According to the Los Angeles Times, Florida Governor Rick Scott rejected the $2.4 billion in federal stimulus money for the Orlando-to-Tampa high-speed-rail (HSR) train.
To better understand the high-speed rail situation in Florida, here is a summary of the Scott-Train condition:
1. The Situation:
ABC News states that “Travel in America is getting more difficult each day as highways become more congested.”
According to Salon News, “Airport congestion and flight delays are making travelers insane.”
Our government understands this critical problem all too well and has “invested significant resources toward the development of high-speed rail in the United States, with an $8 billion allocation in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) and $2.5 billion more in Congress’ fiscal year 2010 budget,” according to a report issued by U.S. Prig.
By comparison, China is spending upwards of $300 billion on its high-speed-rail system and plans to build 8,078 miles of high-speed railways by 2012.
2. HSR Background:
The Florida High Speed Rail commission under the office of Florida Department of Transportation, the website states:
“Florida has a long history with HSR. Florida has been studying high speed rail since 1976. Our flat terrain, high growth rates, large numbers of tourists and distance between our major cities are ideal for HSR. In 1992, President Bush selected Tampa-Orlando-Miami as one of the nation’s first federally-designated HSR corridors.”
3. The Benefits of High-Speed Rail:
The following are excerpts from HubPages’ “Why America Needs High Speed Rail.”
“For the passenger, trains offer virtually unparalleled comfort. Trains have wider seats and more foot room than cars or planes. You can get up and walk around, or stay seated and read, work on your laptop or other electronic device, or simply enjoy the scenery. For longer trips, trains have comfortable overnight accommodations, allowing you to travel while sleeping and avoid driver fatigue.
“Trains are also fast and convenient. High speed trains travel at 125 miles per hour or faster, faster than any automobile speed limit in the country, and they avoid traffic congestion, while simultaneously reducing it. Although jet travel is faster, trains typically take less time to board, so over short and medium-length distances, trains can actually be faster than both cars and planes.
“High speed rail is safe. The grade-separated high speed lines used in much of Europe and Japan have not had a single fatality in 41 years.
“High speed rail offers many benefits to the environment. It is the most fuel-efficient form of mass transportation, reducing air pollution and carbon dioxide emissions. It carries 3-5 times more people per hour than interstate highways, while requiring only 10-40% of the land (compared to a highway). Track is also four times cheaper to build than highways, and rail creates more jobs.”
4. Why Gov. Scott does not want HSR in Florida:
In order for Florida to receive the $2.4 billion in federal money, Florida has to pay a share of $280 million. According to the Los Angeles Times, Scott said; “I am not convinced there is any plan that will get the taxpayers off the hook, the state could be responsible for billions of dollars in potential cost overruns.”
The Los Angeles Times report also noted that Scott was “relying on a study by a libertarian think tank that concluded – using a California high-speed proposal – that Florida’s costs were as much as $3 billion too low. He also said ridership projections of 3 million a year were too optimistic, though the study showing that has not been released.”
5. U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) has found viable options to keep HSR:
According to ABC Action News, advocates for high-speed rail announced on Monday, Feb. 21, that they have a viable plan. “They announced a plan that would transfer any financial risk from the Florida taxpayer to the private company entrusted to build the rail.
“Tampa’s city attorney said it is legally possible to do this. The state would accept the $2.4 billion in federal money, then sub-grant the money to an independent regional agency, likely made up of municipalities along the rail line.
“The independent regional agency would then bid the high-speed rail project out to private companies. The winning company would accept responsibility for any costs beyond the $2.4 billion. They would also be responsible, if operating costs exceeded revenue.”
“We are, in essence, privatizing the rail enterprise so private business and taxpayers are protected,” said Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.). “And I think at the end of the day, (Gov. Scott) won’t be able to say no.”
6. Why High-Speer Rail is important to Florida and America:
Time is of the essence in making the decision to accept the federal money. In the ABC Action News article, “U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has given the state until Friday (2/25/2011) to come up with an alternative solution for the $2.4 billion. If not, it will be given to another state for their rail project.”
An editorial published in Tampa Bay Online stated:
“Even if high-speed rail is never built, transportation in the Central Florida corridor cannot continue to depend on one six-lane highway. Other options must be offered, and we have little confidence that Scott will devote much time to thinking about it.”
The Modesto Examiner notes: “With the air transportation network stretched thin and easily vulnerable to disruption, the US needs to invest in high speed rail on a national level. California is in the process of creating a state HSR system, but a truly national system is in order.”
With new high-speed technologies already running on rails in Europe and Asia, it would not require the U.S. to re-invent the wheel, thus saving millions in R&D. But the government-owned Amtrak system is not capable of transporting people well into the 21st century.
Wikipedia notes on Amtrak;
“Ridership increased in the first decade of the 21st century after implementation of capital improvements in the Northeast Corridor and rises in automobile fuel costs. Amtrak set its sixth straight year of record ridership, with 28.7 million passengers for the 12 months ended September 30, 2008. According to Amtrak, an average of more than 70,000 passengers ride on up to 300 Amtrak trains per day.
“Through the late 1990s and very early 21st century, Amtrak could not add sufficient express freight revenue or cut sufficient other services to break even. By 2002, it was clear that Amtrak could not achieve self-sufficiency, but Congress continued to authorize funding and released Amtrak from the requirement.”
However, this same Wikipedia article notes that rail service is by far the most energy efficient form of transportation on or over ground, and also produces the greatest amount of revenue per passenger mile:
“Amtrak trains (30.7¢/1,745 BTUs) (Revenue per passenger mile / Energy consumption per passenger mile), Domestic airlines (13.0¢/2,931 BTUs), Transit buses (12.9¢/2,656 BTUs), Autos (N/A / 3,501 BTUs)”.
These data show that the U.S. must start building an alternate transportation system to air travel and highways. Traveling 200 to 300 miles city-to-city is not time nor cost efficient via airline or car. The best solution, as we have seen in Europe and Asia, is to create our own American High-Speed Rail system.
Gov. Scott must realize that the proposed Tampa to Orlando high-speed rail is not just about saving a few dollars today; it is a vitally important investment in America’s future.
If you agree Gov. Scott should accept the federal stimulus package of $2.4 billion for Florida’s High-Speed Rail system, then make your voice heard and call his office at (850) 488-4441.