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Opinion: Connect the high speed rail lines

(The following column by appeared on The Infrastructurist website on March 4, 2010.)

ORLANDO, Fla. — We want high speed rail to succeed in the U.S. For one, there’s a lot of time, money, and other resources that have already been spent, or will be soon, on HSR. Also, it has enormous potential to galvanize travel, communities, economies of scale, and even the national economy, not to mention create thousands of desperately-needed jobs.

Which is why we get worried when we hear about HSR plans that are already entering deeply-flawed territory. Like the scenario in Florida, where no agreement has been made about connecting the planned Orlando-Tampa HSR line (which, as you’ll recall, got a whopping $1.25 billion of the federal HSR funds) to SunRail, a 61-mile project that’ll be built on existing CSX tracks from DeLand to Poinicana, running through the east side of Orlando.

According to current plans, the HSR line will follow Interstate 4 and have five stations — none of which link to the SunRail. Which could severely hinder the ability of passengers to use the HSR line to get to their destinations, and consequently put a severe damper on the number of people who use both lines. What’s the point of spending millions on separate train lines in the same area if there’s no way to switch between them? The The Florida DOT is reportedly worried about slowing down travel time on the HSR line — but if passengers aren’t able to access the train with ease, keeping up a lightning-fast speed won’t matter, since no one will ride the train. Plus we’re willing to bet that the average passenger would be willing to add 5 or 10 minutes of travel time for an opportunity to transfer between lines.

The debate over issues like this is coming to a head this week at the High Speed Rail 2010 conference in Orlando. The rest of the country, and the government, and all HSR supporters are looking to Florida to get this right. The time is now to look at the bigger picture and hammer out details like this, before construction starts in earnest.

Friday, March 5, 2010

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