Gov. Jeb Bush announced Aug. 2 a comprehensive plan to improve freight service and bring commuter rail to Central Florida. Under the agreement in principle between the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) and CSX Transportation Inc. (CSXT).
Florida will invest $491 million to improve infrastructure and expand capacity on two existing rail lines, one of which will be used to establish commuter rail service through a multi-county stretch in Central Florida.
“Establishing commuter rail will ease congestion, which will improve the quality of life of people both on and off the road,” said Bush. “Improving the existing railways will enhance the safety and mobility of both goods and people, which will generate new economic opportunity for millions of Floridians.”
In partnership with CSXT, Florida will invest $318 million to improve the infrastructure and expand capacity on existing train tracks, including:
• $198 million for projects on the CSXT rail line between Baldwin to Plant City, referred to as the “S” line,
• $59 million to build five road overpasses in Alachua, Sumter and Marion counties on this line,
• $52 million on other CSXT rail lines around the state, and
• $9 million to build access roads to the new Integrated Logistics Center in Winter Haven, which will be built by CSXT.
The state also will purchase 61 mi. of existing CSXT tracks between DeLand in Volusia County and Poinciana in Osceola County for $150 million. Another $23 million will be spent to relocate operations from Taft Yard in Orlando to the new Integrated Logistics Center. State planners are developing a plan to use the track during peak morning and evening periods, as well as some limited service during off-peak hours, to provide commuter service to the region.
“Today, our local, state and federal leaders have recognized that we can meet future freight transportation needs in a region that is growing by leaps and bounds while also addressing the urgent need for commuter service in and around Central Florida,” said Michael Ward, chairman and chief executive officer of CSX Corporation. “The plan announced today is good for commuters, good for freight customers and compatible with the long-term goals of CSX Transportation.”
“This historic agreement by the state of Florida and CSXT opens an exciting new era in transportation not only for Central Florida but for our entire state. I am committed to working with the Federal Transit Administration to secure approval of the commuter rail project,” said U.S. Rep. John L. Mica, R-7. “The leadership of Gov. Bush and CSX Chairman and CEO Michael Ward has helped to make commuter rail and other new rail corridors a reality for the future. I am committed to working with the Federal Transit Administration to secure approval of this vital transportation project.”
A portion of rail freight through-traffic will be relocated to an alternate corridor which would be expanded in a joint public-private partnership between the state and CSXT. In coordination with the state and local partners, limited freight traffic will remain in operation on the proposed commuter line. Relocation of the freight traffic will begin upon completion of CSXT’s Integrated Logistics Center in Winter Haven.
“Thanks to the locally driven leadership, the reality of commuter rail in the I-4 corridor will bring greater mobility options to Central Florida’s citizens, visitors and business,” said FDOT Secretary Denver Stutler. The initial operating segment will run from DeBary to the Orlando Amtrak Station in downtown Orlando, providing at least five trips during peak morning and afternoon rush hours with a 30-minute frequency. During non-peak hours, the commuter rail will operate with a two-hour frequency with the exception of midnight to 5 a.m. when freight trains will operate.
“Citizens deserve more options,” said Marcos Marchena, a member of the Florida Transportation Commission. “Our Central Florida community is developing to a point where wasting hours in traffic gridlock is a reality that doesn’t make sense. Especially for people with longer commutes, rail is the way to go. It saves on gas and aggravation. It adds to our community’s quality of life.”
Planners expect to have the first phase operational in 2009, ahead of the start of the $2.3-billion reconstruction of I-4 between Kirkman Road and State Road 434. The commuter rail system is expected to carry as many passengers during peak hours as a single lane of I-4.
(Reprinted from the Florida Department of Transportation’s TNews July/August 2006 issue.)