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Atlanta firm offers to link commuter, high-speed rail

(The following story by Dan Tracy appeared on the Orlando Sentinel website on March 8, 2010.)

ORLANDO, Fla. — A metro Atlanta company that's struggled in the past is offering to raise and spend $223 million to build a magnetically levitated train that would link two other mass transit systems headed to Central Florida.

American Maglev Technology approached state and local officials about two weeks ago with a plan to use its product to connect the SunRail commuter train – which would run from DeLand in Volusia County through downtown Orlando to Poinciana in Osceola County – with the high-speed train that would go from Orlando International Airport to near downtown Tampa.

AMT was an unsuccessful bidder in the 1990s to build a high speed train and also tried to build a test track for a maglev train on the campus of Old Dominion University in Virginia starting in 2001. AMT eventually ran out of money, and Old Dominion is still trying to get the track operational.

The president of AMT, Tony Morris, said, "We ran into all kinds of trouble" at Old Dominion, including the loss of federal funding shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"We had a lot of things that we learned out of it," said Morris, whose company used to be in Edgewater in Volusia County, but now is in Powder Springs, Ga., about 30 minutes northwest of Atlanta.

Orange County Mayor Rich Crotty, who has been pushing to establish a connection between SunRail and the high-speed train, said he is intrigued by the offer of Morris, but he stopped short of endorsing it.

"There's all kinds of options out there," Crotty said. "This is an idea worthy of serious consideration."

Morris is proposing a train that relies on electrified magnets to run along an elevated track from the Orange County Convention Center to the airport. It would act as a go-between by picking up SunRail passengers at the Sand Lake Road terminal and deposit them with high speed at the airport, or vice versa.

Though Morris said he could raise $50 million in cash and borrow another $173 million through the sale of bonds to finance his plan, he would prefer that state and local agencies give him free land for the columns that would support the 12-mile track.

Officials with state Department of Transportation, which owns much of the land that would be used, could not be reached. FDOT also is in charge of both SunRail and the high-speed train.

Morris said his system is capable of going 125 mph or more, but would only reach a top speed of 45 mph because of the short length between stops.

He conceded that his proposal is far from a done deal: "It's a tall order, an ambitious project. But it is sorely needed."

Crotty said he likes the idea of not using tax dollars to pay for the proposition. "I'm pretty impressed," he said.

Construction could begin late this year on the $1.2 billion SunRail, with completion by late 2014, early 2015. The $2.6 billion high-speed train could be running by 2015.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

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