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In Central Florida, the Scramble Is On to Link High-Speed Rail Systems

Take it from someone who used to live in central Florida: they really need an effective high-speed inter-city passenger rail. It’s probably the most effective plan to combat the rampant urban sprawl, traffic congestion, road rage, and pollution endemic to the current system. As the population continues to grow, conditions will only worsen unless something is done about it.

With “light rail” seeming just out of reach for many years, President Obama’s stimulus promises to jumpstart the project. But for it to work it has to be done right. James McCommons, author of Waiting on a Train: The Embattled Future of Passenger Rail Service, says “if people are going to use them, they have to be able to use them conveniently.” Right now Floridians face a couple of obstacles that stand in the way of an efficient and successful system: money and logistics.

From the Orlando Sentinel:

Two train systems meant to usher in a new era of transportation in Metro Orlando are slated to run along separate tracks that will intersect west of Orlando International Airport.

But, as it stands, there is no planned connection where passengers from the $1.2 billion SunRail commuter train could transfer to the $2.6 billion high-speed train or vice versa. How is that possible?

Train supporters say they are now working on a link, which potentially would increase ridership for both systems. But it appears little thought initially was given to bringing the trains together because few ever thought the projects would happen, much less at about the same time.

SunRail, after all, was defeated twice in the state Legislature, and high-speed-rail proposals had failed repeatedly during several decades.

As longtime transportation planner Dave Grovdahl of MetroPlan in downtown Orlando said, “How many people were expecting high-speed rail to be a funded project?”

But the election of President Barack Obama — a high-speed-rail fan — coupled with the $787 billion stimulus package passed by Congress last year resulted in money to create the fast train planned to run from OIA to Tampa.

The promise of high-speed dollars also helped prompt Florida lawmakers to approve SunRail on the third try in December. The Obama administration awarded $1.25 billion to Florida’s high-speed bid little more than a month later.

Construction could begin late this year on SunRail, expected to link DeLand in Volusia County with downtown Orlando and Poinciana in Osceola County by 2015. The high-speed train could be running by 2015, too.

That has led area officials to push the state Department of Transportation, overseeing both ventures, to link the two. That will take a change of attitude, said Ed Turanchik, a former Hillsborough County commissioner and director of ConnectUs, a pro-high-speed lobbying group.

“Florida has never had a serious rail plan,” Turanchik said. “It’s always been a cobbling of projects.”

Read the whole article here.


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