/8/493636.html 

    There is an upcoming meeting / work shop that will be discussing this issue should anyone wish to attend.

    Rail Stakeholder Advisory Committee Meeting
    FDOT District 7 Auditorium
    11201 N Malcolm McKinley Dr
    Tampa, Fl.
    July 14, from 10 AM to 3 PM

  • 02 Jul 2009 11:46 AM | Jackson McQuigg (Administrator)

    On June the 23rd, 2009 the Southern High Speed Rail Commission submitted a  resolution to Congress in support of Amtrak's option 3 (c) , daily passenger rail service between New Orleans and Sanford Florida.

    Please write or call your congressman regarding the resumption of passenger rail service east of New Orleans, across the Ms and Al Gulf Coast and the Florida panhandle. 

    The Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials
    Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, U.S. House of Representatives, will be having hearings on this matter in mid July. Please let the  chairman, the Honorable Corrine Brown, know of your support for Amtrak option 3 (c), daily service.

    Contact the Committee:
    The Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials
    Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure
     
    2165 Rayburn House Office Building
    Washington, DC 20515
    Phone: (202) 225-4472
    Fax: (202) 226-1270
     
    Thanks for your effort.
    The Sunset Team
    http://sunsetteam.net/

  • 27 Jun 2009 11:16 AM | Jackson McQuigg (Administrator)

    Tri-Rail votes to use gas tax money to keep trains running

    POMPANO BEACH - Tri-Rail will limp along for another year without any cuts to its schedule.

    The board that oversees the commuter train voted Friday morning to tap into $8 million in county gas tax money to avoid drastic cuts in service this fall.

    The money is normally used to pay for things like locomotives, new cars and station improvements. Instead, it will be spent just to keep the trains running.

    Tri-Rail's budget is taking a $9 million hit next year because Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties plan to cut their annual subsidies used to run the trains.

    Broward County Commissioner Josephus Eggelletion, Tri-Rail's board chairman, cast the lone "no" vote against using the gas tax money to fill the budget hole.

    Eggelletion said dipping into capital improvement money won't solve Tri-Rail's long-term funding needs. Doing so, he added, will give state lawmakers another excuse not to approve a dedicated funding source for the train, such as a $2 tax on rental cars.

    Only once in the past seven years has the Legislature approved dedicated funding for Tri-Rail, only to see then-Gov. Jeb Bush veto it.

    "All of a sudden you think next year [the Legislature] is going to say yes?" Eggelletion said. "You're going to get duped."

    Miami-Dade County Commissioner Bruno Barreiro said he couldn't vote to cut service, even if the choice to use capital improvement money for operations until permanent funding is found is hard to swallow. "The public perception is that there is money in the bank," he said. "You've got to use it all up."

    While riders don't want to lose service, they also say passenger cars need to be upgraded or replaced.

    "What I don't see anyone discussing is that the trains have been breaking down for the last couple of weeks because of the heat," said Steven Daun of Boca Raton, who rides the train on weekdays to Miami.

    "Many of the air conditioners in many of the cars either don't work or circulate warm air. Tri-Rail has become the epitome of what mass transit shouldn't be."

    Tri-Rail Executive Director Joseph Giulietti said next year's $161 million capital improvements budget is unaffected because the money that's being shifted to cover day-to-day operating expenses was never appropriated. That means projects such as a new parking garage at the Fort Lauderdale Airport Station and the purchase of new locomotives and cars will still go forward.

    But in future years, Tri-Rail can't continue raiding capital improvement money because it needs that cash to apply for state and federal grants for big capital projects.

    Without additional cash for operations, Tri-Rail faced slashing the number of weekday trains from 50 to 30 and canceling all service on weekends and holidays starting Oct. 5.

    Federal transit officials have warned Tri-Rail that it would lose a $256 million federal grant if service is reduced. Tri-Rail agreed to run at least 48 weekday trains and some rush-hour trains every 20 minutes when it received the grant to build a second track several years ago.

    Michael Turnbell can be reached at mturnbell@sunsentinel.com, 954-356-4155, 561-243-6550 or on Twitter @MikeTurnpike.

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