Tampa wants All Aboard Florida line

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TAMPA, Fla. – After Florida lost a chance for a true high speed rail line when Florida Gov. Rick Scott in 2011 declined $2.4 billion in federal funding to build a line between Orlando and Tampa, interested parties retained some hope because All Aboard Florida officials indicated their project eventually could be extended to Tampa.
While plans for the new Miami-Orlando trains are on target to begin service in late 2015, local officials are concerned a second phase of the project could bypass Tampa for an Orlando-Jacksonville route.

The concern over falling behind with All Aboard Florida has created a sense of urgency among local attendees at a regional transportation summit scheduled this week in Tampa, the Tampa Tribune reports.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Mark Sharpe organized the meeting months ago to discuss transportation advancements along the Interstate 4 corridor, one of the nation’s 10 so-called “mega-regions” due to its population and strong prospects for growth, Sharpe says.

“I’ve heard about Jacksonville from many different sources, one of the latest during talks at a (local) transportation subcommittee meeting,” says Sharpe, a former U.S. Navy intelligence officer. “I was on a call last week where it was becoming clear we would not be next for All Aboard Florida ... if only through the grapevine.”

Sharpe says Florida East Coast Industries, which created All Aboard Florida, has not told him anything regarding its plans beyond Miami and Orlando and expects it won’t until it’s ready to make a decision. “But we must be poised and prepared and do everything possible to demonstrate that we are a massive market and a very important destination,” Sharpe says.

All Aboard Florida is a wholly owned subsidiary of Florida East Coast Industries, which owns the Florida East Coast Railway. All Aboard Florida owns the easement to operate passenger trains on FEC.

Donald Robinson, president and chief operating officer of All Aboard Florida, says it is premature to consider any possible second-stage plans. “We are really focused on the Miami-Orlando segment and looking forward to breaking ground by the end of this year,” Robinson says. “It is way premature to consider the order and priority (for a route extension). When that time comes it will be affected by the economy and what passengers want.”

“When Governor Scott was looking at the Tampa-Orlando high-speed rail line, there was significant support from the Miami delegation. The All Aboard Florida team is going to Tampa to talk about the Miami-Orlando project. It's a statewide project, not just Miami-Orlando.”

All Aboard Florida stations will be at Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, and Orlando International Airport. Trains will travel at 79 mph between Miami and West Palm Beach, 110 mph between West Palm Beach and Cocoa, and 125 mph between Cocoa and Orlando.

Sharpe says he wants to be careful the local effort is not perceived as Tampa simply trying to stay ahead of or jump in front of Jacksonville. But he hopes transportation planners from area planning organizations will get the message at the summit to work toward increasing regional connectivity, with All Aboard Florida “a big part.”
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