Word is, CSX Corporation, owner of many freight rail corridors across Florida, will consider allowing some existing lines to be shared with passenger rail service. The FDOT has agreed to fund a 2017 study to explore whether and how this could work. The two CSX lines with the most potential for sharing run from Tampa to Brooksville and to Clearwater.
The existing freight lines cross several counties, making their joint-use with passenger travel a truly regional effort. The Tampa Bay Transportation Management Area (TMA) made up of elected officials from Pasco, Pinellas and Hillsborough. The TMA leadership group was excited to learn about CSX’s willingness to negotiate and thrilled that FDOT District 7 has stepped in with funding to move the study forward.
The federal transportation legislation known as MAP-21 provides guidance on funding for premium transit projects. Before entering into the project development phase, a local sponsoring agency will need to send a letter to the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) describing the project and requesting to move forward. If FTA approves the request, the Project Development phase begins and must be completed in two years. That phase includes looking at alternatives, assessing environmental impacts, developing a funding strategy, involving the public, selecting the preferred option, and adopting it into the MPO’s long range transportation plan.
If all goes well and the project meets FTA’s evaluation and rating requirements, the project would then move to engineering and ultimately construction. This typically can take seven to ten years, but means regional passenger rail could be part of our not-too-distant future.