Fast Train to a Slow Bus

The New York Times has an interesting article on the planned high-speed rail project in central Florida.  Earlier this year Florida was given one of the largest chunks of the $8 billion stimulus money to improve passenger rail travel in the US.

Today’s article points out that the route that will benefit from the money–Orlando to Tampa–has some shortcomings.  One issue is that the route will only cover a distance of 84 miles.  The concern is that the route is too short to take mode share away from planes and rail.  It is not a hard and fast science, but generally distances in excess of 200 miles make high-speed rail attractive to travelers.  The line between Madrid and Sevilla in Spain (293 miles) contributed to a 50% reduction in auto share and around a 6% reduction in air travel between the two cities.

Photo of Disney World Monorail: expressmonorail

The other problem is the route itself.  The Orlando terminus is the airport–an isolated complex on the southern edge of the city–and the Tampa terminus is downtown.  The route will include a stop at the Walt Disney World resort, but will bypass the Tampa airport.

Both Tampa and Orlando have inadequate local public transport systems, which means riders arriving in each city will be faced with significant mobility challenges when they disembark the train.  In Orlando the downtown financial and government districts are more than an hour away from the airport station by local (and infrequent) buses.

What this shows is that walkability and land use issues need to be given greater consideration in transportation planning.  You will be able to get from Orlando to Tampa quickly, but once you get to your destination you will likely be faced with another mobility challenge.

3 thoughts on “Fast Train to a Slow Bus”

  1. This is, of course, the first stage of an HSR corridor that is planned to go to Miami.

    However, for this corridor, a useful solution might be to add a station where the HSR crosses over the new Orlando rail line, which DOES go through downtown. It will make both the HSR and the new commuter rail line far more useful.

  2. Tampa is seriously trying to improve its local transportation. It has schemes for a light rail line which would connect the downtown HSR station with many other locations, and it’s already improving its bus routes.

    Orlando…. isn’t.

  3. Thanks, Bruce & Nathaneael for the comments.

    When I lived in Orlando about a decade ago the various municipalities could never agree on an alignment for a northern light rail corridor, losing out on a bunch of John Mica-endorsed federal financing.

    Before I left in ’03, Mica was pushing a much less ambitious commuter rail plan going from downtown Orlando to Sanford (I think). The southern Orange County tourist corridor was generally hostile to any rail development.

    I haven’t been following debates down there, so I don’t know too much about the actual proposed line, but I find it interesting (and not surprising) that Disney donated land for a stop that will whisk tourists from the airport to the Kingdom–bypassing all of the other tourist attractions in the area.

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