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

  • 24 Jul 2009 4:44 PM | Jackson McQuigg (Administrator)

    Commentary

    Why New Orleans-Florida Sounds Like Tampa-Miami to Us!

    In the recent past, the Florida Coalition of Rail Passengers has been a strong voice on the need to restore Amtrak service from New Orleans to Florida.

    It has been a tough fight so far. And we have much more work to do-- all of us-- if we are to prevail.

    However, FCRP has been fighting for better passenger train service throughout the state of Florida since its founding in 1983.

    Consider the case of the original Silver Palm, which ran from Tampa to Miami in the mid-1980s.

    Take a look at this entry concerning the Silver Palm on Wikipedia.

    While generally accurate about the Coalition's efforts, the Wikipedia entry fails to disclose why FCRP's court case against the State of Florida was overturned on appeal.

    Namely, FCRP did not have the financial resources to continue fighting the case. An expensive appeal bond-- which would have cost well more than what FCRP could afford in those days-- was required to continue the case. So we "lost" on appeal.

    The Coalition was right in its cause then. Vindication came only a few years after the case was lost, when Amtrak reinstituted Tampa-Miami service-- under the Silver Palm name, no less!

    A further irony is that Florida DOT is at present talking about investing sizable sums of the State of Florida's money in Tampa-Orlando-Miami high speed rail service.  

    All of this recent history leads us to wonder: If a Tampa-Miami market for rail travel existed all along, why didn't Florida just keep the original Silver Palm running in the first place?

    Which brings us to New Orleans-Florida.

    Amtrak's recent report to Congress on the possibility of restoring New Orleans-Florida service is filled with all sorts of interesting data. Much of it is inaccurate.

    Since the 1980s, FCRP has maintained that a market for a passenger train, if properly operated, from New Orleans-Florida exists. And it should be part of our national passenger train network.

    Is anyone at Amtrak listening? Haven't we been through this before?

    And as for Tampa to Miami service, nowadays the sky's the limit.

    Well, we told you so, Florida. Way back in 1985.

    --Jackson McQuigg

     

     

  • 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/

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