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High-Speed Rail Comes To... Florida?

Whatever happened to all that stimulus money for high-speed rail? It's taken awhile to select projects, but as Streetsblog's Elana Schor reports, the first lucky recipient might finally get picked on Thursday. That's when Obama's expected to announce $2.6 billion in federal funds for a new high-speed line between Tampa Bay and Orlando—a line that could help kick-start a vast new Florida network:

The plan is for the Orlando-Tampa trains to get running by 2014, and, with speeds of up to 120 mph, this would be the first truly high-speed line in the United States. (The Acela in the Northeast doesn't really count, since its tracks prevent the trains from ever reaching their full potential.) And that still leaves $8 billion in stimulus funds for other projects in the Midwest and California.

Meanwhile, there are a few smart criticisms of the Florida line floating around. Yonah Freemark points out that the line won't even extend into downtown Orlando—it'll only get as far as the airport. That's odd, since Orlando's investing in a whole slew of new commuter-rail networks out into the suburbs, and it seems like it would make sense to link these lines together. Instead, the new high-speed line looks like it'll mainly be a tourist train, taking people from Tampa and the airport to Disney World, Sea World, and Universal Studios. In Europe, by contrast, countries like Spain have found that high-speed lines really can boost development around the stations (and create thriving commuter towns outside a major city)—but you have to extend the lines into actual cities to do that.