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Florida high-speed rail work on Tampa-Orlando line begins today

(The following story by Grayson Kamm appeared at WTSP.com on July 19, 2010.)

TAMPA, Fla. — For Florida's high speed rail, early work begins today -- in a very geeky way.

Crews are starting "geotechnical exploration" on Monday.

What's that?

Workers will start surveying the rock and sand under two parts of Interstate 4.

They have to find out what's down there: How high is the water table? How far down is the bedrock? That kind of thing.

They'll be drilling in two areas of I-4 -- one in Orange County, and one in Polk County.

The track for the high speed trains will run down the median of Interstate 4 when the line connecting Tampa and Orlando opens in 2015.

As cars on I-4 move along with the flow of traffic, trains on the high speed rail line are expected to hit 168 mph.

So far, the U.S. government has committed to fund half of the $2.5 billion rail line.

Florida did just recently ask for a bit more money from Uncle Sam: $8 million for planning. The Sunshine State is up against several other locations, competing for a total of $50 million. We'll know by September whether the money will come our way.

While folks in hard hats and orange vests get to work drilling along the highway Monday, a crowd of people in suits will be gathering in the Tampa Convention Center.

The group brings plenty of political power; U.S. Senator Bill Nelson and Congresswoman Kathy Castor, both Florida Democrats, are hosting the get-together.

The gathering's goal is to brief everyone from politicians to businesses to folks like you and me on the latest high speed rail news.

They'll talk about progress so far, working together between different government agencies, and what challenges are facing the project, which is set to be America's first true high-speed train to run on its own dedicated tracks.

The public is welcome at Monday's briefing, which runs from 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. There won't be a public comment portion during the event, but the high speed rail staff will be there beforehand and afterward to answer questions.

In another big briefing like this two months ago, the people running the project reminded folks there of their three big early goals: start off the project by creating a safe work zone, tackle any problems that come up right away, and "create jobs soon."

Monday, July 19, 2010

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