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March 15, 2011

High-Speed Rail Can Be Profitable, Create Jobs

Rail Yesterday, the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee held the latest in a series of field hearings aimed at getting input from selected voices on improving and reforming our nation's transportation system.

Committee head Rep. John Mica held this hearing in his home state of Florida.  Now, Florida is a particularly good state to hear about the need for high-speed rail as a transportation choice since Governor Rick Scott rejected federal funds last month for such a project in the Sunshine State.

It is unfortunate that officials are choosing Big Oil over solutions that can end our oil dependence. And now we've got new research showing that a high-speed rail line from Tampa to Orlando "could be operated with a healthy profit."

The study shows that "the line connecting Tampa to Orlando would have had a $10.2 million operating surplus in 2015, its first year of operation. The study showed the line would have had a $28.6 million surplus in its 10th year."

The Florida high-speed rail plan would have served 3.3 million riders in its first year of operation, but now those riders will be stuck in traffic burning gasoline - polluting the air, increasing our addiction to oil while sending dollars overseas to pay for oil.  

We've been standing with concerned citizens at several of these field hearings nationwide from Ohio, California and Tennessee and, of course, in Orlando, Florida. While the field hearings didn't necessarily include all the right voices (as two of our activists in Tennessee noted in these great OpEds, Chairman Mica did support high speed rail in Florida.

And we made sure to let him know there are supporters of good transit across the country out there: We turned in close to 1,000 comments from citizens, all calling for a transportation bill that will increase transportation choices and help end our dependence on oil.

We're also making our voices heard about Gov. Scott's rail rejection:

Environmental groups believe that, given the toll that roads take on natural resources, they're counting on Scott to endorse SunRail. "We need those choices. Gov. Scott's actions deny us choices in transportation," Sierra Club representative Phil Compton said.

But despite Gov. Scott's views and the loss of rail, some Florida cities are forging ahead with better transit plans.  Plus, it looks like some states want Florida's rejected rail money for their own projects that will reduce our oil dependence and create jobs.

While we know high-speed rail is not the whole solution to transportation or $4 gallon gas, we do know it is part of a plan that moves our country beyond oil.

-- Ann Mesnikoff, Director of the Sierra Club Green Transportation Campaign

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