Should the SunRail Bill be De-railed??

Tomorrow during the special session, the Florida House of Representatives will be voting on the SunRail bill.  And while there are a lot of Florida citizens who are saying, “It’s about time!”, they are some that are not so sure.

The SunRail project proposes a Central Florida commuter train and high-speed rail that will connect Orlando to Tampa and Miami.  Until now, the only commuter train could be found connects the Northeastern United States to Orlando was Amtrack’s auto-train, leaving the rest of the state to find its own way around.

Failing last year to pass, the bill is back with a few changes.  The most obvious is the change in liability.  Better explained is in an article from the

 A key part of the agreement would shield CSX from having to pay damages to commuter-rail passengers after a collision, even if CSX was at fault. CSX would be responsible for injuries or losses sustained by its employees or property.

Supporters describe the arrangement as a “no-fault” system.

One of the revisions in the new bill would force CSX to pay up to $10 million if an accident is caused by “willful misconduct” of a company employee or if punitive damages are awarded against the company.

That is designed to ease concerns, for example, that a CSX employee could become intoxicated and cause a crash with a commuter train. Without the revision, CSX would not have been financially responsible for the state’s losses or injuries to commuters.

The bill leaves a lot to be concerned about.  For one, the supporters of the bill promise that a total of 250,000 jobs will come from this effort.  But what you are not being told is that these numbers are made up of not only workers of the rail, but also the waitress who serves the coffee and the kid who delivers the pizza during the lunch hour. In a perfect world, it would be nice to have that many jobs come from this project.  But it is foolish to make a claim that you are providing that many jobs when all you are doing is providing “the opportunity” for those jobs.  It’s a lot like taking credit for saving a person’s life, when all you did was donate $5.00 to the charity.

Last week an amendment was submitted that would require 85% of the jobs be Florida jobs, but it failed miserably. It makes you wonder why this was seen as necessary by some.  Maybe it is becasue the language of the bill does not preclude the opportunity for a no-bid process.  There is no guarantee that the project will not be given away to some lucky company who will then own and operate the project. Right now an obvious contender would be the Korean Rail company who is currently building the Honam High-speed Railway and is scheduled for completion in 2014. Very much like the Solar Field in Desoto county where many of the people were brought in from out of state and the solar panels were made in the Philippines.  While I appreciate the effort towards renewable energy, it would have been really nice to have hired Floridians to work the entire project.  Now the project has done, most of the workers have flown back home.

Another issue of the bill is the huge amount of money that is slated for the project. The numbers were crunched at a time when properties were appraised at a higher value than they are now.  Since the value of the homes have gone down, so have the property taxes that will support this project.  In a time where everyone is hurting, it would be nice if this project was everything that they say it will be.

It looks like the bill has a good chance of passing tomorrow in the Florida House of Representatives and then it will move onto the Florida Senate.  My advice to everyone is to take a close look at the bill and start asking questions. If it is not the bill that is being promised, then you have a chance to make it better in the Senate.  Governor Crist has come out in support of this bill and he wants it to happen.  If this bill has legs in the Senate and we don’t make sure that the necessary changes are made, then we might as well stay a home an lick our wounds….because Florida will be hitching a ride on a train since they won’t be able to afford the ticket.

You can follow it here: HB-1B Transportation Bill

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