High speed rail (HSR) has a long history in Florida, one that grew especially tumultuous in early 2011, eventually leading to the indefinite postponement of the initial line, which would have connected Tampa Bay to Orlando. In this section, you can learn more about what high speed rail is, its history in Florida, and where we go from here now that the project has once again been put on the shelf.
About Florida High Speed Rail
Proposed statewide system, click to enlarge.
High speed rail (HSR) is a very common mode of travel in Europe and Asia that has not yet been introduced in the United States. As the name implies, HSR is characterized by very high speeds - usually defined as over 160 mph - with relatively few stops. The trains themselves offer modern amenities such as comfortable seating and wireless Internet. In Florida, high speed rail was envisioned as a statewide system that would connect all the major activities centers around the state, beginning with Tampa, Lakeland, and Orlando. This first leg extends 84 miles, and would have had five stations: Downtown Tampa, Polk County/Lakelnd, Disney, Orange County Convention Center, and Orlando International Airport. Travel time along the length of the route would have been under an hour. In the most recent attempt to get this project off the ground, the federal government would have funded 90% of the total project cost of $2.7 billion, and the private sector demonstrated a willingness to pay the remaining 10%.
Timeline of Events
The timeline below outlines the key events related to high speed rail over the last several years, focusing on early 2011 and the events that led to stopping the project entirely for the forseeable future.
1976 - Florida Transit Corridor Study: This study was mandated by the Florida Legislature. It evaluated the feasibility for a high speed rail system operating between Daytona Beach and St. Petersburg. The study concluded that implementation of this system is feasible if implemented in stages and recommended the joint use of the existing interstate highway corridor for this purpose. The capital cost of an advanced high speed rail system capable of speeds in excess of 150 mile per hour was estimated at $585 million.
1982 - Governor Bob Graham authorizes the creation of the Florida High Speed Rail Committee.
1984 - The Florida Legislature enacts the Florida High Speed Rail Transportation Commission Act. The act includes strong legislative findings regarding the need for high speed rail in Florida. It creates a 7-member Florida high speed rail commission and charges it with the implementation of high speed rail in Florida. A franchise process was dictated and great emphasis was placed on the establishment of the system through a public/private partnership with extensive reliance on use of real estate development rights to fund the system therefore minimizing the need for public funding.
1986 - The final report for the high speed rail study concluded that the State should proceed with the implementation of the system connecting Miami, Orlando and Tampa. The study estimated the total infrastructure costs at $2.3 to $2.7 billion. It estimated the ridership at 6 million riders per year and concluded that financing could be achieved through joint land developments, benefit assessment districts and tax increment financing.
1988 - Two proposals are submitted by Florida TGV Inc. and the Florida High Speed Rail Corporation. The Florida TGV Inc. proposal would use the French TGV train with speeds up to 170 mph. The total system cost was estimated at $2.2 billion with ridership estimated at 5.8 million per year. The TGV company insisted from the start that the project could not be completed without public funding. The Florida High Speed Rail Corporation proposed to use the Swedish built ABB X2000 train technology with tilt capabilities. The total system capital cost was estimated at $1.9 billion and ridership at 3.7 million riders. The proposal suggested that extensive real estate development rights would be needed to finance the system and no other public investment would be needed.
1989 - With the lack of Commission support for public funding, TGV of Florida withdraws its proposal.
1990 - Florida High Speed Rail Corporation revises its proposal to include benefit assessment districts, tax increment financing, impact fees and new gas tax to help fund the system.
1991 - Governor Chiles rejects new proposal and Florida High Speed Rail Corporation withdraws.
1992 -1995 - Extensive transportation and ridership surveys including largest ever intercity market surveys conducted in the US. FDOT announces funding commitment for HSR at $70 million per year for thirty years to be escalated at 4%. FDOT issues Request for Proposals (RFP).
1996 - FDOT selects FOX. The FOX consortium was made up of Fluor Daniel, Odebrecht Contractors, Bombardier and GEC Alsthom. FOX proposal was to build new grade separated, fully dedicated high speed rail system connecting Miami, Orlando and Tampa. System capital cost was estimated at $6.1 billion with year 2010 ridership projected at 8.5 million per year. FOX proposed to finance the system with mostly debt financing with bonds fully repaid form net system revenues and the State’s annual contribution of $70 million. In addition, $350 million in equity funding was to be provided from the four FOX partner companies.
1998 - FOX begins preliminary engineering and environmental activities. Approximately 10% of preliminary engineering and environmental work is completed.
1999 - State funding for the FOX project is terminated.
2000 - Florida Legislature authorizes the "Coast to Coast Rail Feasibility Study" to assess the feasibility of a new high speed intercity passenger rail system connecting Port Canaveral to St. Petersburg. Preliminary findings indicate that implementation of the system should be done in phases starting with the project connecting Orlando International Airport to Tampa Union Station with three intermediate stations at I-Drive, Disney and Lakeland. The capital cost of such system was estimated at $1.025 billion.
November 2000 - Voters approve an ammendment to the state constitution mandating construction of a statewide high speed rail system.
March 2001 - Florida Legislature creates the Florida High Speed Rail Authority (FLHSRA) to oversee the project.
November 2004 - Voters repeal the 2000 ammendment. No action is taken regarding the FLHSRA, who continued to meet until funding ran out, and completed key studies that would give Florida an edge when the project was later revived.
February 2009 - Congress approves the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), more commonly known as "the stimulus." Included in the stimulus is funding for high speed rail. The Florida corridor is announced as one of ten corridors around the nation eligble to compete for funding.
August/October 2009 - Florida submits their applications for the funding, requesting $2.5 billion for the Tampa-Lakeland-Orlando corridor as well as additional funding for planning studies for the Orlando-Miami corridor.
December 2009 - In a Special Session, the Florida Legislature approves the Florida Rail Act, replacing FHSRA with the Florida Rail Enterprise and the Florida Statewide Passenger Rail Commission, and demonstrating the state's commitment to high speed rail.
January 2010 - President Obama announces during a speech at the University of Tampa that Florida will recieve $1.25 billion to begin work on the Tampa-Lakeland-Orlando line. The earlier work of the FHSRA makes Florida the most "shovel-ready" state. Jobs can be created immediately, and the project is scheduled to be completed in 2015.
October 2010 - Florida receives an additional $800 million. Unlike the first grant, this portion requires 20% matching funds, either state, local, or private.
December 2010 - Conservative governors in Wisconsin and Ohio "return" their grant money to the federal government, and $342 million of that money is reallocated to Florida, bringing the total amount of federal funding to $2.4 billion - 90% of the total cost.
January 2011 - Governor Scott takes office and puts the project on hold until he can review its feasibility. When asked about the project, the Governor repeatedly indicates he is waiting for an updated ridership study due to be completed in February.
February 16, 2011 - During a morning press conference, Governor Scott unexpectedly announces that he is returning the federal money. He expresses concern about potential risk to Florida taxpayers of cost-overruns, operating subsidies if the line is not profitable, and having the repay the federal government if the operator goes bankrupt. The ridership study which would address the issue of profitability has not been released and the private sector companies interested in building the project have indicated a willingness to cover any cost overruns, should they occur. However, since the Request for Proposals was never issued, the private sector has not had an opportunity to put their best offers on the table. Click here to read our response to the Governor's announcement.
February 16-18th, 2011 - A bipartisan effort gets to work trying to identify a way to address the Governor's concerns and therefore allow the project to continue. In light of these efforts, rather than immediately giving the money to other states as was done in the past, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood gives Florida one week to identify a solutoin that is agreeable to all parties. Click here to read our statement of support for these efforts.
February 18-24, 2011 - A concensus begins to emerge around a potential solution. The cities of Tampa, Lakeland, and Orlando begin work to create a "non-recourse entity." This entity could receive the federal money and oversee the project, relieving the state of any burden. In order for this approach to be successful, FDOT would need to provide their expertise. State and federal officials are supportive of this approach, and talks proceed between the Governor's office, USDOT, and the local governments. Click here to read the legal opinion by Tampa City Attorney Chip Fletcher, which outlines this plan.
February 24, 2011 - Despite assurances from USDOT and the local governments, Governor Scott announces that he remains concerned about the risk to Florida taxpayers, and that he stands by his initial decision. Click here to read our response to the Governor's announcement. That same day, Harris Interactive releases a poll showing that more than two-thirds of Florida residents support state and federal funding for high speed rail. Click here to read their complete findings.
February 25, 2011 - Governor Scott meets with Secretary LaHood in Washington. Secretary LaHood announces he will give Florida one more week (until March 4th) to reach an agreement. The Governor emphasizes that he did not ask for more time and that he remained unconvinced after their meeting.
February 28, 2011 - USDOT sends a letter to the cities involved in forming the entity, explicitly stating that they will not be required to repay the grant if for some reason the project is not a success. This removal of liability directly eliminates one of the Governor's concerns.
March 1, 2011 - Senator Altman and Senator Joyner file a lawsuit against the Governor in the Florida Supreme Court claiming he overstepped his authority in rejecting the federal funds.
March 3, 2011 - The Mayors of Tampa, Lakeland, and Orlando, with the support of the Mayor of Miami, hold a press conference to announce that the non-recourse entity will indeed address all of the Governor's concerns and to implore him to allow the project to move forward under this new structure. Click here to read the letter the Mayors sent to the Governor outlining their plan and how it addresses the issues he raised. Click here to read our statement of support for their solution.
March 4, 2011 - The Florida Supreme Court rejects the lawsuit against the Governor. Governor Scott expresses his gratitude to the court, and states for a final time that his position remains unchanged.
March 9, 2011 - A draft of the ridership study is leaked to the press and shows that the line would be profitable, running a $10.2 million surplus in the first year and a $28.6 million surplus in the tenth year.
April 14, 2011 - Governor Scott's general counsel, Charles Trippe, admits to the State Supreme Court that a central fact in the Governor's argument for ending high-speed rail was wrong. In a letter to the court, Trippe said the state had spent $31 million of $131 million authorized by the state for high-speed rail. During court arguments, Trippe had said the state spent $110 million. Trippe claimed the $79 million difference between the actual figure and the number told to the court, was based on a miscommunication with the Florida Department of Transportation. During arguments, Trippe had claimed the incorrect figure demonstrated that the state had correctly appropriated the $131 million, which would allow the Governor to veto future funding. E-mail records showed that the Governor's staff knew Trippe's figure was incorrect.
May 9, 2011 - USDOT announces distribution of Florida's high speed rail funds. Fifteen states and Amtrak all receive portions of the funds. Noteworthy projects include: $795 million to upgrade the Northeast Corridor, $404.1 million to expand high-speed rail service in the Midwest on the St. Louis-Chicago line, $336.2 million for state-of-the-art locomotives and rail cars for California and the Midwest, and $300 million for the next 20 mile segment of the California line.
February 6, 2012 - The Tampa Tribune acquires the feasibility study for high-speed rail ordered by the Florida Department of Transportation and produced by two consulting firms. The study states that the line would have three million riders in the first year and $4.3 million in revenue in 2016. By 2026, ridership would be about five million and revenues would climb to about $38 million. Governor Scott's office claims Scott was "verbally briefed" on the study prior to killing the project, yet the study notes that it was cut short due to the Governor ending the high-speed rail project. In January 2012, Fortune reported that Scott would have accepted high-speed rail funds, if the federal government also paid for port dredging at Jacksonville and Miami.
In 2010, the Tampa Bay Partnership and the Central Florida Partnership worked with the University of Pennsylvania's Design Studio to analyze the benefit of connecting our two regions. The findings of that report, Connecting for Global Competitiveness, are as true now as they ever were, regardless of the outcome for high speed rail (access the report here). The problem of how to move people and goods efficiently and effectively throughout Tampa Bay and Central Florida remains, and we can't rely on a single highway to connect us if we are going compete on a global level. Whether high speed rail returns in a new form or an entirely new idea comes along, we will continue to work toward solutions.
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While the entity no longer exists, the Florida High Speed Rail Authority still maintains a webstie. While some of the information is outdated, much of it is still current. www.floridabullettrain.com