25.6.18

COMING UP THE MEDIAN.

I'm guardedly optimistic about Florida's Brightline train service, and its managers are optimistic enough to be putting in a proposal to continue west from Orlando to Tampa.  "Ostensibly, taxpayer dollars would not be used, sidestepping the reason why [Florida governor Rick] Scott struck down a similar rail proposal seven years ago."  That proposal was shovel-ready enough to merit money in the first Obama era stimulus bill, then the Democratic governor of Florida got turfed out in the same wave that flipped state-houses in Wisconsin and Ohio.

The public project for Florida got a lot of criticism at the time.  I was on board with speeding 'em up on conventional tracks, noting, "some parts of France are more thickly settled than Florida, but the most thickly-settled parts of Florida offer nice flat stretches of raceway for Champions and Orange Blossom Specials."  Florida bullet trains, according to Bloomberg, not so much.  "By then, the first stakes will be sunk in Florida, and opponents will be mocking the Tampa-Orlando project as a ridiculous relic of a free-spending era, while supporters will be hailing it as an inspiring throwback to the days when America dreamed big and built big."  That might reflect reluctance on the part of freight carriers to introduce exotic track structures, and catenary a few feet above the stack trains.  What's pleasing for me to see is this vision being implemented, with free pop in first, er, Brightline Select, class.  "First provide a rudimentary service, with reliable connectivity and convenient frequencies."  I had something more statewide in mind, and had I been thinking more clearly, I would have had the Tallahassee-Miami and Tampa-Jacksonville trains connecting at Orlando, the way Birmingham New Street is the crossing of Britain's Cross-Country services, rather than the Jacksonville crossing I envisioned.

Whatever the political maneuverings were at the time, the Brightline proposal first came over the dispatch wire in 2012, and here we are with the proposal to use the right of way that might have been surveyed by the Democratic governor's administration now being home to privately financed trains capable of getting travellers between the amusement parks and either coast's beaches and cruise termini, and capable of playing well with stack trains.

As public lands are involved, the process-worshippers will have to hold a Solemn High Mass and assemble in conclave first.
[Florida's department of transportation] and the Central Florida Expressway Authority (CFX) received an unsolicited proposal to lease property owned by the state and CFX to build a high-speed train along Interstate 4. Based on this, FDOT is initiating an open, transparent procurement process so any private entities interested in leasing FDOT and CFX owned rights-of-way, to establish privately funded passenger rail service between Orlando and Tampa, can apply.

Governor Rick Scott said: “This is an exciting opportunity for Orlando, Tampa and our entire state. When I became Governor, the Obama administration was trying to use federal taxpayer dollars to pay for a rail connection that had an extremely high risk of overspending with no guarantee of economic growth. This is exactly what we’re seeing in California, a state which took this bad deal from Obama and in Connecticut, where taxpayers had to shell out hundreds of millions of dollars for their rail line. Our goal is for the private sector to invest in this project. Through private investment, we ensure that this major project has zero financial risk to Florida taxpayers.”
I'm not expecting any dog-in-the-manger, cartel-defending "existing service is adequate, applicant is incompetent" arguments from Amtrak or the CSX railroad.  It would be fun if Virgin Air or Carnival Princess or Disney responded to the request for proposals, but I'm not expecting that either.

There will have to be filings and formal review.
Because of Brightline's unsolicited proposal, the state transportation department will respond by initiating an open procurement process. Private entities interested in leasing FDOT and the expressway authority owned rights of way to establish a privately funded passenger rail service between Orlando and Tampa will have 120 days to submit competing proposals after the request is issued.
What might come next also intrigues.
While the company remains years away from ferrying passengers from South Florida to Orlando, Brightline officials already are talking about linking such metro areas as Los Angeles and Las Vegas, St. Louis and Chicago and Atlanta and Charlotte.

During a recent interview with CNBC, Brightline backer Wes Edens, the billionaire head of Fortress Investment Group, said he envisions expanding Brightline to other U.S. cities.

"We think there's lots of city pairs that have similar characteristics, kind of too long to drive, too short to fly," Edens said.
I'll never lack for material.  Private rail projects are way more fun than election follies or academic culture.  Heck, I might find something nice to say about process worshipGo Brightline.

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