SunRail and Florida HSR Promoted as Inexorably Linked

Florida HSRFlorida lawmakers, worried about the loss of funds for a central state commuter rail project, link the future of high-speed rail there to its success

Florida’s been flirting with the idea of a high-speed rail network for years now, having approved funding for a line between Tampa and Orlando in 2000, before stripping the proposal from the state budget in 2004. The $2 billion line, if built, would have been operated using Bombardier’s 150 mph-capable gas-powered JetTrain, not the electric trains standard on every other high-speed rail system. The Florida High Speed Rail Authority has been continuing research on the line since 2005, and recently reactivated itself because of the $8 billion authorized for fast trains in the stimulus bill. The Authority has encourage the state government to apply for funds from the feds now that they’re available.

At the same time, Florida’s come slightly closer to actual construction on the 61-mile SunRail commuter rail line, which would run from downtown Orlando north to DeLand and south to Poinciana. In February, Governor Charlie Crist (R) came out in favor of the program, indicating that the project would be approved by the state legislature. The Orlando Sentinel, however, reports that members of the state’s Senate Ways and Means Committee have been fighting the commuter rail project, arguing that the state would be better off spending on road programs. Florida doesn’t have enough money to pay both for the rail system and for roads already programmed by the state’s TIP. Even though its expected ridership, about 7,000 a day, isn’t quite up to national expectations and probably wouldn’t win New Start funding, SunRail may well be a worthwhile project.

But the argument some in the state are making – that the commuter rail network is necessary for the successful funding of the high-speed rail program – isn’t an accurate assessment of federal standards. The Sentinel reports that Orange County Mayor Rich Crotty, a major supporter of SunRail, said that federal transportation officials “Would be out of their minds to consider high-speed rail without SunRail. That’s as blunt as I can be.” Mr. Crotty, however, doesn’t seem to realize that there’s little indication, at least so far, that decision-making by Washington on high-speed rail funding will probably not be informed by transit services connecting to the rail systems. Doc Dockery seems to understand the issue a bit better, saying that the “”connectivity issue” is little more than a “catchphrase to promote SunRail.””

While I have no doubt that people in the Orlando area think that SunRail would be an effective addition to transportation in their community, the point that its construction is absolutely necessary for Florida to high-speed rail funds is false. The federal government is likely to judge Florida’s route on its merits alone – not that of SunRail.

Image above: Complete Florida High Speed Rail network, from MyFOXOrlando

4 Comments | Leave a Reply »
  • Amitabha Mukhopadhyay

    For the design and development of a futuristic mass transit system certain factors have to be considered.
    Firstly it should be very sleek and sophisticated in design so that people are encouraged to use it rather than using their own automobiles.
    Secondly it must leave absolutely zero carbon foot print .
    Thirdly it must be air-conditioned and use only a fraction of the energy that present system uses thus generating huge profit.
    Appear to be wishful thinking? Certainly not . Please read my science fiction novel MEGALOPOLIS ONE 2080 A.D. where all the engineering details are given for a mass transit system in a megacity in the year 2080. The press release is http://docs.google.com/Doc?id=dghgs9b8_13hkjdqtc6&btr=EmailImport

  • Nikko

    Hi, I’m from Orlando

    @guy with the funny name: the link dosn’t work even after I log in to google

    This article is interesting but I don’t really see a relevant argument in the whole Sunrail vs HSR thing. If I would have to pick one as a priority, I would pick Sunrail because its more practical to implement in the short term and is more directly oriented towards the whole ‘smart growth’ concept than a Tampa-Orlando HSR. But I don’t see them competing in any event.

    As for the FLHSR itself, I don’t think its well thought out at all. It basically shadows the freeway system. And what’s with the whole idea of using the jettrain? That completely defeats the point of energy efficiency and environmentalism. Also, why is it that the line follows the I-4 corridor, cuts across the B-line, and then heads down I-75 to Miami?

    IMO, the best solution would be to follow I-4 from Orlando down to the Auburndale area to hit all the major Central Florida attractions, and then use the CSX A-line ROW from Auburndale to Tampa. If you look at a map and compare the CSX ROW to the I-4 ROW between those two points, the CSX line is almost straight as an arrow while I-4 seems to make a lot of twists and turns. The CSX line would also be a double edged sword because it goes through the center of Auburndale, Winter Haven, Lakeland, Plant City, and a number of other smaller towns. That gives HSR the advantage of being able to serve that market but will probably also restrict its top speed because of the frequency of the towns. I don’t see this line as being true HSR because inevitably, these smaller cities will be served. You can’t just have a Tampa Bay to Orlando Express and leave them behind in the dust. There was a reason the politicians chose this route first, for the sake of connecting these cities with the Tampa Bay and Central Florida.

    Phase II might involve the line to Tampa roughly following the CSX ex-SAL from Auburndale to Avon Park and then follow the CSX ROW from there to West Palm Beach. Again, straight as an arrow. As for the WPB to Miami portion, I might just stick with the CSX ROW, but I’ve always believed Tri-rail should have been placed on the FEC tracks, but w/e.

  • ednaxe

    As planned ( http://www.floridahighspeedrail.org/2c_phases.html ), the first Florida High Speed Rail segment will stop at Disneyworld, skirt Orlando and terminate at Orlando Airport without approaching closer than about 10 miles to downtown Orlando. The only connection between the route and existing rail services is in downtown Tampa. This may be fine for tourists, but surely some sort of connecting transit is necessary if this route is to be useful for business travel or promote transit-oriented development, which may be taken into account when federal HSR grants are decided. Unfortunately, as planned there would be no connection with SunRail either, but as the routes intersect a connection is at least possible, and I would hope this is what Florida politicians are getting at with their assertions that Sunrail and HSR are linked.

  • Shaun Rycroft

    Why isn’t Melbourne or any southern city in Brevard County included for a potential stop for the SunRail network. The Melbourne Metro area is much larger and houses a higher population compared to some of the subjected stops. What are the requirements or factors that indicate where stops will or should be?

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