The Tampa Tribune: “Tampa Bay rail service on track”
TAMPA — Commuter rail service could be five years away for the Tampa Bay area, the result of a deal struck between local political leaders and the railroad company that owns tracks on which the system would run.
Hillsborough County Commissioner Ed Turanchik and state Rep. Jim Hargrett, D-Tampa, announced Thursday that CSX Transportation, Inc., will allow three lines now used for freight service to be converted for commuter train use.
Pinellas and Hillsborough counties have studied elevated rail systems independently for more than a decade, only to conclude that setting them up would cost each county a prohibitive $1 billion.
The new plan would extend systems 120.7 miles into five counties for $1 million to $5 million a mile. Most of the money would go toward modifying tracks for higher speed, buying trains, adding switches and building stations.
The proposal consists of routes starting at Tampa’s downtown Union Station and running:
- East through Ybor City, Brandon, Valrico and Plant City and on to Lakeland.
- Nort through Carrollwood and Lutz, on up through Pasco County and ending in Brooksville.
- West through Town ‘N Country, Oldsmar and Safety Harbor and ending in downtown Clearwater.
- Southwest through the Interbay Peninsula near the Crosstown Expressway, ending at Port Tampa near MacDill Air Force Base.
Trains would also link the University of South Florida and Temple Terrace with the Brooksville line and Tampa International Airport with the Clearwater line.
Turanchik and Hargrett estimate more than 26 percent of Hillsborough County’s population works within a half mile of the proposed system while 33 percent lives within the same distance.
“We’re not talking about pie in the sky,” said Hargrett.
“These lines go where people work and go where people live,” said Turanchik.
Proponents of the plan acknowledge there are many unanswered questions. Exactly how much it will cost, who will pay for it, what kind of trains will be used and where the stations will be are all to be resolved by consultants in an