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FDOT Corridors Study Quietly Rejects Amtrak's Connects US Expansion Plan for Florida

14 Jan 2024 6:35 AM | Jackson McQuigg (Administrator)

A corridors study made public last fall is quietly serving as FDOT's rejection of Amtrak's much-publicized Amtrak Connects US plan. 

The Amtrak Connects US plan released in 2021 had proposed adding additional Amtrak service within the state, but sought state support to add the new trains. 

Amtrak's service proposal was envisioned as: 

• 2 round trips between Jacksonville – Orlando – Tampa

• 3 round trips between Tampa – Miami

• 2 round trips between Orlando – Miami

• Augmented by Amtrak’s Silver Service

In response, in this January 2023 FDOT rail corridors study, FDOT indicates it has no interest in promoting additional passenger rail growth over the CSX corridor between Orlando and Tampa and Tampa and Miami, by Amtrak or any other means. 

That FDOT study is shocking in its directness about stating that FDOT should not develop parallel corridors which would "compete" with Brightline (Tampa-Orlando and Orlando-Miami). The services offered in Amtrak's Connects US plan are specifically cited as services which would be provided on a parallel, "competing" corridor.

Here are some excerpts from FDOT's assessment section, which begins on page 92 of the report:

"With service on the Brightline Miami-Orlando alignment about to commence, and the Brightline Orlando-Tampa segment in active design with federal funding, building a future alternate intercity passenger corridor from Miami to Tampa on the SFRC/CSX alignment would serve only to expend limited resources to duplicate a successful intercity passenger corridor already in place between Miami and Orlando and in active design from Orlando to Tampa, without the benefit of a one-seat ride among all three metropolitan regions. FDOT should support Brightline’s efforts to complete the buildout of the Orlando to Tampa section of its corridor and establish a Miami – Orlando – Tampa intercity passenger service on the FEC/Brightline alignment. " 

"Building an alternate intercity passenger corridor between Orlando and Tampa using the CSX/CFRC alignment would only expend resources to duplicate a project currently underway on the Brightline alignment and would not facilitate an extension of SunRail commuter service west to the Orange County Convention Center or east to the Orlando International Airport. FDOT should support Brightline’s efforts to complete the buildout of the Orlando to Tampa section of its corridor and establish a Miami – Orlando – Tampa intercity passenger service on the FEC/Brightline alignment." 

There are a lot of false equivalencies here, particularly the notion that FDOT must pick Brightline over state funded Amtrak service.

There are also some major errors. The Silver Star's dogleg over to Tampa, necessitated when Amtrak quit running separate Tampa and Miami sections of the Silver Star due to budget cuts, is described in the study as a "backup move".

Worse yet, the corridors study hints that the real reason FDOT does not support the trains proposed in Amtrak's Connects US plan is because FDOT can't get anything done--that state supported Amtrak service in Florida isn't politically feasible. 

And characterizing Amtrak and Brightline as competitors, as FDOT does in this corridors study, is incorrect and unhelpful. The two services serve different markets altogether. 

FDOT should do its job and support not only Brightline--which was doing fine with its expansion plans well before the issuance of this flawed study--but also expanded Amtrak service in Florida. The reality is that after decades of a lack of investment in intercity passenger rail by FDOT, Florida badly needs both Brightline and state-funded Amtrak service in Florida. 

--Jackson McQuigg

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