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Commuter Rail Chugging Along

December 4th, 2009 by Mike Vasilinda

State House members have given tentative approval (not until about 5pm) of a plan to create a commuter rail system in Florida. The proposal fails to address serious concerns being raised by opponents, but as Mike Vasilinda tells us, lawmakers are moving ahead with hopes of attracting federal money to build a high speed rail system.

Commuter rail supporters continue to argue a new 61-mile line across Central Florida and a 15 million dollar a year bailout of Tri Rail in South East Florida are just the first steps toward true high speed rail.

Day two of the special session was dedicated to an explanation of the 49 page bill.

“Because we are showing a commitment to rail, we have the opportunity to get the attention of Washington, which stands ready to allocate 8 billion dollars nationwide to high-speed rail projects,” Rep. Gary Aubuchon (R-Cape Coral) said.

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, whose community is likely to benefit the most from the Sun Rail project watched from the House gallery.

“We’ve modeled all our growth patterns around transit-oriented development,” Dyer said. “It is critical for us if we’re going to maintain the quality of life in Central Florida, and start to establish a statewide rails system.

While the House debate churned on, state Senators were home, and they will stay there until Tuesday.

But with the vote count up in the air in the Senate, you can bet the phone lines will be burning up between now and next week, trying to change a few votes.

Part of the uncertainly deals with the future job prospects of more than a hundred railroad workers whose jobs are protected under Federal law. The AFL-CIO says an impasse remains.

“Anything significant in the last 24-hours has not occurred,” AFL-CIO president Mike Williams said.

And without union support, the rail project looks more fragile than ever in the 40-member Senate.

The house is scheduled for a final vote on Monday, the Senate Wednesday.  Any differences between the two chambers will have to be worked out by noon Friday.

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