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Brightline submits sole proposal to launch Tampa to Orlando passenger rail service

A Brightline train heading from West Palm Beach to Miami pulls in at the service's station in Fort Lauderdale in August. Brightline has submitted the sole proposal in response to a Florida Department of Transportation request for proposals to create Tampa to Orlando passenger rail service. RICHARD DANIELSON | Times
Published Nov. 8, 2018

TAMPA — State transportation officials on Wednesday received one proposal to run an intercity passenger train from Orlando to Tampa, and it came from Brightline, the company that proposed creating the route in the first place.

Brightline already runs a rail service between Miami and West Palm Beach, with plans to extend the line to Orlando by 2021.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott rejected federal funding for high-speed rail on Interstate 4 in 2011. But this summer he agreed to have the state consider proposals from any interested company after Brightline said it wanted to create an Orlando-to-Tampa leg without using taxpayer dollars. The company proposed running its trains along Interstate 4, leasing land owned by the state and the Central Florida Expressway Authority.

Brightline's business model pairs city-to-city rail service with high-end real estate development. In August, seeing that combination dazzled a Tampa delegation during a tour of the company's South Florida projects. Publicly, the company has said it proposes a Tampa destination between downtown and Ybor City.

"We are excited about our proposal to connect Orlando and the Tampa Bay region and will await next steps from FDOT and the selection committee," Brightline's senior vice president for corporate affairs Ben Porritt said in a statement emailed to the Tampa Bay Times on Thursday.

TRACK RECORD: Brightline's combination of rail and development in Miami makes believers of Tampa leaders

In Miami, Brightline selected the Overtown area near downtown for its MiamiCentral project: 1.6 million square feet of development, with two office towers, two apartment towers, 130,000 square feet of stores and restaurants and a train station. Financing for the development was two-thirds private equity, one-third private activity bonds.

In May, it started running a rail service with limited stops between downtown Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. The trains are new, quiet, with roomy seats and robust WiFi, and they move at up to 79 mph, or roughly twice as fast as traffic on Interstate 95. The company says the service makes money because, unlike commuter rail, it has fewer stops and less need for staff and equipment.

Brightline's Miami station also includes connections to Miami-Dade's Metrorail and its free electric Metromover line. The density of non-car mobility options helped developers attract Ernst & Young to one of its office towers.

In Tampa, Brightline has scouted sites for potential terminals near downtown, including three that could put the train and its development plans within walking distance of the proposed Rays stadium on the southern edge of Ybor City:

• The Tampa Park Apartments, owned by a nonprofit group led by Florida Sentinel Bulletin newspaper publisher S. Kay Andrews. The future of the complex has been thrown into doubt after it this summer failed its fourth inspection in four years. As a result, some renters are being moved to Section 8 housing, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development plans to withdraw rent subsidies for more than half the units.

• The old N Morgan Street jail site, owned by the Florida Department of Transportation. It has been considered as a rail station site several times in the past.

• Tampa Union Station, owned by the city of Tampa, which currently handles Amtrak's Silver Service.

• The 7.6-acre GasWorx property near the proposed Rays stadium. The Rays want a parking garage built there for their new ballpark, but GasWorx owner Darryl Shaw has said there may be space for other development, too.

The Florida Department of Transportation has named a three-member technical review committee to determine whether Brightline's proposal meets the requirements the agency outlined in its request for proposals on June 22.

Their recommendation will go to a selection committee of high-ranking transportation officials, who are scheduled to make a decision on Nov. 28.

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Contact Richard Danielson at rdanielson@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times

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