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Florida high-speed rail plan revived

(The following story by Alfonso Chardy appeared on the Miami Herald website on June 18, 2009.)

MIAMI, Fla. — Florida took a small step Wednesday in efforts to revive the dream of building a high-speed rail line, a plan scuttled 10 years ago when Tallahassee refused to spend any more money on the project.

State transportation officials said they were reviewing interim guidelines issued by the Federal Railroad Administration with a view to applying for a share of $8 billion in federal stimulus money for high speed rail.

''We are reviewing the criteria,'' Kevin Thibault, assistant secretary of transportation for engineering and operations, said in an interview. ``This is the first step.''

He said it was likely Florida would file a ''pre-application'' as required in the interim guidelines by a July 10 deadline and then possibly follow up with a more formal application later in the year.

The agency's disclosure it may file an application marks the first concrete move by Florida in putting the bullet train project back on track since then-Gov. Jeb Bush derailed it in 1999.

Interest in resurrecting the project arose after President Barack Obama in April outlined his ''vision'' of building a national network of high-speed trains similar to those in France and Spain.

A map on the White House's high-speed rail website, www.whitehouse.gov/ blog/09/04/16/a-vision-for- high-speed-rail/, shows possible bullet train corridors. One runs from Miami to Orlando and then Tampa with possible extensions to Jacksonville.

Vice President Joe Biden subsequently raised Florida's hopes when in a conference call with reporters June 3 he suggested the state stood a good chance of securing some of the money for two possible routes: Miami to Tampa via Orlando or Miami to Jacksonville via Orlando.

''Florida is in the mix,'' Biden said in answer to a question from The Miami Herald. ``It is still in play.''

Biden went on to say that it was now up to Florida to show official interest by applying for the money.

The earlier derailed project would have cost $6.3 billion and run 200-mph trains between Miami, Orlando and Tampa. Though project advocates said trains would draw many travelers, a Government Accountability Office report at the time said ridership estimates were ``too high.''

Thursday, June 18, 2009

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