Will the Tampa Bay Region FINALLY see commuter rail?

In a Tampa Bay Times article yesterday, it was revealed that CSX Transportation was finally letting up to the possibility of selling two key freight rail lines to the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) in the same manner that it did with another key rail line that is now a part of SunRail in Metro Orlando. While this is great news for the region, many concerns have been raised as to how and if the plan will ever materialize. CSX has been in talks with FDOT for at least several months now, but the issue at hand has been in the minds of many within the local transportation realm for years.

What are the two rail lines?

The two rail corridors in question includes the north-south line that runs from Brooksville, closely paralleling US Highway 41 until it reaches northern Hillsborough County, skirts past the University area, and ends in downtown Tampa, with another spur leading into South Tampa (the Times article does not mention the South Tampa spur however). The other corridor branches off from the Brooksville line at Busch Blvd and parallels the roadway and Linebaugh Ave in an east-west direction, connecting to a spur towards Tampa International Airport, before swooping into Pinellas County and eventually Clearwater and St. Petersburg.

Will CSX ask for a reasonable purchase price?

One huge concern that I have, is the cost of purchasing these two lines. A couple of people that I’ve talked to in the past have expressed that the only way CSX will put these lines up for sale is if they do so at a ridiculously high price. Something that would force FDOT to walk away without any compromise. However, I know that with what was able to materialize with SunRail, something can be done to ultimately bring the price down some while continuing to give CSX its portion.

Along with the purchase price, another unclear batch of costs includes building stations, parking facilities, purchasing rolling stock, and double-tracking the corridors.

Everyone MUST be involved in the process!

And when I say EVERYONE, I mean FDOT, the commissions of Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, and Hernando counties, AND every municipality within those counties (especially those who lie along the corridor). Plus, we will need to have the involvement of state representatives and senators, MPOs, and even TBARTA (although the state never gave the latter the powers it needs to actually operate as a regional transportation authority instead of just a planning body). Without this political unity, the entire plan stands to fall right through the cracks, just like every single past transportation initiative and Go Hillsborough. If Metro Orlando can have this kind of political unity to have saved SunRail from the chopping block of Governor Rick Scott, then why can’t Tampa Bay have the same? The answer lies in the next segment of this post.

Enough of the squabbling!!!

This news comes after the Times wrote a scathing op-ed about the Tampa Bay Region’s lack of local leadership and why it has largely contributed to not just the failed transportation initiatives, but also shortcomings in education, as well as the ongoing stalemate between St. Pete and the Tampa Bay Rays on a new stadium. This is also the same reason why FDOT is pushing so hard to build Tampa Bay Express (TBX). The problem at hand is that no one at the municipal and county levels want to work together in most situations. I’ve in fact seen countless times where mayors, city council members, county commissioners, etc. have done nothing but squabble in disagreement amongst themselves instead of working together towards one common goal. Because of this, I see our elected officials only working only for “me, myself, and I”, and not for their constituents who put them in office to begin with.

This individualistic mentality has got to end immediately! Especially when we are dealt with a regional situation like this. Instead, all of our elected officials need to start coming together and working together AS A REGION in order to tackle the big issues that affect all of us…whether it be transportation, education, or sports teams and venues. Otherwise, we will pay an extremely hefty price when these same powers to be, despite community opposition, allow TBX to be built in its entirety with no alternative transit option. Because at the end of the day, if we fail to work together AS A REGION, FDOT will simply walk away from this prospect with CSX and will instead continue to only focus on TBX. And finally, if the powers to be cannot do their jobs as promised, they all should not expect to be re-elected in the next election cycle.


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