Private firms eyeing passenger rail in Florida, Texas, Nevada, and California

By Eric Sunquist

While most attention has been focused on public efforts to improve U.S. passenger rail, private firms are also developing at least three intercity rail projects.

Probably the most advanced of these is in Florida, where All Aboard Florida (AAF) plans Miami-Orlando service starting in 2014. The service will operate mostly on tracks owned by the AAF’s parent company, Florida East Coast Industries.

AAF says the Orlando-Miami trip will take about three hours, about an hour less than the time it takes to drive. Multiple trains will be scheduled throughout the day.

In August, AAF unveiled plans for a downtown Miami station and mixed-use development. The firm plans to terminate Orlando trains at that city’s airport. Intermediate stops will include Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach; the company says it is also eying extensions to Tampa and Jacksonville.

AAF estimates the cost of beginning service at $1 billion.

Last year, Florida Gov. Rick Scott famously turned away $2.4 billion in federal assistance to connect Tampa and Orlando with high-speed rail.

Meanwhile, in Texas, a group with ties to the Central Japan Railway Co. is looking for investors to pony up $10 billion, in order to launch 205-mph passenger service between Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston. The group hopes to start service in 2020.

“We are not the traditional state-run railroad,” said Robert Eckels, the company’s president and a former Harris County judge, according to The Texas Tribune. “This is designed to be a profitable high-speed rail system that will serve the people of these two great cities and in between and, ultimately, the whole state of Texas.”

And in the West, where California’s north-south high-speed rail project is proceeding following a July vote in the Legislature, a private firm is planning an east-west route, from the Los Angeles area to Las Vegas.

The service, Xpress West, has applied for a loan of $5.5 billion from the federal Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing program. It would also raise $1.4 billion in private capital. The service would operate largely in the I-15 corridor, using 150-mph all-electric trains.

Eric Sundquist is Managing Director at SSTI.