TBARTA hears from freight giant CSX

08/27/10 Kate Bradshaw
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This morning, the board of the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority, or TBARTA, heard from freight company CSX. TBARTA is exploring the possibility of to running part of its proposed rail line along a CSX corridor. Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio said the CSX right of way in question would constitute a crucial portion of the proposed countywide mass transit system.

However, the mayor said, CSX doesn’t necessarily have to be part of the equation.

The other option is to go along I-275. Bob O’Malley, who gave the presentation on behalf of CSX, gave what some board members called a rosy view of the relationship between the corporation and local economies and governments.

In 2008, CSX nearly won a deal with the state that would have allowed commuter rail, which is different from light rail, to operate on its tracks near Orlando. Within that deal was a provision that would have absolved the corporation of all liability, even if CSX was at fault in an accident. The state Senate wound up tabling the $650 million deal. But the Legislature then passed that bill, which critics all a sweetheart deal, during a special session last December. Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard said he was skeptical because a stalled CSX project in that city’s downtown has left the area in shreds.

Board member and Citrus County Commissioner John Thrumston said he was concerned about how much factors like insurance would cost if passenger rail were to operate in such close proximity to freight rail.

O’Malley said that if Hillsborough County were to buy CSX land, the county would actually make more than enough to cover insurance costs.

Currently, O’Malley said, Hillsborough Area Regional Transit is exploring the possibility of using CSX right of way in two instances.

Both would require a 50-foot horizontal clearance for the safety of passengers.

Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio has expressed skepticism about CSX in the past. Today she stressed that running passenger rail along CSX lines was not the only option.

All of these discussions bank on a 75-word question on Hillsborough County’s November ballot. The referendum asks voters whether they want to raise the county sales tax from seven to eight percent. The revenue from that extra penny-per-dollar would fund a massive transit overhaul that includes rail, enhanced bus service and road improvements.

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"The national company is trying to get TBARTA to run part of its proposed rail line along a CSX corridor." This statement by the reporter is completely false. CSX actually has recommended that Tampa build its light rail on the I-275 corridor.

Correction Posted

Thank you for commenting. WMNF News adheres to a strict standard of accuracy. In light of this, we called CSX spokesperson Bob O'Malley, who delivered Friday's presentation, for clarification. He said that CSX has not taken an official position on the question of whether the proposed light rail line should run along the I-275 corridor or the existing CSX line. O'Malley said that while freight is the company's priority, CSX is willing to work with local governments exploring options for passenger rail. However, he did say that CSX previously sent a letter to HART indicating that it may be less expensive if the county were to build light rail along the I-275 corridor. We apologize for the confusion and have corrected the text in the story above.