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[whitespace] Y'all Missed It

High-speed rail plans in Texas and Florida flopped, but California is the real test case

By Jeff Kearns

OUTSIDE OF AMTRAK'S shaky aegis, Texas and Florida are the only other states that have tried to create their own high-speed rail networks. But both proposals quietly died. In Texas, the plan was to link Dallas, Houston and San Antonio. In 1991, the state awarded a contract to a private consortium called Texas TGV. Developers proposed using the same TGV trains used in France. But Dallas-based Southwest Airlines lobbied hard against the plan and ranchers along the route opposed giving up their land. The airline managed to get a an initiative on the state ballot that would prohibit the use of taxpayer money on the rail project. The initiative passed, and cost estimates ballooned from $5.6 billion to $6.8 billion. In 1994, after the consortium had already spent $40 million, one major investor dropped out and state officials shortly thereafter killed the plan.

Florida transportation officials also started studying a high-speed rail plan in 1991, and awarded a contract in 1995 to a private consortium called FOX, or Florida Overland eXpress. The plan was to link Miami, Orlando and Tampa with 200-mph trains that would also have been technically identical to their French counterparts. Half of the $6.2 billion price tag would have been covered by the state gas tax revenues. But as soon as he took office in 1999, Gov. Jeb Bush pulled the plug, citing funding uncertainties and overly optimistic ridership projections.

"He thought that the cost was too much and that the private sector wasn't taking a big enough share of the risk," says Nazih Haddad, intercity passenger rail manager for the Florida Department of Transportation. Today, Haddad and his colleagues are working on a scaled-back $1 billion plan to build a much cheaper 125-mph system using conventional trains running along freeway medians--a far cry from FOX.

Ohio also planned a regional fast train in the early 1980s, but voters rejected the idea. Short high-speed routes in Pittsburg, New Orleans and the Orlando area are also on the drawing board, and gambling and entertainment interests have proposed a high-speed link from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. However, if these projects are ever built, it will be many years down the road. That leaves California as the country's best hope for high-speed rail.

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From the October 11-17, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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