Thursday, February 25, 2010

SunRail startup’s latest obstacle: Amtrak

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Amtrak President and CEO Joseph Boardman says the National Railroad Passenger Corp. will require similar liability protection that Florida has offered Class I railroad CSX Corp. if Amtrak is to continue serving central Florida while SunRail regional rail service is established.

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In a letter mailed Monday to the Florida Department of Transportation, Boardman said he was terminating a previous agreement Amtrak had with the state to share tracks with SunRail. In an interview Tuesday ,Boardman voiced concerns over liability if Amtrak and SunRail were involved in an accident. Boardman wants the state to shield Amtrak from some potential lawsuits and claims. "Amtrak can't take the business risk," he said.

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The proposed $1.2 billion regional rail service would include six central Florida counties, with Orlando serving as the hub city. Florida has continued to work with CSX in advancing the regional rail service, which has survived several attacks from opponents within the state legislature. Under the proposal, CSX would sell roughly 61 miles of right-of-way to the state, retaining trackage rights for freight rail operations.

FDOT officials see Boardman's statements a negotiating ploy. So does Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), who said Amtrak is "nudging" the state to come to some sort of an agreement. "It's a reminder that this has to be dealt with," said Mica, who has been critical of Amtrak in the past but does believe Amtrak truly might need an improved liability agreement.