Could faster intercity rail become a reality for Florida?

When Governor Rick Scott cancelled plans for a high-speed rail line between Tampa and Orlando back in April of 2011, many transit advocates throughout the state of Florida became upset, because of the economic impact that the line could have brought to the state. However, as soon as the November, 2010 elections were said and done, I knew that the high-speed rail line in the state of Florida was doomed.

From the get-go, I’ve always questioned the levels of ridership that such a line would have brought to either Tampa or Orlando. With the line once-proposed to run down Interstate 4, an interstate highway with a 70 mph speed limit between I-75 and the Osceola County Line, I never thought that enough ridership would be able to be garnished for such a short distanced line, even though the planning stages were furthest along than a latter route between Orlando and Miami. I’ve always thought, “well, people will simply continue to drive and not take the train. It will simply become a tourist trap”.

Furthermore, I questioned the stops that would have been located along the route, since Orlando officials were pressing for a stop near Walt Disney World, and officials in Polk and Pinellas counties were trying to convince the state that a stop in their counties were needed as well. If one places too many stops along a bullet train line, doesn’t that kill off the purpose of even having a bullet train in the first place?

With all prospects of having the European-style bullet train coming to Florida completely vanished, a private company called Florida East Coast Industries came up with a proposal that would have them operate an intercity rail service through the state. Plans for the first phase between Miami and Orlando were announced in March, 2012, and the company hopes to have service operational by the end of 2014. A second phase is now planned to run between Orlando and Jacksonville depending on the success of the initial phase, and a subsequent phase is also on the books to connect Tampa to Orlando as well. This project, known as the All Aboard Florida project, is slated to become the first privately-owned-and-operated intercity passenger rail service in the state of Florida.

How will it work?

The FECI rail corridors would operate in a similar manner to other intercity rail operations in the Northeast US and in Europe. The corridors would allow for regular, frequent service between Miami, Orlando, Jacksonville, and Tampa, and strategically placed stops will provide for the highest levels of ridership, while easily connecting passengers to area airports, venues, and existing public transit avenues. Service would be provided from early morning hours to late evening, with adjusted service possible during special events.

Proposed Stops

For the initial phase; stops are being planned in Miami’s downtown core, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, and Orlando International Airport. Subsequent stops would later be added for Jacksonville and Tampa, but there is no word on whether there would be stops in Lakeland or Daytona Beach. At this time, St. Pete is not mentioned in the plans, though they may be added as a stop in a subsequent phase.

What will be the impact on public transit if this intercity rail project is a success?

I strongly believe that the impact on public transit systems in Miami, Orlando, Tampa, and Jacksonville will all see huge benefits from the FECI rail corridor! Should the entire project go well, the network will help enhance these metro areas as a whole, as well as provide passengers with an option to use rail instead of driving. Although Amtrak does provide passenger rail service to these cities as it is today, the Amtrak service is not sufficient due to limited trips during the day and week.

Additionally, Orlando’s commuter rail line, SunRail (which I’ll discuss in a future post) is slated to be operational by 2015, which would eventually allow for seamless rail travel between downtown Miami and the suburbs of Orlando.

How do I learn more information about the project?

Visit the All Aboard Florida Website to learn more about the project, and be sure to sign up for their email alerts.

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