Full Speed Ahead

Vote saves Tri-Rail from going off the tracks

A bill that would clear the way for commuter and high-speed rail systems is heading to Florida Gov. Charlie Crist's desk.

Final passage came Tuesday in the Florida Senate on a bipartisan 27-10 vote to close out a six-day special legislative session. It
easily passed in the House on Monday.

Crist is a strong supporter of the bill and is expected to sign it into law.

The important piece of the legislation for Maimians is that Tri-Rail will still be on the tracks for the foreseeable future. That's great news for the dozen people who use the tri-county rail system that has seen decreased ridership to the point of nearly going under.

Tri-Rail began in 1989 and has 13,000 daily riders, but officials said they were on the verge of cutting back operating hours and laying off workers.

The bill gives Tri-Rail an extra $25 million annually, money that will be used to maintain its 50-train weekday schedule and to take over operation and dispatch duties from railroad giant CSX.

"This is about jobs, it's about job creation, it's about better transportation for Florida," Crist said. "We need this now, very badly. It's a great Christmas present for Florida."

The measure includes a liability provision needed to create the SunRail commuter system in Central Florida and others that might
follow elsewhere.

Federal officials have warned that Florida needs to have a link to commuter lines in order to have any chance of obtaining $2.6 billion in stimulus for a high-speed line between Tampa and Orlando.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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