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Tri-Rail poster child for what could go wrong with high-speed rail, Scott says

by Dara Kam | February 22nd, 2011

Gov. Rick Scott is refusing to back down from his decision to blow off $2.4 billion from the feds for high-speed rail state lawmakers scrambled to get last year.

Scott remains convinced that the project won’t pay for itself despite assurances from supporters that they’re crafting a deal that would let the state get off Scott-free if the Tampa-Orlando project needs extra cash.

And he pointed to Tri-Rail commuter line from Miami-Dade to Palm Beach counties as an example.

“Look at ridership studies. There’s no way in the world that we’re not going to have operating losses,” Scott told reporters this morning. “I mean, look at Tri-Rail. I mean, Tri-Rail is almost $65 million in operating costs. The fares only cover $10 million of it. Right now each of you as taxpayers you help to subsidize to the tune of $35 million a year.

“So if you look at the risk of cost overruns, if you look at the ridership studies, if you look at the fact that if we make a mistake and we’re wrong we have to give $2.4 billion back to the federal government, it’s not worth the risk.”

U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood gave Florida’s Congressional delegation until Thursday to come up with an alternate plan after Scott rejected the money last week. It remains doubtful, however, if anything can happen without Scott’s approval.

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28 Responses to “Tri-Rail poster child for what could go wrong with high-speed rail, Scott says”

  1. Megan Says:

    Don’t let Candace Eriks hear you say that!

  2. RickyTicky Says:

    Never thought of JGiulietti as a poster child before!

  3. Thomas Says:

    Although the Tri-Rail system is certainly not a model to be upheld, Scott’s comparison is intellectually dishonest. The system operates at a loss, no doubt, but it’s not as if our highway system pays for itself. The gas tax does not come close to covering maintenance and construction costs.

    Tri-Rail has a ridership problem, but the solution is NOT to pull the plug (it will just mean more cars on our already congested highways and even more delays for those who do drive). Instead, the system needs a management overhaul, and more work needs to be done to integrate the system into our communities. The tracks run along an industrial corridor and the stations more often than not are isolated from the residential and commercial areas.

    The problem is design, not money.

  4. jaded Says:

    Tri- Rail COULD be great. The problem is getting from the train station to where you are going. The Miami Airport seems to have finally figured it out (my son recently used it). But a few years ago I had to commute from WPB to graduate school in Miami and there was just no way I could get from Golden Glades to Barry University. It would have been so much better than driving!

  5. Tri-Rail Rider Says:

    Highways aren’t free!! How much do drivers pay when they enter onto the death trap I-95 and how much do those those accidents cost tax payers? I’ll take Tri-Rail anytime!!

  6. ScottyB Says:

    Scott needs to realize that most people don’t have their own airplane, like he does, or a beatup 1973 pickup, like his teabagger buddies. Some of us depend on mass transit. It’s a necessity.

  7. OBIWAN Says:

    Yeah, IF only all those Tri-Rail riders would actually pay up for the real direct operating costs…

    …its like all 400,000 of those bragging to have attended UM’s first Nat’l Championship game – when the Orange Bowl only seated 70,000!

    The “alternative” Democrat proposal of Bill Nelson and a coupla’ mayors is to “create” another GOVT agency to then ask GOV Scott IF they can take that “free” money…

    Brother can you loan me a dime??

  8. Thomas Says:

    Obiwan, some commenters have noted, you don’t pay the full cost of using the highway either. Non-drivers pay for those roads as well. (Gas tax doesn’t foot the whole bill).

    How about you can the anti government conspiracies and actually engage this as a legitimate mobility problem?

    PS – I’m assuming you’ve never taken a penny of government money, you self-made, independent hero. Get off the high horse.

  9. Biill Neubauer Says:

    Good for Scott! To many politicians and developers can’t see beyond that $2.5 billion federal money.
    I don’t care how much Tri-Rail people try to justify its losses, it is still a big loser. Scott deserves credit to getting down to the basics and not being blinded by those federal billions WHICH WASHINGTON DOESN’T EVEN HAVE.

  10. Thomas Says:

    Bill, so everyone should just… drive?

    Fewer alternatives = more cars on the road, more congestion, etc. Not to mention the fact that billions of federal & state dollars go into highway construction and maintenance.

    I get it, you don’t like the train. But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be built.

  11. FAZ Says:

    Scott needs to be indicted for Medicare fraud!!!

  12. GT Says:

    The people have spoken, No train!

  13. Thomas Says:

    GT, you might be singing a different tune if gas prices skyrocket again (which they will, with time). It’s foolish to throw away an opportunity to make our future better. All highways is not the solution anymore than all trains. We need to diversify our transportation system.

  14. SR Says:

    The train shouldn’t be built because not enough people will ride it to make it financially solvent.
    Governor Scott is doing the right thing. If you want to ride the train, move to someplace that already has a system. New York, Boston, Chicago, maybe Washington, DC?

  15. SR Says:

    Gas prices wouldn’t be skyrocketing if we were drilling for our own oil and the politicians in DC would stop lying about how we don’t have any.
    We have more oil and natural gas in Alaska, the continental U.S. and offshore than in all of the Middle East. We could bring good jobs back to America, keep our dollars here at home and be energy independent.
    Trains aren’t the answer.

  16. Thomas Says:

    SR: Highways aren’t financially solvent either. Yet we all pay for them. Drivers and non-drivers alike.

    The reality is that we need to invest in not just a high speed system, but also regional rail (yes, more tri-rail) and intra-city transit projects as well. That means expanding metrorail in Miami, and developing similar systems in our other metropolitan area. These projects will enable the High-speed rail to be financially solvent.

    The answer is to move forward, not backward.

  17. Thomas Says:

    SR: Sure, we could drill for more oil and natural gas. And we will, no question about it. But ultimately, it’s only a temporary solution. These fossil fuels are non-renewable and we absolutely must invest in alternative technologies if we wish to remain the leader of the free world.

    Whether we run out in 10 years or 100, it doesn’t matter. It costs money (and even more when they are not easily accessible, as in the case of the Gulf Oil spill) to extract these fuels and that will ultimately rise fuel prices. It’s simple supply and demand.

  18. Oxy Limbaugh Says:

    I just love these drill baby drill people. I say first we should deregulate the oil drilling industry, then let’s get some rigs near Peanut Island, all the local piers, maybe just off Palm Beach. What could go wrong? And all those tourists with their money are annoying anyway. I only see jobs being cut, when do we get to work, Gov. Scott????

  19. Sid Says:

    Afew facts:
    1- Every round trip on TriRail costs the taxpayers $120., every single one, 24/7.
    2- TriRail money comes out of gas taxes, not the other way round. In other words cars subsidize trains (and buses).
    3- These HSR jobs are “make work” jobs. The real jobs would be created if we lowered taxes and regulation and got government out of trains, etc.
    4- The communities involved would never pay for these trains themselves. They only want them because they’re free, paid for by the taxpayers of California and all the other states. California wants these trains because to them they’re also free, paid for by Florida and everyone else.
    5- Keep building all this free stuff and one day we’ll have a debt of $14 trillion.
    Get it?

  20. Thomas Says:

    Sid: $120 per roundtrip? Where are your figures from? A google search just gives me more instances of you repeating the samething. “Facts” usually have sources that you can point to.

    The question really isn’t binary. It’s about how these systems should be built. And the answer is intelligently. We should learn from our highway mistakes (see the decline of Overtown in Miami, which is widely attributed to the construction of I-95 through the middle of the community). That means we should take a hard look at the Tampa-Orlando line. On its own, it does not make sense. The distance between the two communities does not merit HSR on its own. What many of us forget, however, is that the line is actually Tampa-Orlando-Miami. The leg to Miami makes a tremendous amount of sense, and rail would be competitive with flying.

    Sid, you make no comments about the large government subsidies that go into building and maintaining our highways and streets. Any discussion about the cost of these projects must look at the complete picture.

    Rail is expensive. So are roads. Ridership will continue to be mediocre on the few routes we do have if we continue to neglect the system.

    Again, let’s move to the futrue, not backward.

  21. Max Weinberg Says:

    Thomas resonates as the voice of reason in this thread. No form of transportation from tri-rail to turnpike tolls covers the full cost. And those of you who keep promoting more drilling in Alaska either are not aware or ignore that the majority of the oil produced in Alaska is not even consumed in this country. Of course every Alaskan resident receives a royalty check for the oil production, including their half-term governor. Socialism at its finest.

  22. Oreally Says:

    The argument here reek of partisan opinions and less of actual facts.
    First off Miami and I-95 is not representative of the entire state. Show me one major US city that doesn’t have traffic congestion. Many of those also have mass transit. It doesn’t make a difference.
    Secondly, even if gas prices rise, do you really think that a rail project between Tampa and Orlando is going to really solve any problems? By the time it gets built fuel prices will have done their damage. As we discovered in the last oil rise, people traveled much less.
    And comparing roads to rail is a flawed argument, as the roads are already in place. And considering a direct payment of those roads by taxes is another flawed argument because they support commerce. Both employment and transportation of goods. The money generated by that use of transport far outweighs the cost of maintaining existing roads.
    The rail project is a waste of money for short term jobs. It isn’t going to stimulate anything in general over a great period of time, and will not release traffic congestion except in a very small portion of the state if at all. This is a pet project for certain constituencies at the expense of the rest of Floridians.
    Spend $2.5 billion on grant programs to put electric car charging stations at major gas stations and there you will have an expenditure that will create a long term solution.
    We don’t produce electric cars, because of limited travel distance, and the difficulty in recharging batteries.
    Down with the rail project.

  23. Eric Says:

    With both the State and the Feds broke,
    it’s pretty hard to understand where all this train money is coming from.

    Even a drunk sailor stops spending after he runs out of money.

    Thomas…yes, it does cost over $120 for each tri rail rider. You can easily calculate the annual capital and operating costs and compare to revenue from SFRTA data at:

  24. Plead the 5th 75 Times Says:

    Maybe we should be checking out how many oil companies made campaign donations to Rick Scott. Or how the main financial backers of the tea bagger movement are the Koch brothers (energy magnates). Or how Scott’s rail decision is based on advice from a “non-partisan think tank” that is funded by oil companies and car makers. Yeah, let’s get to work alright…making the big oil fat cats richer. Just follow the money trail for the truth.

  25. Wazmo Says:

    just gotta comment on the comments. how do we know the gas taxes aren’t enough to pay for our highways? the legislators keep raiding it for other purposes. and if its not, then raise the gas tax. some mass transit is needed for those who can’t or won’t drive. and a reasonable subsidy is warranted. but a giant boondoogle like hi speed? if its so great, let private enterprise do it. why aren’t we drilling? why aren’t we developing nat gas for buses and trucks? wouldn’t the infrastructure development put people to work? wouldn’t the taxes for offshore drilling help balance the budget?

  26. tryo Says:

    Joe G is totally corrupt.

    Pitiful, Tri Rail is. Just pitiful.

  27. heidelja Says:

    “Tri-Rail is almost $65 million in operating costs. The fares only cover $10 million of it. Right now each of you as taxpayers help to subsidize to the tune of $35 million a year”

    Always keep in mind that this has been spoken by a pencil-necked stooge who wears cowboy boots who says that the $71M investment in dredging the Port of Miami at taxpayer expense is gong to most certainly create 31,000 PERMANENT Hispanic jobs!

  28. Sid Says:

    You forgot the $200 million in this year’s capital cost.(track repair, station maintenance, replacement trains, etc)

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