Monday, May 9, 2011


From our sister blog, Jacksonville Transit:
Lets kick off this critique of Florida and the nations rail passenger plans from a truly professional point of view and see how many people we can piss off.

There is nothing wrong with High Speed Rail, but pushing a line from OIA to Disney to a former jail in downtown Tampa, is NOT the formula for success. My best guess is that we will build this thing and "they" won't come, thus killing any other rail project in the State.

How many people in the Metro Area of Orlando, want to drive to the middle of no where, AKA: OIA, to board a train for I-Drive, Disney, Lakeland or Tampa? The High Speed Rail plan doesn't serve a single resident or business from Deland to South Orlando. Having lived in the area, I know the limited options of getting in and out of OIA, the airport is so poorly located that if I'm driving from Winter Park to Tampa, it would be easier to stay in the car for the whole trip, a detour to OIA to catch a train would take longer then the stay on I-4 and DRIVE option.
The recent article in the Daily Commercial, shows a lack of railroad economics as well as a very poor history. Little things like, "the Florida Railroad from Fernandina to Tampa." Sorry but No such railroad. It was built from Fernandina to Cedar Key, Tampa was an after thought and indeed it was the branch line built at the end of The War of Yankee Aggression.

"And yet government, at both the state and federal level, historically has subsidized all its transportation systems, especially rail."

What a joke, Had the writer looked at a single shred of government transportation records, he/she would know the LEAST subsidized transportation mode in the USA is rail.

Sprawl stopper? Hardly. The I-4 route runs as much as 10 miles north of all of the communities strung between Orlando and Tampa - along the lines of the CSX RR. How is HSR going to stop sprawl, when every one of those communities will be in a fight to be the first to reach the HSR line. Every available inch of space between Kissimmee, Haines City, etc. and the I-4 route will quickly fill in with new homes and businesses.

For $2.5 billion dollars, we could upgrade the existing rail network and have a half dozen daily trains serving not only Orlando - Tampa, but every city in the state. But of course this wouldn't help Disney. If Disney wants a HSR line from OIA to the theme parks, Disney should build it's own Mickey Mouse Railroad.



Perhaps I'm not the most loved transportation guy in this State, but I refuse to label a clearly flawed project as a winner. Florida High Speed Rail (AS PLANNED JAN 2010) is a disaster waiting to happen. There are several reasons for this, that if corrected, would find me as the systems biggest advocate. But as promised a week ago, this article will detail why Florida High Speed Rail will fail.

The current route completely ignores Orlando and it's sprawling metropolitan area. Stretching from Deland on the north to Kissimmee on the south, over 60 miles of lineal city.

So the high speed rail planners have the railroad from Tampa, down the center of Interstate 4, to Disney World, then curving South to the Orange County Convention Center and the planned system hub which focuses on the Orlando International Airport.

Anyone that has ever had the displeasure of driving or using transit to the Orlando Airport can tell you that shortly after inventing the "Iron Maiden," and "The Rack," both ancient torture devices were replaced by Orlando's Beach Line Turnpike, Orange Blossom Trail, Highway's 436, 17-92, I-4, and the East-West Expressway. In short, the airport using the facilities of the former McCoy Air Force Base, is in one of those proverbial impossible locations, with no clear access from any point in the city. This access problem alone should scrap the current plans. Calculate at least one full hour to drive from any point in the city to the Airport to catch a train.

Tampa. Some years ago, Florida bowed to pressure from the Tampa Bay area communities to buy the former Tampa Union Station (TUS), which sits just above the downtown on Nebraska Avenue. This classic station from the early 1900's is a compact head-house design with what were once 10 tracks and covered platforms. Amtrak still serves the station coming in from the east between I-4 and the Cross Town Expressway.

So in their infinite wisdom, the HSR Authority, has decided a new station in the middle of a Expressway Interchange, about a dozen blocks northwest is the place for a "new" train station. This choice makes no sense at all considering the infrastructure is already in place at TUS, already connected to Amtrak and HART, and already paid for.

As the entire current project plan avoids current rail infrastructure, one cannot help but wonder if our highway centric planners in Tampa's USF/CUTR (a highway think tank that influences all Florida transportation decisions and is decidedly anti-rail) or FDOT in Tallahassee, have planned to fail? Distance from infrastructure that works, regardless of age or opinion, just for the sake of new and shinny is irresponsible in the 33Rd degree.

Last but certainly not least is the routing of the entire system on I-4, then claiming it will help curb sprawl. This is a simple diversion of the truth and Tallahassee knows it. I-4 is as much as 10 miles NORTH of every community from Orlando to Tampa. While these are certainly not large cities, they have in effect filled in to make up a megalopolis. The High Speed Rail will miss Kissimmee, Davenport, Haines City, Winter Haven, Auburndale, Winston, Plant City, Dover and Mango, as well as the aforementioned Tampa Union Station/Transportation Center site.

The claim of convenient transportation just doesn't stand close scrutiny. Convenient for what? Tampa? The HSR plan misses the connections at TUS and the urbanized core making Tampa rather unlikely to break ridership records. Lakeland? Hardly, does Lakeland even have bus service that far north? Walking from the HSR to downtown in a tropical thunderstorm should be appealing. Disney? AH HA! PERFECT! How did that happen? Someone please tell me which rail dependent residents live in Disney World besides a very rich mouse? Orange County Convention Center at International Drive? Besides serving the occasional Conventioneers this station will also serve Wet and Wild, with Sea World, The Holy Land and Universal just a few miles down the road. Orlando Airport? As we've already seen, no locals are going to waste an hour driving out to OIA to catch a train that would take one hour to get to Tampa, making a two hour trip out of a ONE HOUR and 28 MINUTE CAR RIDE. Not to mention airport parking fee's and rental cars in Tampa, plus rail fare.

Consider that every single community along the route, will have developers quickly buy up and pave the several miles between the current town limits and I-4/HSR. They will consume thousands of acres of fragile, water short, Florida land, and their customers will demand their own stations, slowing the whole system down to a fast Amtrak-like pace. The ability of our state to set up more mindless sprawl in the name of the most environmentally friendly mode of transportation, borders on criminal.

So in part one we have seen that High Speed Rail, planned by the boys and girls at one of the most rail hostile places on earth, is a washout. Tune in later when we bring you MORE reasons why $9 Billion dollars later, this train will fail to arrive.



Will Florida's High Speed Rail efforts crash THIS hard? Let's just say if they don't make some radical adjustments and trash the assumption that Orlando has to be the hub of a massive "hub and spokes railroad," then THIS IS where it is heading.

FLORIDA HSR phase 1 part 1
It's easy to spot the Northeast climb of the HSR route as it pulls away from Tampa, that's a heck of a way to get pointed Southeast.

Even if the entire project for Florida High Speed Rail, gets the blessing of the Federal Department of Transportation, and 100% financing, it is headed for a crash that might well bring down the whole industry.

Reason number 5 is not anyone's opinion about riders or ridership, it is however a story written in geography and no one short of The All Mighty could fix it. In one scenario (alternative "A") the train will run from Tampa, Northeast to Orlando, then with about a 10 degree turn, continue East to Melbourne (Space Coast Beaches). From Melbourne the new railroad turns 90 degrees South, and would likely hug some combination of the I-95 or Florida East Coast right-of-way, all the way through Fort Pierce - West Palm Beach - Ft. Lauderdale to Miami. Certainly no other route in the history of Florida, has ever served so many people in such a short stage length. Population is good, high speed is good, new railroads are good, so why does this one stand out as a bad plan?

To get to the answer one needs only to study the alternative routes from Orlando Southward to Miami. The Second Alternative "B" would turn South at the Orlando International Airport and roughly follow the historic Florida East Coast Railways Kissimmee River Valley line along or near the Florida Turnpike Alignment all the way to West Palm Beach - Ft. Lauderdale to Miami. This is the shortest of the current planned routes from Tampa to Miami via Orlando, but it sacrifices virtually every village, town and city on the East Coast of the State, North of West Palm Beach, to accomplish it's goal, and still maintains what is for all practical purposes a 100 degree turn, a "Fatal Corner" in the middle of the railroad system.

Alternative "C" would be the slowest schedule from Orlando to Miami, but the cheapest build, following the CSX Railroad. Running from St. Petersburg - Tampa - Auburndale - Orlando International Airport, as well as a line from Alburndale southeast to Lake Wales - Sebring - West Palm Beach - Ft. Lauderdale, and Miami. It would eliminate the need for Tampa/St. Petersburg trains to pass through Disney World - Orange County Convention Center and Orlando international Airport, before heading to the lower East Coast and Miami. So ironically the slowest option for Orlando, would be the fastest option for the Tampa Bay communities, but the hard place seems to be missing all of the Beach Communities North of West Palm Beach.

Florida ICE train 2008 map
So Far the only map that makes ANY sense, is this largely ignored 2008, ICE Train Plan

4 rail lines into Orlando and they still miss the direct connection with Jacksonville, not to mention the line of the center of the State running virtually from Miami to LAKE CITY, guess it's comforting to know Tallahassee has a sense of humor.

It's a crazy curse to plan under but the bottom line for Florida is, by ignoring the historic travel patterns and trying to make Orlando into a railroad cross roads that it never was, has put us in a unique position. We can either build the fastest route and skip most of the cities, or, we can build through most of the cities and lose the fast train.

Due to the Fatal Corner, a high speed train that rips along at 120 mph, is still going to consume all of 4:00 hours between St. Petersburg and Miami, and 2:30 hours between Orlando and Miami alone. Since this is travel time the dwell time in the stations would have to be added in to any schedule. Leaving St. Petersburg by train, stations would be initially located in Tampa, Lakeland, Disney World, Orange County Convention Center, Orlando International Airport, Melbourne, Ft. Pierce, West Palm Beach, Ft. Lauderdale, and Miami. Dwell times of just 2 minutes per station average would add another 20 minutes to the through schedule. A schedule of 4 hours and 20 minutes between end points via the fastest train in America can be easily trumped by a 1968 Volkswagen Micro-Bus full or hippies at 4:00 hours even, on I-75. This is easy math, because the hippies in that micro-bus won't be traveling 120 miles Northeast to go Southeast of Tampa/St. Petersburg.

Bus Southeastern Stages
The Bus, Greyhound, La Cubana or Southeastern starts looking better and better as Florida's number one "Alternative."

Add in a fare of around $70 dollars for an end to end ticket, plus car rental, taxi or bus fare at the other end, and keeping with the Micro-Bus starts to look better and better. The time/dollar economics doesn't get any better with a simple Tampa/St. Petersubrg - Orlando trip either, because for $30 bucks, one is still going to have to get to Orlando from "Orlando!" By the time that taxi rolls to a stop in Winter Park, Maitland or Sanford, that lone Amtrak train will be half way to Jacksonville, making the entire system, either route option A, B, or C.

The last public transportation alternative seems a mockery of the states so-called "showcase HSR system." Bottom line? $25 dollars and a Greyhound ticket will get you there faster, and Greyhound has Wi-Fi!

Stay tuned as we move on to part 3 of this series, "WHY FLORIDA HIGH SPEED RAIL WILL FAIL."

Part III was subsequently canceled when indeed the entire project FAILED.