Gov. Scott's Rail Decisions To Impact Jacksonville

February 23, 2011 104 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

The fallout from Rick Scott's decision to end Florida's high speed rail and Orlando's Sunrail commuter rail projects will negatively impact Jacksonville.

Rick Scott's Reason For Killing Florida's High Speed Rail Project

A rendering of Downtown Tampa's proposed High Speed Rail station

Rick Scott believes federal high speed rail funds would be better spent on improving Florida's ports, freight rail and highway infrastructure.  Although the rail project would be funded through federal and private sector dollars, he believes that if anything goes wrong, Florida taxpayers could end up in the hole.

President Obama’s high-speed rail program is not the answer to Florida’s economic recovery.
• We must make investments in areas where we will get a return for the shareholders – Florida’s taxpayers.
• Rather than investing in a high-risk rail project, we should be focusing on improving our ports, rail and highway infrastructure to be in a position to attract the increased shipping that will result when the panama canal is expanded when the free trade agreements with Colombia and panama are ratified and with the expansion of the economies of central and south America.
• By capturing a larger share of containerized imports entering our seaports, expanding export markets for Florida businesses and emerging as a global hub for trade and investment we can create up to an additional 143,000 jobs according to a recent chamber of commerce study.
• It is absolutely critical that we make smart investments with taxpayer dollars, whether state or federal, and I believe our state will be better served by spending these funds on projects that will benefit Florida and not turn into a spending boondoggle.

What's Next: Killing Sunrail

"We should not fund any rail projects with Florida taxpayer dollars."
     - State Sen. Greg Evers R-Crestview

Sunrail's potential Church Street station stop

While the high speed rail plan would be funded without state financial assistance, State and local taxpayers are obligated to pay $1.43 billion over the next seven years for Sunrail.  If high speed rail doesn't align with Rick Scott's feasibility numbers, there is no way Sunrail will.

Dockery said when she spoke to Scott last week, he told her he was evaluating SunRail by the same criteria as high-speed rail.

"His thought process was, I don't want the state of Florida to be paying for it, and I don't want the state of Florida to be on the hook for cost overruns or operations and maintenance," she said. "For SunRail, the state is on the hook for all three of those. For high-speed rail, it's none of those. If high speed can't pass that analysis, I don't see how SunRail possibly can."

Both projects cost about the same to build: around $2.6 billion, even though SunRail is nearly 23 miles shorter.

State taxpayers are obligated to pay at least $900 million over seven years for SunRail, and local taxpayers are obligated to pay $526 million. The rest of the money comes from the federal government and projected ridership revenues.

With SunRail, state taxpayers would have to pay any ridership losses for the first seven years of operation and pay for 50 percent of construction cost overruns. Private vendors would have to bear those costs for high-speed rail.

"Based on what I see, the numbers for SunRail show a whole lot more obligation for the taxpayers than the high-speed rail project," said Sen. Jack Latvala, R-St. Petersburg, who heads the Senate transportation committee.

Scott being pushed to kill Sunrail, too Full article:

Impacting Jacksonville

Considering the controversial Sunrail project was primarily approved last year, based on Florida's desire to receive high speed rail funding, it would only make sense that it would be eliminated too. Florida taxpayers have a higher financial obligation on Sunrail than high speed rail. When this happens, here are three direct negative impacts for Jacksonville.

1. JaxPort/North Jacksonville Rail Improvements

Everyone already knows JAXPORT's future growth potential is limited due to rail capacity issues. In selling the "A"-Line to the state, CSX had anticipated investing $40 million of its profits in rail projects to better facilitate port growth. Once high speed rail and Sunrail die, that funding source goes away.

CSX Corp. plans to spend $40 million to connect its Northeast Jacksonville rail spur to its main line along U.S. 1 so that trains going to and from new container terminals being built or planned don't have to travel through town to its Westside rail yard.

The bypass initiative is linked to the Jacksonville Port Authority's plans to develop an intermodal container transfer facility on the Northside to receive containers from the soon-to-open TraPac Inc. terminal at Dames Point and a proposed Hanjin Shipping Co. Ltd. terminal nearby. Combined, the two terminals are projected to have a capacity of 1.8 million 20-foot-equivalent units of containerized cargo a year.

CSX (NYSE: CSX) would expect to generate at least two trains a day of about 280 containers each to make a North Main Street bypass economically viable, said Chief Financial Officer Clarence Gooden, who announced the initiative Monday during a news conference at the authority's Blount Island Marine Terminal.

Besides an ICTF, CSX's plan depends to some degree on the Florida Legislature approving a plan to buy 61 miles of CSX track in Central Florida for a commuter rail system. CSX plans to use some of the money from selling that line to fund the bypass line, Gooden said.

If the Legislature approves the deal, the sale could close in the fall and the company could have the project going within 18 months, Gooden said. If the sale doesn't go through, CSX's plans would be slowed.

2. JTA Commuter Rail - CSX "A"-Line Capacity

The CSX "A" line parallels congested Blanding Boulevard between Clay and Duval Counties.

CSX Transportation plans to move more than one-third of its freight traffic from a railway that could one day help unsnarl rush-hour gridlock between Orange Park and Jacksonville.

As part of a $491 million state contract signed last week, CSX will relocate seven to eight freight trains daily from the A line, which runs along U.S. 17, said company spokesman Gary Sease.

CSX agreed to shift the freight traffic to bypass a 61-mile commuter rail system expected to begin running in Central Florida in 2010.

Transportation planners here see the move as a potential catalyst to building a commuter rail system in Jacksonville.
CSX shifts its freight traffic for growth -

The CSX A line is the railroad track the runs parallel to Roosevelt Boulevard beween I-10 and Orange Park/Clay County. With limited connections to Jacksonville, Clay currently suffers from the longest commute times in the State of Florida. As a part of the Sunrail deal, CSX would relocate a significant portion of their existing freight rail traffic to the "S"-Line into Central Florida. The additional rail capacity created would open the opportunity to use this corridor for commuter rail purposes between Downtown Jacksonville and Clay County.  However, no Sunrail, no freight relocation, no opportunity to use the "A"-Line corridor for potential commuter rail paralleling one of Jacksonville's most congested highways.

3. Amtrak/FEC Corridor Project

So much attention has been placed on the possibility of high speed rail coming to Central Florida that many have overlooked another important project that was included in Florida's High Speed Rail application. The Amtrak/FEC corridor calls for direct Jacksonville to Miami passenger rail service to return after a 40 year absence, with trains traveling at speeds of up to 90 miles per hour. Florida's refusal to make rail investments a priority in the past had the state on the verge of falling out of favor with the federal government for its high speed rail projects. The elimination of high speed rail and Sunrail will make projects like the Amtrak/FEC and local commuter rail more difficult to achieve.

Article by Ennis Davis