Florida High-Speed Rail supporters rally for federal funding

08/18/09 Seán Kinane
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Many Florida elected officials, community groups, and business leaders are pushing for the state to construct only the second high-speed rail line in the country. Gatherings in Orlando, Lakeland, and Tampa today hoped to rally support for $2.5 billion of federal stimulus funding to connect those cities with 150 mile-per-hour train service.

According to U.S. Representative Kathy Castor, “Florida is ready to get moving. Florida is ready for high-speed rail.”

Castor stood on a balcony at Stetson University College of Law in downtown Tampa overlooking traffic on Interstate-275. As thunderstorms approached, the Democrat from Tampa was flanked by leaders from Orlando, Miami, and Tampa Bay. Castor hopes those three regions will ultimately be linked by a bullet train funded in part by the federal government.

In 2004, Florida voters repealed an amendment to the state’s constitution calling for a bullet train from Tampa to Orlando to Miami that had been added by the voters only four years earlier. But even that truncated head start gives Florida the edge over other regions, Castor says, because right-of-way and environmental permits have already been addressed.

Former Hillsborough County Commissioner Ed Turanchik held up a t-shirt with the logo of ConnectUs. It’s a group he formed to rally support for high-speed rail that was publicly launched on Tuesday.

Ten members of Florida’s Congressional delegation sent a letter to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in June encouraging him to award Florida high-speed rail funding. In July Democratic U.S. Senator Bill Nelson wrote a letter to leaders of Florida’s Legislature asking for support for high-speed rail.

Mike Ketchum, with the Central Florida Partnership in the Orlando area, says ordinary people of the state should rally behind high-speed rail.

Even though the Miami area would not benefit directly from construction of the first leg, high-speed rail is strongly supported by Joe Giulietti, executive director of the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority.

Both business and labor groups are on board with their support of high-speed rail. Henry Gonzalez is chair of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce.

Bill Dever, president of the Gulf Coast Building Trades in Tampa, summed up in one word why organized labor supports high-speed rail: “Jobs.”

Representative Kathy Castor thinks the broad-based support in Florida for high-speed rail will help the state.

President Barack Obama will decide by December which communities will get funding for high speed rail.


WMNF coverage of Iorio supports high speed rail

WMNF coverage of 2004 repeal of high speed train amendment

Federal Railroad Administration’s high-speed rail strategic plan

Obama on high speed rail

Florida High Speed Rail.org

Support Florida High Speed Rail on Facebook

Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce

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High Speed Rail I couldn’t help but notice that the above subject is in the news again. This subject seems to be pushed by the ambitious Congresswoman Kathy Castor. It is amazing what a lot of ego and a little knowledge can do. This project, if the estimates are even close, will cost the taxpayers “BILLIONS” of dollars, and will accomplish what? The stated goal is to appeal to the tourists descending on the Disney/Orlando area and suck some of their travel dollars into the Tampa area. Won’t happen. I hate to tell the supporters of this plan but Tampa doesn’t have enough appeal to attract these tourists it thinks will come here. If the goal would be more realistic concerning mass transit then they, politicians and planners should look very closely at commuter rail. Granted commuter rail is not as glamorous as high speed rail, but it sure does have a very positive impact on the community. First of all it gets the majority of the single occupant vehicles that travel the same routes off the road each day. People would flock to the opportunity to park their expensive gas guzzling cars in a lot near their homes and ride a fast silent convenient train to work. Instead of trying to drink their coffee, read the newspaper and apply makeup while attempting to drive a vehicle at 60 plus mph in stop and go traffic they could accomplish all of this at a much cheaper cost in relative safety and comfort and in a relaxed atmosphere. I know that there are thousands of cars and trucks and vans every day that travel the Veterans/Suncoast parkway and the I4 routes to and from Tampa. In contrast the High Speed Rail would have to fight to find enough passengers to fill a few cars a couple of times a day. Ms Castor points to the thousands of construction jobs that the high speed rail would bring for a couple of years. What happens to those jobs after the system is completed? The rail authority would reduce employment to the bare minimum to try to break even financially with the low ridership that this fiasco would bring. Ms Castor in her appeal for approval asks us to look at Europe and Japan and their high speed rails. I would counter that Ms Castor needs to look at the commuter rails that were available for a long time prior to the high speed rail not only in these countries but also here in the good old USA. Look to Chicago, New York, DC, Atlanta etc. All of these cites have very efficient rail and subway systems that take millions of single passenger vehicles off the highways every day. The high speed rail between NY and DC, while having a fairly strong ridership is not able to compete with the airlines low fair schedules. I have spent over thirty years in my career traveling throughout this great country of ours and also extensively in Europe and Canada. I have experienced the travel industry up close and personal. What is being proposed will be nothing but another Democratic tax and spend boondoggle which will end up being a huge drain on the country for decades to come. If these folks really want to HELP the constituents then they need to focus on local mass transit and that doesn’t mean another Ybor City trolley.