3/24/2010

Spending $1.25 billion to create a train link from Orlando International Airport to Walt Disney World

The Disney Company must not mind the subsidy, but why taxpayers should be making this expenditure isn't obvious.

Proponents of high-speed rail worry that the new line, which is scheduled to be up and running in 2015, might hurt rather than help their cause, if it comes to be seen as little more than an expensive way to whisk tourists from Orlando International Airport to Walt Disney World, which is slated to get its own stop.

Even Representative John L. Mica, a Republican whose district in northeast Florida stops about 20 miles short of the proposed line, has questioned whether his state was the best choice to receive some of the $8 billion that was set aside in the stimulus act for high-speed rail. . . .

But it is unclear where the state will get the money to extend the train line. As it is, officials are uncertain where they would get the rest of the $2.6 billion that they believe is needed to build the Orlando to Tampa route.

Supporters of high-speed rail often argue that it can be a way to lure passengers off airplanes. Orlando and Tampa are so close, however, that no airlines fly between them.

The drive took less than 82 minutes on a couple of recent test runs by a reporter; the train is expected to cover the same ground in 54 to 58 minutes.

Even the Florida project’s planners have acknowledged it would have a limited impact on traffic. An environmental impact statement issued in 2005 estimated that the train would draw 11 percent of the 4.5 million people who drive between Tampa and Orlando each year.

It also said the drivers who opted instead to ride the train “would not be sufficient to significantly improve” traffic flow on Interstate 4. . . . .

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