An Important Message to our Network
This week, America 2050 released a report evaluating all potential high-speed rail corridors around the country on their ability to attract riders based on quantifiable regional characteristics, such as concentrations of jobs, population density, and rail transit networks. Our report drew attention to the fact that Florida’s population and jobs are more decentralized and auto-dependent compared to other regions around the country, potentially challenging the state’s ability to attract riders to a high-speed rail system.
Some critics may seize on this evaluation to bolster their claims that Florida should not invest in a high-speed rail system. They are misinterpreting the point of our report, which identifies the most promising corridor in each region and points to ways to improve each project’s chances for success.
The Tampa-Orlando-Miami corridor is the most promising corridor in Florida, while also possessing several key attributes that make it an excellent project. These include project readiness and public ownership of the right of way for the initial segment. Because of the difficulty in quantifying these important attributes, they were not accounted for in our report scoring system, but of all rail corridors in the nation currently being discussed, Florida’s first leg – Tampa to Orlando – leads the nation in feasibility.
The importance of feasibility cannot be overstated. The promise of true high-speed rail has yet to be experienced anywhere in the United States, not even in the Northeast Corridor, where Amtrak’s Acela Express service falls short of international standards. The Tampa-Orlando segment of Florida’s high-speed rail corridor will be the first leg in a statewide and national system that can demonstrate the potential of high-speed rail to transform inter-city travel. This is similar to the role that the first segments in the Interstate Highway System played half a century ago in demonstrating the potential for these highways to transform late 20th century travel.
Central Florida also possesses a special attribute that distinguishes the region from almost every other: close to 50 million annual visitors to Central Florida destinations like Disney World. Our study did not fully incorporate the impact of these visitors into the evaluation as that situation is unique to the Florida corridor. If only 5 percent of these visitors take the high-speed rail line to connect from the airport to Disney World, they would meet the passenger estimates of 2.4 million for the entire Tampa-Orlando line in the first year of operation. A growing share of Florida’s European and Asian visitors also use high-speed rail at home and can be expected to travel on Florida’s new system, giving the state’s vital tourism economy a boost.
But what of Florida’s spread-out cities and Floridians’ love of their cars, which contributed to the lower ranking? The Orlando region, with its projected 60 percent growth by 2040, has the opportunity to focus future jobs and development around the high-speed rail system’s stations, as European and Asian countries have done with their own high-speed rail lines. In so doing, these station areas have the potential to become magnets for new residents and businesses as the Florida economy recovers. These developments can also help subsidize high-speed rail capital and operating costs while boosting ridership on the rail network, further advancing its value to the state’s economy and transportation system.
For all these reasons we believe that building the Tampa-Orlando high-speed rail line is in Florida’s—and America’s—best interest.
About America 2050
“America 2050 is a national initiative [in collaboration with Regional Plan Association] to meet the infrastructure, economic development and environmental challenges of the nation as we prepare to add about 130 million additional Americans by the year 2050. America 2050 is guided by the National Committee for America 2050, a coalition of regional planners, scholars, and policy-makers to develop a framework for the nation’s future growth.”