While all of the focus lately has been on California’s big plans to install a high speed rail corridor between San Diego and Sacramento, it’s easy to forget that it was in fact Florida that paved the way for other states to start thinking about H.S.R. implementation. Florida’s not exactly well-known for its progressive transportation policy, but it was all the way back in 2000 that Florida voters approved the idea through what sounds to me a rather bizarre procedure of actually amending their constitution to mandate the construction of a H.S.R. network that would link the state’s five most populous metropolitan areas. This oddly specific amendment “requires the use of train technologies that operate at speeds in excess of 120 miles per hour and consist of dedicated rails or guideways separated from motor vehicle traffic,” ensuring that it would be true H.S.R. I say “true” because the term gets tossed around pretty loosely these days in all the talk of faster rail connections, with even 80 m.p.h. trains sometimes earning the distinction. Technically, U.S. trains only have to achieve running speed of 90 m.p.h. to qualify, but Florida’s system is more in line with Europe’s loftier 125-m.p.h. requirements.
So this was all very promising, but then, in a weird twist, the amendment was repealed four years later at the urging of Governor Jeb Bush, taking with it the allotted funding from the state legislature. But the repeal of the amendment came too late to completely squash the ambitions of Florida train advocates, as the Florida High Speed Rail Authority, which was created by the state legislature in 2001, is still in existence and continues to work toward developing an executable plan. Its operating budget is now entirely dependent upon federal earmarks in the absence of local support.
However, advocates of sustainable transportation have reason to be cautiously optimistic about the future of Florida H.S.R. in light of the recently passed stimulus legislation pushed through Congress by the Obama administration. If Florida is able to secure federal funding for a good chunk of the initial investment, (estimated at $2.4 billion back in 2003) there’s a good chance that there could be renewed interest across the state in the proposal and we would see the first lengths of American high speed track laid in an unlikely corner of the country.