Florida Is on Track to Build New Passenger Train System
Emily Pollock posted on July 06, 2018 |
The Brightline train company recently submitted a bid to run a passenger line between Tampa and Orlando, a move that’s been generally welcomed by transit-hungry Floridians. (Image courtesy of Brightline.)
The Brightline train company recently submitted a bid to run a passenger line between Tampa and Orlando, a move that’s been generally welcomed by transit-hungry Floridians. (Image courtesy of Brightline.)

Seven years after Florida’s governor rejected federal funding for a public passenger train service, the state’s department of transportation is taking bids for a private company to provide rail service between the cities of Orlando and Tampa.

On June 22, Governor Rick Scott announced that the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) had gotten an “unsolicited proposal” from private passenger rail system Brightline to build a high-speed train system along the state’s Interstate 4. Because of this, FDOT has launched a formal request for proposals (RFP) process, where any other interested parties will have six months to submit competing proposals. Scott rejected federal money for building a rail system back in 2011 because of fears that the project would end up costing Floridian taxpayers.

The Tampa-Orlando line would stretch the 86 miles between Orlando International Airport and downtown Tampa. If Brightline receives the contract, it would be the company’s third rail line in the state, after a West Palm Beach/Fort Lauderdale train that launched this January, and a Fort Lauderdale/Miami line that launched in May. Brightline’s proposal calls for a diesel-electric train service. Typically, these trains run under electric power when possible, and use diesel to power themselves through sections of track that are too difficult to electrify. This design would be a boon in Florida, where any out-of-city transportation runs through long stretches of rural areas and wetlands.

While there are cross-continental railway tracks in the U.S., passenger train travel is famously limited, and most tracks are owned and dominated by freight shipping companies. The country's low population density makes it difficult to support travel between cities, and the relatively low cost of gas makes car travel cheaper than in other countries. Indeed, Brightline is the first privately owned company in the country to develop an express passenger rail system in 35 years.

But currently, Florida is starved for transit options. Outside of the state’s major cities, there are few major roads and very little public transit, a situation that ensures near-constant traffic congestion. Half an hour before Governor Scott announced the proposal, Democratic rival Bill Nelson tweeted, “On I-4. Traffic is bad. Again, I am officially calling on Gov. Scott to let us build high-speed rail.”

And while the public wasn’t consulted about the project, most are happy with the decision to move forward on public transit. "Eliminate some of the traffic issues we're having and also make it easier for families to get over there and get back here," Florida resident Keshia Gabriel told ABC Action in the wake of the governor’s announcement. The decision has also been popular among frequent travelers to Florida, as the train would help tourists to conveniently see more of the state in a single trip.As Ohio visitor Tim Nutt told the station, "There has been a bit of a parking issue we've noticed down here. I think that transit would be a lot easier for us."

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