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With a new administration in D.C., it's time to think outside of the box because passenger rail's survival just may depend on it

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Sunshine State musings

Is it time for Florida East Coast Railway to step up? That is more than a valid question because Vero Beach is now reconsidering Amtrak service due to high costs. As a result, the concern could lead to FEC taking charge, which is more feasible than anyone thinks.


Given all the recent news concerning private involvement in passenger rail, FECR and its owner Rail America could surprise everybody by telling local officials, state officials and Amtrak “Thanks for the interest, but we’ve got it from here” and restart the long-dormant route after the new Miami Intermodal Center opens in 2013.

The reason for the move is that Rail America is a member of the AIPRO, which represents some of Amtrak’s competitors on the transit and HSR fronts. Whether this new organization can get Congress to make competitive bidding a legal obligation (see Germany) or the Class II FEC implements intercity service on its own, Floridians and tourists alike will benefit in having two different companies provide Jacksonville-Miami service—and this doesn’t include an intrastate passenger rail system not unlike California’s once Rick Scott is replaced by a more forward-thinking governor.

Under this scenario, Amtrak would remain at its current location on Clifford Lane without any changes to its current route structure in the state…at least in the short term. Union Terminal would then be used as a hub for FEC and the statewide system, so it would be very important for Amtrak to win the contract to run the Florida routes. Winning the rights would definitely allow management to restructure the central Florida route alignment so the Silver Star would no longer be forced to backtrack in and out of Tampa. Rather, #91 and #92 could terminate and originate in Tampa while Miami-bound passengers would transfer to a regional train in Orlando. The other good news is that even if an AIPRO member were to win a contract for the Florida system, passengers in Winter Haven, Sebring, and Okeechobee would still have access to a long-distance train as the Silver Meteor would stop at those stations as opposed to the recently proposed FDOT plan. 

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