My Bio and This Blog's Purpose

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Tackling the Headlines 6

High speed rail is dead in Florida (at least I think it is this time)
Last Friday, the Florida Supreme Court dealt the fatal blow to the 84-mile project when it ruled that Governor Rick Scott was allowed to return the $2.4 billion of stimulus money to the feds. Two state senators had argued that Scott made an unconstitutional move in unilaterally rejecting the money.

The ruling means that the Sunshine State is now 0-for-4 in its attempt to launch high speed rail. In 1984, the Florida HSR Commission was launched, but the state was later forced to sell development rights to raise capital. In 1995, the Florida HSR Authority was launched with the Florida Overland eXpress proposed. Upon taking office 12 years ago, Jeb Bush killed FOX. Voters passed a constitutional amendment the following year but it was overturned four years after that when Bush persuaded voters that it was too costly to operate the fast train. Now, this.

As a Transport Politic poster pointed out last month, the unintended consequence of Scott's decision actually benefits Amtrak because it had no chance of winning the contract to operate the Tampa-Orlando route even with its partnership with SNCF and the French carrier's apology in late January (never mind that there was some controversy about the controversy) because it was going up against heavyweights like Virgin and JR Central. As for the other Express HSR route, Amtrak also has no chance of winning the California contract because it is outmanned by the Asians who are clawing over each other to pay for the whole project--100%. So, by killing the FL project, Rick Scott may have inadvertently helped preserve Amtrak's near monopoly in the U.S!

My take is that while I'm miffed that the foreign firms weren't given the chance to fully fund the FL project, I'd rather see the route scuttled than it being built without providing any real access to other transportation modes. Tampa proposed a multimodal center that was supposed to connect HSR with local transportation and Greyhound, but even that was flawed due to the lack of connection or coordination with Amtrak. Second, the route's eastern terminus was Orlando International Airport, which is at least 30 minutes south of downtown--not exactly providing locals the best access. What's even worse was the lack of connections that HSR would have had with Amtrak, Sunrail, and local transportation in the area. Third, as I've said before, the lack of a decent conventional rail system should have prevented it from receiving funding (I've also said that the FEC reroute of a Silver Service train should have been given priority by the Obama Administration grantwise). Finally, if the route was so important to Florida, it should have been a Miami-Orlando segment and then Orlando-St. Petersburg, and I would have developed a triangle to allow certain trains to only serve the Airport and Disney area stations while other trains terminated in Orlando proper. It was only politics that allowed the Tampa-Orlando segment to be first. Getting a route right takes precedence over just getting a train out.

More Florida silliness
Fresh off killing high speed rail, Scott selectively looked at profitability and losses as the measuring point for whether a rail project is feasible after the Palm asked him about the possibility of Amtrak running trains along the state's east coast.

Given his holdup of SunRail and his anti-Tri-Rail comments, anybody who cares enough about producing intercity rail travel in Florida has to pretty much wait until 2015. Given that the state needs a practical alternative to crowded interstates, toll roads, and sky high gas prices, Floridians are all but doomed for a while.

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