High-speed rail consortiums push for Tampa-Orlando link even as project's fate unclear
Wake up and good morning. When it comes to the fate of the Tampa-Orlando high-speed rail link, what we lack in clarity is made up by the enthusiasm of foreign bullet train consortiums insisting each has the "inside track" to win the contract to build and operate the project.
Still up in the air, of course, is whether newly anointed Florida Gov. Rick Scott chooses to back the high-speed deal, as long as state money is not used. Politically, it seems a bit of a no-brainer. If the project can happen with $2.4 billion in committed federal funds and the promise of private industry to absorb any extra costs (including operational costs), what does Scott have to lose by blessing the deal? He has more to lose by giving it a thumbs down.
The news of the day is that German high-speed rail manufacturer Siemens AG plans to bid for the Tampa-Orlando project, says Bloomberg, citing the German publication Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Here's the short piece. Siemens is working with French rail service operator Veolia Environnement SA, Swedish construction company Skanska AB and others on the bid for the U.S.’s first high-speed train connection. Construction work on the track will start next year.
To wave the flag, so to speak, the Siemens' coalition plans to bring its "Future of Florida High-Speed Rail Tour" to Tallahassee while the Legislature is meeting. The traveling exhibit, featuring a virtual 200-mph train ride, is scheduled to be at the capital March 10-13. It's probably what we saw come to Tampa's Museum of Science and Industry a few months ago.
Just remember: Siemens is only one of eight global consortiums keen on building and operating the proposed 84-mile line.
Not to be outdone, Florida Mobility Partners is headed by Talgo, a Spanish-headquartered train operator expanding operations in America. "This is a most important project for us. The number of trains involved is not very large, but it's significant because it's the first in the United States," Talgo America President Antonio Perez told Sunshine State News. Here's the story.
And let's not forget France's interest in the rail project and its hurdle in making amends for actions taken during World War II. The head of France’s national railway company, known as the S.N.C.F., last week made the company’s first formal public apology directly to Holocaust victims. The regrets came just a few months after American lawmakers, survivors and their descendants moved to block the company from winning contracts in the United States -- including the Tampa-Orlando line -- if it did not acknowledge its role in the shipping of thousands of Jews to Nazi death camps and make amends. Here's the New York Times story with details.
In the meantime, whether high speed rail should even happen here remains in high gear. Any high speed rail project is a budget buster, laments the National Review here. In Lakeland and Polk County, even now, there are still big debates over where to even put a station on the line, as the Lake Wales News reports here. And compounding the issues, Gov. Scott late Friday froze four contracts worth $235 million for SunRail, Central Florida's planned commuter train, which would serve as the local feeder line to any high speed rail link. Here's Orlando Sentinel coverage.
We gotta long way to go on this one, folks.
-- Robert Trigaux, Times Business Columnist