Saturday, February 19, 2011

Congressman Mica's HSR Plan B for Florida: Pay close attention

Florida is where the HSR action is right now. John Mica, a key player in the Congressional HSR game of Rugby with the Democrats, is from Florida.  He has has injected himself into the conflict provoked by Governor Rick Scott who refused federal funding to launch the HSR segment from Tampa to Orlando, or to the Orlando airport, to be more accurate.

I say pay close attention because Mica's intention is to reduce the length of Florida's highly touted HSR from 84 miles of track to 21 miles.  It looks like it will be the airport connector (such as Shanghai has via Maglev). You could say that it will be Florida's Disneyland Express.  So, we know who the market for this connector line is going to be, since they include the Convention Center as a stop as well. After all, it's Orlando, the tourist city.

That makes it a business. And that's the intention.  Mica's Plan B is no longer an inter-city high-speed rail.  It's a regional airport connector.  Aren't there already a lot of these around the world?  Are they successful in the sense of being "profitable?"

Because that should be the first question for any investor doing due diligence. Whatever this plan will be, it won't be a government built and operated inter-city high-speed train going 185 mph, as was originally planned.  How fast can a train accelerate and stop in 21 miles without everyone on board throwing up? But, it does appear to have private investor and revenue producing viability, unlike the California HSR intentions of connecting San Francisco with Los Angeles.

I confess that I have a lot less objection to this alternative solution since it is part of the improvement of urban and regional public mass transit, and that, I believe, is a good thing. 

And, if Mica's version is the intended model of HSR that is acceptable to Republicans, why are we, in California, not looking at a similarly privately financed arrangement for a regional "HSR" train from Union Station in Los Angeles to San Diego on the LOSSAN line, which is right now one of the most heavily travelled routes in the US?

You know the answer to that question as well as I do.  Because this is not about building fast trains.  It's about politics and money.  That is, pulling federal dollars into California. We Californians can't afford to think small.  If it isn't grandiose, and costs billions upon billions, it's not worth doing.
Mica announces Plan B for high-speed rail
Local St. Augustine News | February 18, 2011 | 0 Comments

With the deadline imposed by U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to secure a sub-grantee to assume the proposed rail line between Orlando and Tampa, U.S. House Transportation Committee Chairman John L. Mica told Historic City News he has completed his assessment of potential options.

Based on the requirement to secure a sub-grantee and ensure that the project is on the soundest financial footing possible, he is exploring what he terms a “partial project rescue plan.”

Mica said, “The first 21-mile section of the proposed corridor from the Orlando Airport to the Convention Center and Disney World holds the potential for not only being a viable project, but one that could turn a profit with a qualified private operator.”
To accomplish this new proposal, the project would be recast as follows:

• The initial operating segment would consist of 21 miles.

• The sub-grantees would consist of Orange, Osceola and the City of Orlando.

• The inter-local agreement would be crafted with these three initial participants, with the potential for additional future partners.

• The federal government would provide financial support for construction of the first segment, up to an agreed upon funding amount.

• The inter-local parties would solicit private sector proposals to finance, design, construct, operate, and maintain the project.

• All parties would agree to proceed only if the project is financially viable and they had unanimous consent regarding the terms of ownership, development and operation of the project.

Mica said he has discussed the proposal with several of the potential partners and has solicited their response.

“The ridership numbers for this 21-mile corridor would be some of the best in the United States and the world, and I believe could also return revenue to each of the participating partners.”

This proposed phased development has the potential to address the Governor’s concerns by transferring the project from the state to another entity and limiting the scope of the project to the financially viable route to ensure maximum ridership, and provides for future expansion.
Photo credits: © 2011 Historic City News staff photographer