High-speed rail between Tampa and Orlando is back on
The Florida Department of Transportation is starting the process for a private high-speed rail line connecting Tampa and Orlando, Gov. Rick Scott announced Friday. The agency, along with the Central Florida Expressway Authority, received an unsolicited proposal to lease state-owned property along Interstate 4. The train would run in the I-4 corridor that had been designated for federally funded high-speed rail but that Scott rejected in 2010. This opens a transparent procurement process for any interested private entities to seek opportunities to establish private passenger rail service between the two cities. It’s part of All Aboard Florida’s Brightline, which is already operating in South Florida. The company already had plans to extend its South Florida service to Orlando with a stop in Tampa. “As one of the nation’s fastest growing regions, Tampa Bay is a natural extension for Brightline," Brightline President and COO Patrick Goddard said in a statement to sister publication Orlando Business Journal. "Our state’s residents, visitors and economy will benefit tremendously from a fully connected passenger rail system that includes our current operations in South Florida and our future line to Orlando. We are currently engaged in the [request for proposals] process, which is the first step needed to extend the system to the Tampa Bay region.” “Instead of placing taxpayers on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars, our goal is for the private sector to invest in this project,” Scott said in a statement. “Through private investment, we ensure that this major project has zero financial risk to Florida taxpayers.” Scott said he rejected the federal money for high-speed rail awarded during the early years of former President Barack Obama’s term because he feared it would wind up leaving taxpayers left to subsidize operating costs.
FDOT is a state-run agency subject to competitive bidding so it has to open a public procurement process before reaching a deal with a private entity to establish service. If high-speed rail is approved in the I-4 corridor, it would likely eliminate other transit technologies some had hoped to see in that space including the Elon Musk-created hyperloop. Hyperloop Transportation Technologies considered the corridor a prime location for the transit tubes that carry passengers in pods at speeds more than 700 miles per hour. In hyperloop transit, a passenger could get from Tampa to Orlando in about 20 minutes. High-speed rail travels at about 250 miles per hour and would take a little over an hour, which accounts for stops and the train potentially not reaching its full speed. Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn praised the high-speed rail announcement in a statement saying it would increase transportation options, which would reduce congestion. He also said passenger rail service would create jobs. The South Florida Brightline service is already running with a recent estimate showing as many 3 million people will ride it by 2020.