After the Bushes have gone: High Speed Rail & the Florida corridor

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Florida beckonsAs a former resident of Florida (1999-2002…Go Seminoles) your author can assure you, the state is in need of high speed rail. The vast state makes travel times by car irritatingly long. The most extreme example is the drive from Pensacola to Key West. Distance of that journey is 828 miles, clocking in at over 13 hours. From anywhere in the panhandle to south Florida is an all day affair behind the wheel.

Drivers along the highways (especially 10) are under the close eye of the Highway Patrol and must keep the pace under 75 miles per hour for hours and hours and hours. Out of all the HSR corridors, Florida should have the most urgent need for speed. A 220 mph train would be the optimal mode of transit from Tallahassee all the way down to Miami. The length of that journey (480 miles) gives passenger rail a time advantage over cars and planes. Any trip less than 500 miles gives trains the upper hand concerning travel times.

All of Florida’s major cities are in that crucial 500 mile range along the I-75 corridor or coast. From Jacksonville to Miami, virtually the entire length of the state, the distance is 344 miles. With this in mind, the architect of the modern Florida HSR House-of-Bush-House-of-Saud-book.jpgCorridor, C.C “Doc” Dockery, sought to bring this infrastructure to the state. This effort ran headlong into the Bush family. For some reason, Governor Jeb Bush was diametrically opposed to HSR in Florida and did everything in his power to kill passenger rail in the Sunshine State (*FYI – House of Bush, House of Saud offers some rather salient points and can be found on Amazon.com here).

Florida’s population has nearly doubled since 1980 from over 9 million people to over 18 million in 2008. This constant influx of people shaped the Floridian economy into what has been described as a giant Ponzi scheme. The state is dependent on new arrivals and investment to keep the economy running. Developers built condos, malls and golf courses, but neglected to build sufficient transport infrastructure to link what they had made.

The economic crisis bit Florida in a number of ways. The housing bubble was the most significant. Also high on the list of ills is that expensive fuel hit Floridians very hard because the only way to get around the peninsula is by car. It does not matter if you are a student going to see your parents on the weekend or a retiree that wants to hit the links, without a car you are going nowhere. This dependence is unhealthy and other transport options need to be made available.

The good news is that the Bushes are out of their respective offices. Republican Governor Charlie Crist is a tacit supporter of the plan, which by GOP standards is a ringing endorsement. Governor Crist is set for a Senate run in 2010 so it may be up to a new Governor to get momentum for the project on the state level. For this project, the federal government might need to step in and get things rolling.

This is the 9th of a 13-part series on high speed rail in the USA. Read previous articles:

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3 Comments

  1. Alex, No mention of service west of Jacksonville. You may be interested in the recent Gulf Coast Service Plan Report — PRIIA Section 226 (PDF, 1.6MB).

    http://www.amtrak.com/pdf/PRIAA/GulfCoastServicePlanReport.pdf

    A more fitting title: “Gulf Coast State Extortion Plan” or “a strategy for failure”. Amtrak has jumped on the HSR bandwagon while continuing to fail to meet it’s obligation as the national passenger rail service provider. Without the vital New Orleans -Jacksonville link the national passenger rail system has no national connectivity.

    • Hey Allan,

      I tried clicking unto the link you provided, but it was nowhere to be found when I entered Amtrak’s corporate website. Would you know another way of accessing this information?

  2. Dear Alex,

    As a longtime resident of Tampa, Florida I share your disappointment at the lack of progress made in introducing other viable forms of transportation in addition to automobile and aircraft travel. When I used to reside in Brooklyn, New York, I had access to subways, buses, commuter rail, cabs and taxis. But since arriving to the Sunshine State in 1983, my options were severely limited to either transit bus or a private car and I couldn’t agree with you more on the need for a state-wide high speed rail network. However, I’ve come to understand that not everyone’s in favor of any passenger rail project unless 1)it must generate a profit regardless of what mode of transport or trackage being utilized and 2)it must not incur construction, operation and maintenance costs to taxpayers. One of the ways we can get beyond this impasse is to educate all Florida residents on the need and benefits of having transportation alternatives and to identify, campaign and support progressive-minded candidates for municipal, county, state and congressional seats who can and will promote better transportation systems for the common good.

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