Tampa Bay Times: “Crowd lines up for train ride”

 In News Archives, Rail Transit

03/10/97

Hillsborough County Commissioner Ed Turanchik was bouncing along in a commuter rail train Sunday, his head wobbling about, when the train came upon a railroad crossing at Countryway Boulevard.

A stream of people were waiting. They stood about a quarter-mile deep.

“Look at that line,” said Turanchik, who couldn’t hold back a smirk. “But you can’t get people out of their cars, you know.”

On this day, you could. About 300 people waited at the stop in Westchase, a subdivision on Hillsborough Avenue just inside Hillsborough County, and 150 stood near City Hall in Oldsmar, to ride the RegioSprinter.

By day’s end, about 3,800 passengers had ridden, a record for a five-hour period, officials said.

The train ran the seven-minute journey between the Hillsborough subdivision and the North Pinellas town as part of a month-long celebration of commuter trains. Turanchik hopes people will like what they see, then support his push to build a commuter rail network in the Tampa Bay area.

“The only answer to our congested growth in Florida is public transportation,” said U.S. Rep. Mike Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor, who joined Turanchik on the train. “We just can’t keep up with the growth.”

Thursday, Bilirakis and Turanchik will appear before a subcommittee of the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure to tout the train. They want $243 million to build a commuter system in the Tampa Bay area. State and local agencies would need to match the federal government’s money.

Residents who rode Sunday sounded desperate for some way to leave their cars at home and, instead, whisk through rush hour.

“When we lived in Boston, we rarely drove,” said Steve Pleau, 39, who now lives in Hunter’s Green in Tampa. “We always took the T.”

Said Pleau’s wife, Donna Savignano: “They better get he rail-road system in before the fact and not after, like our public schools.”

Minutes later, the train departed for Oldsmar. It cruised quietly behind lakes, woods and cars.

“It’s much more scenic than driving Tampa Road,” said Karen Mayer, an aide to Bilirakis.

On the other end of the line, the crowd grew impatient. One woman shouted at Turanchik as he gave a speech.

“Let’s get going,” yelled Grace Solano, 67, of Tampa, who had been waiting since 9:30 a.m.

Once on the train, she was happy. “It will be good for seniors,” she said.