Rally against CSX rail deal in Lakeland
Lakeland business and labor leaders rallied today against plans for a deal between CSX and the state of Florida for a commuter rail line in the Orlando area.
About 170 people held signs and chanted in downtown Lakeland’s Munn Park, next to the rail line shared by CSX and Amtrak. Julie Townsend, executive director of the Downtown Lakeland Partnership, said that the cost to Florida’s taxpayers of the CSX deal had “gotten out of control.”
Townsend thanked Sen. Paula Dockery and Rep. Dennis Ross, both Republicans from Lakeland, for their help in opposing the CSX deal. Townsend said she is asking that the project be put on hold because of an amendment added to the deal in the Florida House that made the state financially responsible for accidents on the commuter rail line, even if CSX is at fault.
The CSX deal was part of Monday’s agenda in the House Policy and Budget Council. According to a staff report, the state Department of Transportation would have to “purchase $200 million in liability insurance related to the CSX-Commuter rail project. The annual premium is expected to be approximately $2 million, which could be partially offset with user fees paid by CSX for freight operations in the corridor.”
Gary Sease is a spokesperson for CSX transportation in Jacksonville.
Under the deal, the state would purchase access to CSX’s rail lines in central Florida and pay for the construction of an alternative route for CSX freight through Lakeland to a proposed new integrated logistics center near Lake Wales.
Wally Krouson lives in Lake Ashton 2 miles from the proposed facility. He said the entire deal is just a way to get taxpayers to fund a project that CSX wants and will increase train and truck traffic in Polk County.
Ann Wilson lives in the Historic District of Lakeland and is president of Historic Lakeland Inc. She said the CSX deal would “ruin everything [they have] built up” in Lakeland.
Some of the signs at the rally read “Pay our teachers, not CSX,” “Commuter Rail is good but this deal is bad,” and “54 not 4 more trains.”
Susan Nash works for the city of Lakeland and is concerned that train traffic through the city will increase considerably.
But CSX’s Gary Sease insists that Lakeland will see an increase of only four trains per day and that CSX will work with other groups to upgrade the signals so that the city of Lakeland can qualify for a “quiet zone.”
John Gaige, a member of the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen in South Florida, said he would lose his union job if CSX makes a deal with Florida.
Townsend called the CSX deal “bad government” which would result in a “freight superhighway” through Lakeland. But it would even affect Florida’s west coast residents, Townsend said, by making rail lines to Tampa nearly impossible.
Photo credit: Seán Kinane/WMNF
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