Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Support for Jacksonville-to-Miami Rail on the Rise; State Is Asking for Stimulus Funds; If Approved, They'd Allow Track Improvements

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Support for Jacksonville-to-Miami Rail on the Rise; State Is Asking for Stimulus Funds; If Approved, They'd Allow Track Improvements

Article excerpt

Byline: LARRY HANNAN

Efforts to create passenger rail service between Jacksonville and Miami on the Florida East Coast Railway continue to pick up steam, but it's not clear if anyone will pay to make it happen.

In the past month, the Jacksonville Transportation Authority and St. Augustine have come out in support of the idea. The First Coast Metropolitan Planning Organization did so last year, as have about 60 government entities, chambers of commerce and transportation organizations on the east coast of Florida as far south as Fort Lauderdale.

Each resolution of support was sent to the Florida Department of Transportation.

"For a while I think all the mail I got was these resolutions," said state Transportation Secretary Stephanie Kopelousos. "It definitely shows we have a lot of support for getting this done."

Kopelousos said the state is asking for federal stimulus money that would allow it to make rail improvements to the FEC tracks, a condition set forth by the company before it allows trains on them.

Scott Williams, the railroad's general counsel, said discussions are ongoing among Amtrak, the Florida Department of Transportation and the railroad company.

Amtrak offers passenger service from Jacksonville to Miami on its Silver Star and Silver Meteor trains, but the Silver Meteor takes nine hours and goes through Orlando, and the Silver Star takes almost 11 hours and goes through Tampa.

Both routes travel on CSX tracks.

Using the Florida East Coast tracks would create a quicker route down the coast while allowing stops in cities such as St. Augustine, Daytona Beach, Fort Pierce, West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale.

Amtrak said last year that re-establishing the route that traces its roots to Henry Flagler and the late 19th century was its top priority in Florida.

It discussed the possibility of using the lines in 2001-02, but that plan fell apart because Amtrak was having financial problems and the state was unwilling to allocate as much money to the project as Amtrak wanted. …

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