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Florida’s Flirtation with High-Speed Rail Recounted in New Book

Monday, October 01, 2012 - 12:17 PM

HSR in Florida No More

Not coming to Florida anytime soon

It seems like Florida and high-speed rail were a couple that always flirted across a crowded room -- but neither had the nerve to ask for a date.

Finally in 2010 and 2011 it seemed like progress was being made. But then the pair's matchmaker -- governor Charlie Crist -- left office, and new governor Rick Scott started sending mixed signals. What could have been a storybook romance for President Obama, Florida, and fast trains evaporated faster than a Shinkansen speeding between Tokyo and Kyoto.

Time Magazine journalist Mike Grunwald recounts some of that story in his new bookThe New New Deal: The Hidden Story of Change in the Obama Era”.

Speaking with Mark Simpson on WMFE’s Intersection program this week, Grunwald recalled Orlando and Tampa’s hope’s creating a blazing fast network of trains between the two anchors of the I-4 corridor: “Florida had the shovel-readiest bullet train," he says. "You had the land, you had the route right down I-4, it was pretty much good to go. You had all these private companies that were willing to pick up the slack and say we’ll cover the cost of any overruns and make sure this isn’t going to cost Florida a dime.”

Grunwald says Rick Scott’s cancellation of high speed rail reflected the action of other Republican governors around the country, including Wisconsin and Ohio, and political ideology played into the stripping away of Obama’s grand plans for high speed rail. “There was a kind of tea party element to this; we don’t like trains, that’s the sort of liberal way to travel and we don’t like government projects.”

The high-speed rail network is now much smaller than the nationwide map originally envisioned in the stimulus package. Rather, routes in the Midwest and Northeast are beefing up to bring “higher speed rail,” which don't approach the bullet train speeds of Europe and Asia but instead are shaving off some commuting time between major cities.  (Watch videos of recent Acela tests on TN.)

So now, President Obama can't point to a gleaming set of new trains and say "I built that." According to Grunwald, that has ramifications. I talked to a guy in the administration who told me he thought this was going to be a great issue for Obama in 2012," he says, "because they would just show pictures of those guys in Florida building this new fancy high-speed network that was going to whip bullet trains past traffic on I-4 and create tens of thousands of jobs, and they’d be able to run those ads in Wisconsin and say hey thanks for your money Wisconsin -- but of  course it turned out Florida went [in that same] direction.”

You can listen to the complete conversation on WMFE’s web page.

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