Brightline submits sole Tampa-Orlando HSR proposal

Written by Stuart Chirls, Senior Editor
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Brightline train at Fort Lauderdale station. Wikipedia/Patrickhamiltonbrightline

Only one company submitted a proposal to develop a passenger rail line connecting Tampa and Orlando – but that company is well-known in Florida transportation circles.

That would be Brightline, the start-up that operates higher-speed passenger service from Miami to West Palm Beach, and which first proposed the new intercity route earlier this year.

Operated by Florida East Coast Industries’ subsidiary All Aboard Florida, Brightline is proposing a rail-and-real estate development deal modeled on its project in Miami.

Gov. Rick Scott in 2011 nixed federal funding for high speed rail along Interstate 4 between Tampa and Orlando, but Scott agreed to a new process after Brightline proposed development without spending taxpayer dollars.

The company faced opposition in Washington to its application for private equity bonds to back its Phase 2 Miami-Orlando high speed route. The bonds are supposed to support true high speed rail operations above 110 mph; Brightline’s Siemens-built trains are limited to 79 mph on some track it shares with freight carrier Florida East Coast Railway.

Brightline’s MiamiCentral project development includes a station and 1.6 million square feet of high-end residential, office and retail space in Overtown near downtown. Consultant Ernst & Young will occupy one of its office towers.

In Tampa Brightline has identified three sites for terminals, including an apartment complex, the site of a former jail, Tampa Union Station, and the GasWorx property adjacent to the site of a proposed stadium for baseball’s Tampa Rays.

But the previous high speed rail proposal shot down by Scott found a number of expensive obstacles in the way: Lack of space for rail right-of-way along the entire length of I-5; potential for flooding, particularly near Tampa, and bridges, flyovers and other complex highway infrastructure that is sure to raise the project cost.

A three-member technical review committee appointed by the Florida Department of Transportation will determine whether Brightline’s proposal meets the requirements outlined in the June 22 request for proposals. Their recommendation will go to a selection committee of high-ranking transportation officials, who are scheduled to make a decision on Nov. 28.

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