A new kind of rollercoaster for Florida: $1.25 billion for high speed rail

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Florida received $1.25 billion to fund its 84-mile Tampa-Orlando line. The money will go toward track, building and enhancing stations, and purchasing equipment. President Barack Obama chose Tampa, Fla., to make his announcement about the federal high speed rail grants to 31 states. Lucky for Florida, the state got a nice slice.

Trains on the Tampa-Orlando line will run on brand new dedicated track at 168 mph with 16 round trips per day. "The trip from Tampa to Orlando will be made in less than an hour," Vice President Joe Biden said. "This single investment will not solve our transportation problems. More money for Florida and other projects will come later." However, the one-hour trip will shave 30 minutes off the average car ride. President Obama said he plans to return to Florida to ride the state's train when it's up and running.

When construction begins in 2012, the project will create up to 23,000 temporary building and engineering jobs, with additional permanent jobs supporting passenger service by 2015. This is key, as Florida has one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation.

"This will be one of the largest boosts to the state's economy since Disney and the interstate highway system,'' Senator Bill Nelson said.

"This is phenomenal for the future of Florida," Ed Turanchik, leader of ConnectUs, a Florida high speed rail advocate, said. "It creates new opportunities for tourism. You can get on the train and go to the Magic Kingdom or go to a Tampa Bay Buccaneers game."

Some residents and rail advocates are not so happy because the line does not go to historic Tampa Union Station, served by Amtrak's New York-Miami Silver Star. Instead, the train will run along the Interstate 4 corridor and stop at a brand new station at the former Hillsborough County jail. They question why money needs to be spent on a new station when Tampa Union Station is only six blocks away.

Longer-range plans call for a 230-mile Orlando-Miami segment to be added. The state says trains will reach 186 mph with 20 round trips per day, with a trip time of 2 hours, cutting the drive time in half. However, the federal funds announced today will not be used to construct this route. — Angela Pusztai-Pasternak, with reporting by Sarah Gottlieb in Tampa
TRAINS special coverage: High speed rail 2010
TrainsMag.com's special section, "High Speed Rail 2010," includes the latest news about the funding, a breakdown of the requests by categories and by state, and offer continuing coverage of the announcement and projects as they unfold.

This and all other stories about the high speed rail funding will be available to everyone from Trains News Wire, a section typically reserved for Trains magazine subscribers. We update News Wire daily with the latest stories from throughout the national and international rail industry. To enjoy continuous access to News Wire and other online benefits of TrainsMag.com, subscribe today!

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