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Disney seeks to railroad competition

HOWEY-IN-THE-HILLS, Fla. -- Should a proposed bullet train network spanning Florida become a reality, Disney wants a direct route from its property to Orlando International Airport, bypassing competing attractions, the Associated Press reported.

But government leaders and members of the Florida High Speed Rail Authority are leery of favoring Disney at the expense of the Orange County Convention Center, the nation's third-largest exhibition hall.

During the start of the authority's two-day planning retreat at Mission Inn Golf and Tennis Resort, about 25 miles northeast of Orlando, authority member William Dunn suggested abandoning any route that doesn't stop at the convention center.

``It is unconscionable to build a high-speed train that goes past all those passengers at the convention center,'' Dunn said Thursday. He said Disney's preference ``is driven by competition'' with Universal Studios Florida and attractions along International Drive, a main thoroughfare in the tourist area.

``I understand that's business, but the state and high-speed rail should not be working for Disney.''

Florida must begin building a high- speed rail network, with trains exceeding 120 mph, by November 2003. Two years ago, the state's voters passed a constitutional amendment requiring such a system.

The first leg would run from Orlando to Tampa; cost estimates range from $2 billion to $7 billion.

Disney has been criticized in the past for putting its interests ahead of the region's by opposing any route linked to the convention center area.

Bill Warren, spokesman for Walt Disney World Resort, said a Disney rail station has a significant advantage of offering daily high-volume ridership. He said it would attract private investment, freeing up local, state and federal dollars for other segments.

``We are supportive of a system that meets the needs of the community, which we believe would be a high- speed connection with fewer stops and a higher fare from Disney to the airport,'' Warren said.

Disney supports a complementary light-rail system that would serve the needs of residents and tourists with many stops and a lower fare from the airport to the convention center to Disney and elsewhere, Warren said.

But Orange County Chairman Rich Crotty said any high-speed rail line running through Orange County should stop at the convention center.

The idea of building a high-speed line that doesn't include the convention center, but maybe connects to it with a spur line from Disney or elsewhere, doesn't make sense, he said.

Wednesday, September 11, 2002

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