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Tampa-Orlando rail costs drop slightly

The new Florida High Speed Rail Authority heard a bit of good news Monday, worth about $200-million.

The nine-member group is charged with starting planning for a high-speed railway linking Florida's five biggest urban areas.

Voters put the high-speed rail project _ with a November 2003 deadline for construction to begin _ in the state Constitution last fall. State lawmakers this spring created the authority, which held its first meeting Monday, and gave it until next January to come back with recommendations.

The first leg of the high-speed rail is likely to link Tampa and Orlando.

The estimated cost of building that section was put at $1.2-billion in a preliminary study done for the state Department of Transportation by STV Inc. But STV's final report, which was presented Monday, dropped the bottom line to just over $1-billion.

In its research on the feasibility and costs of high-speed rail linking St. Petersburg and Port Canaveral, STV studied several options, with different routes and technologies.

For the portion linking Tampa and Orlando, STV recommended a diesel high-speed rail that can go up to 125 mph with three stops: Lakeland, Celebration and International Drive at Orlando.

The authority is supposed to report back to the governor and Legislature by Jan. 1 with its vision for the high-speed rail _ where it should go, where it should stop, what kind of technology it should use, how it should be paid for.

The authority also is responsible for starting preliminary design and environmental impact studies, which should take from 18 months to two years to complete.

Among the presentations to the authority Monday, one consultant on federal financing told the group that Congress was likely to match the $4.5-million the state lawmakers put up for the authority to do its planning work.

David Carol, vice president for high speed rail for Amtrak, said Amtrak wants to help in the planning process, offering its expertise in routes, stations, technology, marketing and ridership studies.