The Florida Senate did right Wednesday by refusing to give away the store to CSX as part of building a commuter rail system in Orlando. From the start, the measure was a testament to how the state should not write laws, craft transportation policy or engage in partnerships with the private sector. Let's hope, with one day left in session, the project stays dead.
The deal called for the state to spend $650-million to buy 61 miles of CSX tracks in the Orlando area, which was to be used for commuter rail. The costs alone were suspect, thanks to the secrecy former Gov. Jeb Bush's administration cast over the negotiations. But CSX also demanded immunity from liability as part of the deal, putting taxpayers on the hook for accidents that involved CSX trains on the commuter line.
There were plenty of reasons to push off the deal this year, from the skyrocketing costs to the unexplored impact of putting more train and truck traffic through Polk County. In that sense, advocates were their own worst enemies. They praised the deal as a model for other commuter rail systems throughout the state. But this arrangement was corrupted from the start by secrecy and gratuitous concessions to the railroad. It was a model, all right — of what to avoid. Giving CSX immunity from liability was merely the most egregious arrangement in a deal that stank from top to bottom. The House narrowly passed the measure. Luckily the Senate came to its senses.
Florida needs intercity commuter rail, but not at any price. The major metro areas also need a voice to ensure that any rail line works in concert with local transit systems. The CSX deal failed to meet either of these two fundamentals. By killing this proposal, the Senate tells the railroad to get serious if it wants Florida taxpayers as a partner.