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Amtrak in talks with Florida about expansion. What does this mean for commuter rail?

Despite the state’s past troubles with planning a modern rail system, Florida legislators are in discussions with Amtrak about expanding and improving its rail service. However, some local commentators have seen the move as an alternative to Orlando’s Central Florida Commuter Rail plan, and question Amtrak’s ability to provide commuter services. From the Orlando Sentinel:

[Sen. Paula Dockery’s] attempts to pass off intercity rail as a credible substitute for the Central Florida commuter-rail project she helped stall, and as the best thing going for lovers of mass transit throughout Florida, don’t wash.

And what would it provide? Service a few times a day to each of the four cities served. A few more cities in between them, like Lakeland, also potentially could be added. But there’d be nothing that gets folks to their jobs or anywhere else nearby. “We’re not the commuter answer,” an Amtrak official told the senator. Intercity rail’s not, as Ms. Dockery represented it, an option for the entire state.

This really just shows how politicians can misunderstand rail development. One train is as good as another, right? But the fact is that commuter rail and intercity rail serve complementary, but differing purposes. Amtrak does provide commuter services in states such as Massachusetts, but these stand in addition to the usual inter-city routes. Adding a commuter element to inter-city trains only serves to slow them down and make them less competitive with planes and cars. Ideally, Florida would invest in both commuter and inter-city networks, sharing connections at regional stations. Whether both can happen at once is yet to be seen, but at least passenger rail improvements are back on the bargaining table in the state.

Hat tip to Tom Palmer in his local politics blog.

Filed under: Amtrak, Regional USA Passenger Rail, , , , , ,

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