- The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) has received an unsolicited proposal from rail company Brightline for a lease and development deal that would bring a high-speed rail line to the Interstate 4 corridor between Tampa and Orlando. Brightline began service in South Florida this year, linking West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami.
- FDOT has launched a formal request for proposals (RFP) process so any interested parties can apply to establish the entirely privately-funded rail system by leasing rights of way owned by FDOT and CFX. Competitive bidding will be open for six months.
- In 2011, Gov. Rick Scott rejected almost $2.5 billion in federal funds for high-speed rail along the same corridor because he thought it would be too costly to taxpayers. He said the new plan is a way to shift the risk of cost overruns and other problems from taxpayers to the private sector.
Brightline rolled out its much anticipated service in South Florida in sections, with West Palm Beach to Fort Lauderdale having launched in January, and Fort Lauderdale to Miami in May. The intent all along has been to expand and add a line from West Palm Beach to Orlando, which the Orange County commissioners just approved this month.
The high-speed service has been touted as a significant time saver for passengers, considering the average trip from West Palm Beach to Miami takes about an hour on the train compared to the hour-and-a-half minimum it takes to drive. The typically four-hour driving trip from Miami to Orlando is expected to take three hours on the Brightline.
Florida is a large state with a number of sizable cities spread throughout, but huge swaths of rural areas lie in between. As such, there are a limited number of major roads and public transportation between cities largely doesn't exist. Urban areas like South Florida are intensely congested due to residents being car dependent and up until recently, they also have suffered from an overall lack of comprehensive transit infrastructure. The Brightline has filled a gap to provide a faster, less stressful way to get between nearby cities in South Florida, and it could transform the way residents and visitors commute across the entire state.
Expanding Brightline has the potential to boost economic development and tourism throughout Florida. Currently, tourists might have a challenging time cramming stops in Miami and Orlando into one trip. But a high-speed train allows tourists to save significant time and forego a pricey car rental if they wish to explore Miami's beaches and Orlando's theme parks in the same trip. The proposed train route from Orlando to Tampa would open up even more options.
Governor Scott indicated the state could avoid having to deal with cost overruns and lawsuits if it handed over construction and operations of a high-speed rail line to a private company like Brightline instead of FDOT taking on the project itself. Scott has used the example of the California High-Speed Rail Authority's $77 billion bullet train between the San Francisco Bay area and Anaheim, CA as a cautionary tale and an example of what Florida taxpayers might have had to endure if he had accepted the federal funds in 2011. The project is nearly double what was originally proposed and has suffered from delays due to a wide range of issues ranging from land acquisitions to bridge demolition and redesign.
Although Brightline proposed the Orlando to Tampa rail project and is assumed to be the front-runner to win the bid, the state has to wait six months to see if any other competitors throw their hats in the ring before even considering moving forward. The project would still have to go through the approval process and likely would take many years to formally get off the ground.