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FOX Proposal Would Likely Have Met Highest Standards of Economic Feasibility

Revised 9/18/01

With a few minor revisions, this is the original page from July 1999. It is common knowledge that highways and aviation recieve taxpayer subsidy. Then to dismiss Florida high speed rail (or Amtrak, for that matter) because it would not be financially self-supporting--as several prominent web sites have done--is to dismiss reality. It is my sincere hope that the constitutional amendment voters approved last November will re-assert--for the last time--Florida's decision on high speed rail.

The Florida high speed rail plan has been dissolved by the governor. This is merely an expression in full support of Florida high speed rail--in the hope that that project will be undertaken again soon, in spite of its ignominious setback.

For high speed rail in America, little has changed since 1990. Back then the governor of Pennsylvania killed that state's high-speed train program when it was still in the study stage. Now Florida governor Jeb Bush has stopped a high speed project that was already underway. Bush did not like the fact that substantial investment of public money would be needed--even though most passenger travel (highway and airline) is heavily subsidized. Most developed nations have or are going to have modern high speed trains in the near future. High speed trains are ideal for medium distance travel--as are airplanes for long distances, and cars for other travel needs. An efficient transport system makes use of all the different modes.

So America needed high-speed rail, Florida needed it, and there was a plan --and that's all gone now. Is this economic growth, Governor Bush? The people of Florida can kiss improved transportation goodbye.

We have our highways to the suburbs, our jets crossing the country. And on intercity corridors of 300 or 400 miles--where there could be and should be high speed rail--over-reliance on autos and airplanes is resulting in traffic congestion of umimaginable proportions. Recognizing the need for a more rational transport policy fourteen years ago, Florida's legislature laid the groundwork for America's first high speed rail system. A public-private partnership was decided on to provide financing. Florida Overland Express (FOX) and the Florida Department of Transportation went ahead with the project, and completion was scheduled for 2006.

When Gov. Bush took office in January 1999 he promptly canceled funding for FOX, shut down the DOT high-speed rail office and called for repeal of the 1984 law that ordered the rail construction. Bush said he killed high-speed rail because the state assumed too much of the financial risk. He asked the firms, according to the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP), to "assume more risk and put in more equity."

According to NARP, the firms said they were willing to negotiate. And they never got the chance. FOX had had it, never mind the tens of millions of dollars that had already gone into the project. If better financing is what the governor wanted, why didn't he try to obtain it? Why was he so eager just to end the project? But that was only one of the hollow reasons given for the action. FOX was a "waste of money," an "environmental threat," "out-of-place European transit"--anything but a reasonable transportation project.

The governor cited supposed concerns that few would ride the new trains in America-- where population densities are low and local transit scarce. That ignores the fact that travel volume is enormous in potential high-speed corridors, and that if people can get to the airport they can certainly get to a train station. Indeed, many short-distance air shuttle travelers might find the train to be an alternative. In France they did--so much so that when the new TGVs went ito service in 1981, air traffic on the corridor fell 40% and train ridership rose 500%.

Americans overseas like the smooth, quiet 190 mph train rides they find there. Would those same trains attract riders between Miami, Orlando and Tampa? Likely so. But the US government's General Accounting Office report faulted FOX's ridership study--even though according to a Wall Street rating agency, it was "the most thorough ridership analysis" that they had reviewed.

Governor Bush also cited environmental concerns over FOX--even though trains are much more energy-efficient than the cars and planes that highway and airport expansion bring. Even though FOX was to use interstate median strips and other existing right-of-way about 80% of the distance.

It seems, then, that a few people managed to convince the governor that high-speed rail was inordinately expensive, inappropriate for the United States, and environmentally unsound. How absolutely ridiculous--but so much for that. Fourteen years of vision and endeavor have come to nothing. Nothing but very real plans for more and wider freeways. More airport expansion. And more nonsense about how it has to be that way...

All who shared the dream of Florida high-speed rail--of one very small step for balanced transportation in Florida and on the East Coast--cannot and will not ever let this go on.

Back to my other high speed rail page


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