Why FL just got High Speed Rail

(cross-posted from Daily Kos)

As a Pinellas County native, I have been waiting 25 years for the announcement heard today: $1.25 billion would be granted for construction of a Florida high speed rail link. Estimated to cost $3.5 billion total, this award covers a substantial portion (35%+). High Speed Rail is finally coming to the rest of America.

But many have asked: why Florida?

1. Politics:

The following map shows the county election results in Florida for the 2008 Presidential election:

The next map shows the shift in voting trend in the state of Florida from the 2004 Presidential election to the 2008 Presidential election:

In 2004, the I-4 corridor was the focus of intense political activity. The region was experiencing significant growth, and communities along the I-4 corridor were perceived by both parties as having higher proportions of undecided voters. The I-4 corridor region  could be sufficient to swing the outcome of Florida and its 27 electoral votes. The I-4 corridor played an equally key role in the 2008 U.S. presidential election, but whereas the corridor had voted heavily for Bush in 2004, which helped Bush win the state, in 2008 it swung behind Democratic candidate Obama, helping Obama win Florida.

Florida is experiencing 11.8% unemployment, well above the national average. The I-4 corridor region is one of the hardest hit by the Great Recession.

So in a swing region experiencing population growth and crushing unemployment, you deliver a $3.5 billion high speed rail line. The project is estimated to bring 2300 jobs.

2. Feasability:

President Obama's Administration showed tremendous acumen in not getting bogged down with larger projects. The $8.5 billion was insufficient to fund any project in entirety, save the first phase of the Florida segment. Due to decades of myopia and neglect, any high speed rail construction in the United States is going to be a heavy lift. High speed rail lines can cost as much as $100 million a mile in difficult terrain, not counting right of way acquisition and eminent domain issues. Tunneling in urban areas can exceed $1 billion per mile.

The American public unfortunately lacks patience for and understanding of civil works projects. Frustration with perceived high costs and delays dovetail into conservative anti-government and anti-labor memes.

The Florida high speed rail project is expected to take a mere 4 1/2 years. Even accounting for construction delays, should President Obama be reelected, he can indeed fulfill his promise and ride the first train while in office. We are looking at a project that can be completed possibly before the 2014 midterm elections, and hopefully with certainty before the 2016 general election.

Allowing for the low cost of the 84mi rail line is Florida's uniformly low grade and plentiful right of way, with an elevation change of less than 150ft along the route. Interstate 4, known for its traffic and congestion, currently permits about 90min of travel time between Tampa and Orlando. At 160mpg, the Florida High Speed rail link could make the trip in a mere 44min.

3. The Domino Effect:

By starting with the easiest effort first, that is most likely to succeed and produce a tangible (and hopefully attractive) result quickly, other regions of the community will hopefully demand equal federal investment in high speed rail travel for completion long after President Obama has left office. It's no longer a matter of pointing to Europe or Japan, but come 2014, pointing to Central Florida. If they can build a high speed rail line there, quickly and inexpensively, why can't they build one everywhere?

As progressives, it is so tempting to be impatient.

Why only $8.5 billion for high speed rail? Why not $85 billion in high speed rail, especially when compared to the Pentagon's budget or what Nations like China are investing?

But we must never forget that something so appealing to the sane is still a hard sell in a country populated by so much insanity. A case in point would be the "We Don't Need No Stinkin' Bullet Train" bumper stickers, combined with successful lobbying from Southwest Airlines, that doomed the Texas high speed rail plan.

This is classical Obama strategy: Produce a tangible change first, even if small, and use that as a foundation to sway recalcitrant public support for future change.


Not to end on a sour note on this historic day for the Obama Administration, but we must always be cognizant that on top of our stated $8.5+ trillion dollar national debt, we face an additional $2.2 trillion dollar infrastructure debt; such being the amount the American Society of Civil Engineers estimates is required to simply repair our existing infrastructure, let alone start building new infrastructure. The $8.5 billion total high speed rail award is a mere 0.39%.

Note: the author is a licensed Civil Engineer in the State of Massachusetts.


Does anyone know how to get pictures to insert properly? They shouw up in my draft, but when I publish, they are absent. Can people see the maps?

Tags: high speed rail, Floirda (all tags)



These trains are great

The Acela Express from Boston to DC has been a boon to commerce and travel across the Eastern Seaboard.  Supposedly it has a top speed of 150 mph, although I don't know how much of the journey is actually spent at this speed.  This train sounds like it will be even faster.  From a businessperson's perspective, not only is it quicker than a car trip, but you can get work done productively in a comfortable setting as opposed to sitting in traffic on the interstate.  Once they build additional phases of this project there will be even more opportunities for time and energy savings.

This sounds like a win-win-win for jobs, the environment, and long-term commerce across the region.  We have a big country, and high-speed rail isn't necessarily the best answer everywhere, but it should definitely be a priority in the areas where it can do the most good.

by Steve M 2010-01-29 02:25PM | 0 recs
I have ridden Acela several times

In short, we still have a very powerful airline industry lobby, and while the airlines receive hundreds of millions in subsidies and trillions in infrastructure, Amtrak is supposed to turn a profit.

Acela does reach its top speed limit of 150mph (the trainset is capable of doing close to 200mph) betwen Providence and Boston. But from Stamford to the Bronx, the tracks are too close together and too congested to permit much high speed operation. The train rarely exceeds 80mph. Then, from New York to DC, the overhead wires limit the train to 130mph.

Billions for NE corridor improvements are also required. And the government must stop subsudising unsustainable forms of travel.

by NoFortunateSon 2010-01-29 04:07PM | 0 recs
Photo in Post

Try editing you post after the recent site refresh i just redeployed.  Brand new post form with new photo insert function that is to the right of the editor.

by Kyle Shank 2010-01-29 07:36PM | 0 recs
RE: Photo in Post

Nope, it still doesn't work. I see them added to the post or diary, but when I hit post, they aren't there.

I also get this post is too short error message frequently, when the response has text in it.

by NoFortunateSon 2010-01-29 08:47PM | 0 recs
we absolutely should be spending $85 billion

on high-speed rail. Doing so would create jobs, reduce our reliance on foreign oil and improve the quality of life for millions. Even that amount wouldn't be sufficient to meet the demand for rail projects across the country. For what we're spending in Iraq and Afghanistan every year we have already been on the way to linking every major city by passenger rail.

But you are right--this is a good start. Not just for political reasons either. Florida has a large enough population (including many elderly who can't drive or shouldn't drive) to make high-speed rail feasible.

by desmoinesdem 2010-01-30 07:48AM | 0 recs
Why Tampa?

I understand why FL got the high speed rail and I also understand the need for such trains, but why Tampa? What's in there? I would have thought Miami (FL largest city) to Orlando (Largest tourist destination) would have made more sense.

I agree with the above that the spending should have been 85 biliion rather than 8.5. Other areas that I can see that could use a high speed rail system LA to Las Vegas, Dallas to Houston to Atlanta, and Philadelphia to Clevland to Chicago.

by vecky 2010-01-31 03:43PM | 0 recs
I would add to the last route

Chicago to Milwaukee to Minneapolis.

That route is already under study.

by Hughsterg 2010-02-02 06:35AM | 0 recs
RE: Why Tampa?

Having lived in the area for several years, I can tell you why.

Orlando and Tampa are close enough to each other that this project can actually be completed in a relatively short period of time.  Both cities metro areas are over 2 million in population.  There is a ton of traffic between the two cities... from commuters to tourists.

When I lived in Orlando, I drove over to Tampa about once a month or so for my job.  I could have easily taken a high speed train instead.  

Orlando has Disney, Universal Studios and Seaworld... true.  Tampa has Busch Gardens and proximity to the Gulf Coast beaches.  You can definitely expect a good bit of tourist traffic on this route.

While a Miami line would be great, it would be a LOT longer, and a LOT more expensive.  In short... Tampa to Orlando is a very good start.

by samizdat 2010-02-02 07:35PM | 0 recs


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