Florida's governor rejects rail plan to link state's major theme parks
Published: February 16, 2011 at 9:25 AM
The French rail station just outside Disneyland Paris
The newly elected Republican governor is sending back $2.4 billion in federal money to build the rail line, the latest in a string of rejections of federal rail money by Republican governors around the country. The governors of Wisconsin and New Jersey recently rejected federal money for rail projects in their states.
Florida would have been required to put up $280 million in matching money to help pay for the project, but several contractors bidding for the construction work had expressed interest in refunding part of their fees to cover that, if they got the lucrative contract.
The elimination of the project will cost Florida several thousand construction jobs, as well as eliminating what could have been a popular way to move thousands of tourists each day between the airport and the state's major theme parks. Some initial plans for the line would have had it running from the airport to a stop near Universal Orlando and the Orlando convention center, stopping again at Walt Disney World, and continuing on to Tampa, where the line would have ended near Busch Gardens. A midway stop along the I-4 corridor, which would have been within a short bus ride of Legoland Florida, was under discussion, as well.
In a Theme Park Insider vote of the week last year, 46% of visitors to Central Florida who responded replied that they would like to switch to the high-speed train, instead of using rental cars or hotel shuttles to get to their destinations.
While rail isn't part of America's current car culture, intercity rail is popular in Europe. And with The Wizarding World of Harry Potter enticing even more Europeans to consider the already popular Orlando area theme parks, a well-designed rail line could help seal the deal with more European visitors who'd rather not drive American roads, and encourage them to extend their visit to more of the parks along the rail route.
Despite Gov. Scott's rejection, the federal rail money will be spent. Like the rejected New Jersey and Wisconsin money, the cash for the Florida project will go now to California, which is proceeding with its high-speed rail line linking the San Francisco Bay Area with Southern California, a line which eventually will include a stop within walking distance of... Disneyland.