Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Rail bill clears Florida House; Senate fight looms

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A passenger rail package that passed the Florida House on Monday would create a new regional rail system for Central Florida (SunRail), provide annual funding for for the existing Tri-Rail system serving southeastern Florida, and authorize a new venture into high speed passenger rail.

In the state Senate, however, the bill barely survived its first committee vote, winning 5-4 after a pro-rail senator replaced a member of the Transportation Committee who was absent due to illness. On a tie vote the bill would have died. 

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The main provision of the bill would authorize the state to pay CSX Corp. $432 million for 61.5 miles of track for the long-planned SunRail regional passenger system serving Orlando and other points in Orange, Osceola, Seminole, and Volusia counties. CSX would retain the right to operate freight trains on the line under stated conditions.

The bill would also require the state to pay an annual premium of about $2 billion for $200 million in liability insurance for SunRail.

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For Tri-Rail in southeastern Florida, the bill provides $13 million to $15 million in annual operating assistance.

Through earmarks totaling $2.5 billion over 30 years, mostly in federal funds, the bill would set into motion planning for a high speed rail system in the Tampa-Orlando-Miami corridor.