Miami-based Virgin Trains USA presented additional info to the Central Florida Expressway Authority this week for its $4 billion Orlando-to-Miami route and proposed alignments for its Phase 3 Orlando-to-Tampa route.
According to the Orlando Business Journal “Proposed paths for the Tampa line include a potential connection to the Orange County Convention Center, which would add extra cost to the project, along with eight additional miles on Interstate 4 to connect to Tampa.
The other proposed alignment would go from below the airport and down to Interstate 4 near the State Road 417 corridor, which Virgin representatives said makes more business sense for them because of the lower cost and less distance required on the I-4 right of way.
“We are a private business looking to build these connections as smartly and affordably as we can, so the economics of looking at those two alternatives really jump out on this slide,” Virgin Trains USA’s Adrian Share, executive vice president of rail infrastructure, said during the meeting. “We looked at going out of the north, and there was an additional $500 million to $600 million in elevated structure we would need to construct along State Road 528 to the convention center.”
In response to the proposal, Orange County Commissioner Betsy VanderLey raised multiple concerns about the train not reaching the convention center with the south alignment if that is selected.
“I think to Commissioner VanderLey’s point, it seems like a big miss not to be able to serve the convention center and the I-Drive corridor,” CFX board Chairman Jay Madara said. “That feels like it would be the maximum impact in terms of ridership for the community.”
Other proposed train lines have previously attempted to get to the convention center directly. Georgia-based American Maglev Technology Inc. once proposed a $400 million Maglev elevated magnetic-levitation passenger train system as a connection from the airport to the Orange County Convention Center. That project no longer is being pursued.
Meanwhile, Share said in response to the potential for a Virgin Trains stop near the theme parks that they are in early talks with local businesses, but that the location was far from finalized yet. VanderLey said that local hoteliers told her they would prefer the potential attractions stop not to favor one theme park over another. The train line notably highlighted Walt Disney World as a potential stop in previous materials.
As for the right of way negotiations for Tampa, the rail line is currently going through an environmental re-evaluation process related to the National Environmental Policy Act, which Share said would be a nine to 12-month process with the Federal Railroad Administration. Virgin is also currently negotiating the two agreements for the Tampa right of way with the Florida Department of Transportation and CFX.
Construction for the 167-mile stretch from Orlando to West Palm Beach had already begun site work in May, with the first two phases underway. The company said phases 3 and 4, which include 35 miles of track from Orlando International Airport to Cocoa and the final stretch of track to West Palm Beach will begin “imminently.”
Phase 2 is expected to create 10,000 jobs and generate $650 million in state, federal and local tax revenue. Construction of the entire project is expected to take 36 months and be completed in 2022. The train line is set to have a celebratory groundbreaking at Orlando International Airport for Phase 2 on June 24.