Promoting passenger trains as a transportation alternative in Florida since 1983.  We are citizens who advocate for Amtrak, commuter rail, intercity rail and transit for Florida's future.

The Silver Rail Blog

  • 13 Jun 2009 10:48 PM | Jackson McQuigg (Administrator)


    Congressional delegation demands Tri-Rail keep running

    By Michael Turnbell

    Eleven members of Florida’s congressional delegation say the livelihoods of thousands of workers and the future of high speed and commuter rail in Florida all rests on Tri-Rail’s ability to get dedicated funding.

    The delegation sent a letter Friday to Stephanie Kopelousos, secretary of the Florida Department of Transportation, urging that she “ensure the long-term survival of Tri-Rail by ensuring a dedicated source of funding for operations.”

    Tri-Rail faces service cuts in October, from 50 weekday trains to 30, rolling back to the same level as before a big federally-subsidized double-tracking project was completed in 2006.

    The only way cuts might be avoided is if Tri-Rail’s board decides to use local gas-tax money for operations instead of long-term capital expenses. A decision will be made at Tri-Rail’s board meeting on June 26.

    Without additional funding, Tri-Rail could completely shut down within two years.
    At least 350 Tri-Rail jobs with a payroll of $3 million will be lost if Tri-Rail service is eliminated, the delegation wrote to Kopelousos.

    Florida’s credibility to compete for federal transportation dollars also will be damaged as Congress considers a major transportation bill, the delegation added.

    The letter was signed by Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, Lincoln Diaz-Balart, Mario Diaz-Balart, Alcee Hastings, Ron Klein, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Kendrick Meek, Robert Wexler, Corrine Brown, Kathy Castor and Alan Grayson.

    Here is the letter: Download file

    POSTED IN: U.S. House (123)
  • 06 Jun 2009 10:50 AM | Jackson McQuigg (Administrator)

    South Florida

    Failure to fund Tri-Rail hurts road and transit projects,0,4904952.story

    By William E. Gibson

    South Florida Sun-Sentinel

    June 5, 2009


    Florida has hurt its chances of luring additional federal dollars to help unclog roads and expand train service because the state has failed to put up enough money to keep Tri-Rail running, members of Congress warned this week.

    Florida's shortfall not only puts the commuter-rail service at risk, but it weakens the state's negotiating power in Congress to boost its share of federal highway and transit money.

    "I can tell you the rest of the country will clean our clock if we continue to stumble. It's just unconscionable," Rep. John Mica of Winter Park, the ranking Republican on the House transportation committee, told fellow Florida members.

    "Increasing Florida's share is going to be even more difficult this time," he said.

    Florida's attempt to get a bigger piece of the federal pie is intensifying now that Congress is preparing to renew a transportation bill that determines how gas-tax money will be divided among states for the next 10 years.

    All states face a potential squeeze because the federal transportation trust fund is expected to run short by August. Congress must pour more general-purpose tax money into the fund or raise the gas tax.

    Florida motorists pay their full share of federal gas taxes, 18.4 cents per gallon. But for every dollar contributed, the state gets back only about 87 cents for highways and 73 cents for buses and trains, according to state officials.

    This is the money that pays for such things as widening Interstate 95 and I-75 and adding a new interchange in Boca Raton.

    Florida members of Congress said it's hard to make the case for getting a bigger share when the state may be forced to return millions.

    Federal officials have threatened to force Tri-Rail to return $256 million if it fails to meet an obligation to provide full service.

    Declining contributions from the state and South Florida counties make service cutbacks almost inevitable. The Legislature's rejection of a $2 surcharge on rental cars to pay for rail systems leaves Tri-Rail without enough money to keep full service beyond October.

    South Florida riders are paying the consequences in the form of a 25-percent increase in Tri-Rail fares. The hike comes just as thousands of commuters are leaving their cars and jumping on trains to avoid fuel costs.

    "The higher fares you charge, the less people are going to use it," said Rep. Ron Klein, D-Boca Raton. "Now that gas prices are going up again, this has a real impact on people in Florida."

    Florida is pushing to increase its share of federal highway funds to 95 cents for every dollar it contributes in gas taxes.

    But some other states get back far more than they contribute.

    The biggest shares tend to go to vast rural states with small populations. Florida officials have long argued that growing Sunbelt states should get more to help absorb dense traffic.

    Using the latest available numbers, a 95 percent return on the state's gas taxes would have meant an additional $270 million for Florida in 2007, according to David Lee, director of policy planning at the state Department of Transportation.

    A 95-percent return since the trust fund began in 1956 would have brought an extra $4.5 billion to the state, Lee said.

    That additional spending would have made traveling through Florida a lot easier, said Doug Callaway, president of Floridians for Better Transportation, an advocacy group in Tallahassee.

    "If we had been getting our fair share for the last 20 years, we would have had additional lanes to ease capacity, and you probably would also not need so many toll lanes," Callaway said. "People would have a better quality of life with less stress and fewer tolls."

    The quest for future spending is unrelated to the $1.3 billion of transportation funds the state was allotted from the Economic Recovery Act, a one-shot deal designed to create jobs and help meet transportation needs. The state also is competing for a piece of the $8 billion provided for high-speed rail projects. U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, is rounding up support from other "donor states" -- those that get back less than they pay in taxes -- to change the way the money is divided.

    "We're talking about hundreds of millions of additional dollars that can go to Florida," Diaz-Balart said. "You are looking at potentially speeding up projects way down the road. I don't mean to say we would have clear highways. But we can make a substantial difference in keeping up with our growth and improving our capacity.

    "It could be a huge impact."

    William E. Gibson can be reached at or 202-824-8256.

  • 02 Jun 2009 9:02 PM | Jackson McQuigg (Administrator)

    Florida perfect for high-speed rail
    States are competing hard for a part of $8 billion in federal money to build high-speed rail lines, and if decisions are merit-based as promised, Florida is well positioned to win a big share.

    It's important to be first because the new trains will bring an economic boost more lasting than a Super Bowl or Olympics. And Congress might not approve future rounds of stimulus spending on trains, so those left behind may never catch up.

    "Send us the money and we'll start digging," Lee Chira, head of the Florida High Speed Rail Authority, told federal railroad officials at a recent meeting in Orlando.

    He wasn't exaggerating. Florida has spent some $30 million to complete environmental studies on a high-speed rail route from the Tampa area to Orlando.

    A state's contribution deserves considerable weight in the selection process. Florida also has reserved right of way on I-4 for a train. The head of the state Department of Transportation, Stephanie Kopelousos, says that contribution is worth $1.5 billion.

    The distance between Tampa and Orlando is also perfect to compete with airlines, and many drivers on busy I-4 will be happy to switch to a relaxing train, especially one they can see passing them.

    Central Florida also is a major tourist destination, perfect for showcasing the new technology.

    Federal Railroad Deputy Administrator Karen Rae tells us she expects 30 states to apply. Officials will be tempted to spread the money thin to avoid disappointing anyone, but that would be a mistake. A few prime routes should be chosen and quickly completed.

    They should be routes, like Florida's, where high ridership is guaranteed, terrain is flat and obstacles are few. Florida's train could easily be extended to Miami, then north to Jacksonville, and from there into Georgia to connect with an eventual Southeast regional network.

    One factor working against Tampa and Orlando is the lack of a local rail system in either city. But federal officials should factor in the reality that Florida has long received less transit money than other states. It wouldn't be fair to penalize Florida again, especially now that transit enhancements are in the works in both areas.

    Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio told Rae and other officials that a referendum on rail will be held in 2010 in Hillsborough that will lead to major transit improvements. As for high-speed rail, she said, "We are ready for it in Tampa." Hillsborough Commissioner Mark Sharpe and many others from Tampa also attended to lobby for a Florida line.

    Such political endorsements might not be officially required, but they're essential to win.

    Gov. Charlie Crist, who has angered some fellow Republicans by supporting President Obama's stimulus spending, should become a high-profile advocate for a Florida train. His leadership could help Orlando, Lakeland, Tampa, St. Petersburg and Miami pull in the same direction.

    He needs to make it clear that Florida's support is solid. State voters had demanded that the state build a high-speed train, but a few years later they changed their minds.

    That shouldn't count against Florida. States don't have the resources to build inter-city high-speed rail without shortchanging their own underfunded highway and local transit programs.

    It can be argued that the federal government can't afford it either. But that decision has been made.

    Crist can campaign with a clear conscience to convince railroad officials to invest where the money can bring high visibility and certain economic payback, right here in Florida.
  • 28 May 2009 4:58 PM | Deleted user

    This is just one of several recent articles on this subject.  Andy Healy

  • 28 May 2009 9:15 AM | Deleted user

    Silver Star ridership grows as overall Amtrak demand drops


    Published: May 28, 2009

    TAMPA - Despite a 10 percent decline in Amtrak ridership in March compared with a year ago, down to 2.2 million passengers, Tampa ridership on Amtrak's Silver Star gained 3.8 percent to 8,423.

    The number of Silver Star passengers rose 1.6 percent in March to 31,028, indicating that more than one in four passengers on the train between New York and Miami arrived at or departed from Tampa's Union Station.

    "The deepening economic recession, high unemployment, steep cuts in business travel and continued low gasoline prices are increasingly depressing Amtrak demand, and in particular, demand for most short distance trains," the Amtrak performance report for March stated.

    On-time performance improvements continue to offset the negative effects of the economy and low gasoline prices on long-distance trains such as the Silver Star, the report said.

    Ridership in Amtrak's Northeast region was off 15 percent compared with a year ago. Ridership on the Acela, which travels between Boston and Washington, declined 9 percent in March.

    Reporter Ted Jackovics can be reached at (813) 259-7817.

  • 25 May 2009 1:47 PM | Deleted user

    Good article in current edition of Passenger Train Journal. Split Sunset into two seperate trains; one from L.A. to Dallas and the other from Dallas to Orlando, on a daily basis. I believe the idea has some merit.

    The link shown below explains the concept.  Andy Healy

















  • 21 May 2009 11:22 AM | Jackson McQuigg (Administrator)

    Update on Contributions to Tampa Union Station Preservation Fund


    My thanks go to all of you who have contributed thus far to the Tampa Union Station Preservation Fund, the endowment fund for the ongoing restoration of Tampa Union Station at the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay.


    To date, nearly $25,000 has been raised through tax-deductible donations to the Fund.


    We are on our way to our goal! Once $37,500 in contributions have been made, the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay will award a $12,500 matching grant to the Fund.


    This will, of course, establish a permanent $50,000 endowment for the perpetual care of one of Florida’s railroad landmarks, Tampa Union Station.


    Please join me and other passenger rail advocates in this important cause by making a personal commitment to the Fund. And please tell others about it, as well!


    More details and a contribution form are available at the Friends of Tampa Union Station website:



    Jackson McQuigg

    Secretary and Board Member, FCRP

    President, Friends of Tampa Union Station

    Southern Division Council Leader, NARP

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