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Florida third state to say no to federal funding for high speed rail

Florida has become the third state to reject federal funding to build high speed rail lines in the US.

‘Historically over-optimistic’

Last week Florida governor Rick Scott told US transportation secretary Ray LaHood that the state was rejecting President Barack Obama’s Tampa to Orlando high speed rail project.

Obama has set a target of giving 80% of Americans access to high speed rail services within 25 years, and has proposed spending £33bn over the next six years on high speed rail projects.

Florida had been awarded £1.5bn of federal funding towards the £1.7bn cost of building its 134km long line. The cash was won by Scott’s predecessor Charlie Crist last year.

But Scott, who was elected in the US Mid Term elections in November, has rejected the cash because he fears construction cost will escalate and that the line will not be profitable.

Scott said capital cost overruns from the project could leave Florida taxpayers liable for an additional £1.8bn.
He also said that ridership and revenue projections are “historically overly-optimistic” and would result in subsidies of between £185M and £350M that state taxpayers would have to incur.

He also warned that if the project became too costly and had to be shut down, the state would have to return the federal funds.

“The truth is that this project would be far too costly to taxpayers and I believe the risk far outweighs the benefits,” he said.

“Historical data shows cost overruns are pervasive in nine out of 10 high speed rail projects and that two out of three of those projects inflated ridership projections by an average of 65%.”

Scott said that the projection that 3.07M people would use the train annually was far-fetched.

I believe our state will be better served by spending these funds on projects that will benefit Florida and not turn into a spending boondoggle”

Rick Scott

“Keep in mind that Amtrak’s Acela train in Washington, DC, Boston, Philadelphia, New York and Baltimore only had 3.2M riders in 2010. And that market’s population is eight times the size of the Tampa/Orlando market,” he said.

“Rather than investing in a high-risk rail project, we should be focusing on improving our ports, rail and highway infrastructure to be in a position to attract the increased shipping that will result when the Panama Canal is expanded,” he said.

“It is absolutely critical that we make smart investments with taxpayer dollars, whether state or federal, and I believe our state will be better served by spending these funds on projects that will benefit Florida and not turn into a spending boondoggle.”

LaHood said he was “extremely disappointed” by Scott’s decision to “walk away from the job”.

He said the state’s financial risk would be eliminated by requiring contractors competing to build the project to take on responsibility for cost overruns and operational risk.

Florida’s decision to pull out of the high speed rail programme comes a month after Ohio and Wisconsin also withdrew (NCE 13 January).

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