Anyone who’s driven from Tampa to Orlando and back knows that it’s not necessarily a long drive, less than two hours each way. The real challenge, all Central Florida motorists know, is that Interstate 4 can get pretty congested, and your drive can get slow … and then slower at times.
Now imagine you make the trip from Tampa to Orlando, only there’s no traffic congestion, no car backups – in fact, no cars at all. The trip isn’t along Interstate 4, the main highway between the two cities.
If the details can be worked out, residents of these Central Florida cities could soon be keeping their cars in the driveway and instead taking a train back and forth – and a high speed one at that.
The Florida Department of Transportation is now in negotiations with a private firm about creating a high speed train to Tampa from Orlando, courtesy of a private offer the state received to build the train line from Brightline, a privately-run passenger-rail service now operating in South Florida.
If all goes as planned and the trains are operating by 2021, it could offer a real transportation boost to both cities, making it much easier for residents and tourists alike to visit both of these popular tourism cities.
Who Proposed Building This New High Speed Train to Tampa?
The proposal would be an extension of Brightline, the high-speed train developed by All Aboard Florida, a subsidiary of Florida East Coast Industries. Brightline opened for passenger service between Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach in January, and in May there was an extension south to Miami.
While Central Florida already has train service provided by the Amtrak line and from SunRail, a commuter rail line that runs through four counties around the Orlando area, Brightline is the only privately owned and operated passenger railroad in the United States.
The proposed train between Tampa and Orlando would be an extension of the service now running between Miami and West Palm Beach. Brightline submitted a bid to build the tracks along Interstate 4, leasing land owned by the state and the Central Florida Expressway Authority.
Patrick Goddard, president and COO of Brightline, issued a press statement noting that he was excited about the possibility of an extension into Tampa.
Brightline already is building a rail line that will run from Miami to Orlando, stopping at a terminus at Orlando International Airport.
Right now, the project is on hold because FDOT decided to see if other companies are interested in constructing an Orlando to Tampa route, so FDOT and the Central Florida Expressway Authority put out a bid for the project, with the proposals due in four months.
It’s expected that this project would be completely funded by the private sector.
If Brightline gets chosen, Tampa Bay residents could expect something similar to the trains they now operate around Miami. Brightline offers express service that lets passengers travel from downtown Miami to downtown Fort Lauderdale in a half hour, and Miami to West Palm Beach in 60 minutes.
The trains give patrons 32-inch-wide aisles, wide windows, and free Wi-Fi with convenient plug sockets. In coach seating, there’s one “Select” and three “Smart” coaches. The select coaches have 21-inch-wide seats and complimentary beverages and snacks, while the smart coaches feature 19-inch-wide seats.
Also available on these trains are luggage towers, bike racks, pet carriers and restrooms with a touchless flush facility.
How Would This Benefit Tampa Bay?
At the moment, a lot of the details on this project are not known, including how many stops the train line would have, where the stations would be, and the cost to ride the trains.
But it could become a major boon for the Tampa Bay area. Think of it this way: if you live in Tampa, suddenly you can catch a high-speed train to Orlando’s Amway Center for a basketball game or concert, and still make it back at a reasonable hour.
And Orlando residents could just as quickly get to Tampa to enjoy a Lightning or Rays games.
Brightline could also be a big enticement for the tourism industry in both cities, since visitors could enjoy Tampa Bay’s beaches or the fun at Busch Gardens, and then just as quickly head over to Orlando’s theme parks like Disney World. Suddenly, it’s no longer necessary to pick between the two when you’re vacationing here.
And best of all: trains would help get commuters off Interstate 4, and the risk of driving straight into the congestion clog that far too many highways are known for.
And it offers more commuting options to the residents of Tampa Bay, which does have some public transportation available today.
That includes the TECO Line Streetcar that provides a connection between historic Ybor City and Channelside Bay Plaza, the core of the dining, shopping and entertainment in downtown Tampa.
There are also more than 200 buses serving the Tampa Bay area, and the Amtrak trains come to Tampa Union Station.
Still, getting out of the city means braving the highways, and the high-speed train is likely to become a very appealing option for anyone who’d prefer to leave their car at home and not take their chances on the highways.
Tampa Bay is among the nation’s 30 largest metro areas and has a thriving tourism base. Florida set a new tourism record in 2017 with 116.5 million visitors, while Tampa and St. Pete showed big increases as well.
Visit Tampa Bay reported that Tampa and Hillsborough County experienced a massive jump in hotel revenue in 2017, with more than $644 million in taxable hotel revenue and a record $32.3 million in tourist development (bed) taxes.
In Pinellas County, the beaches continued to draw big numbers as well.
Tampa International Airport also saw record passenger numbers of 19,624,284, and the airport added 22 new flights in 2017.
Between the beaches, the theme parks like Busch Gardens, the historic locations like Ybor City and the nightlife and cultural attractions in downtown Tampa and St. Petersburg, the region has a lot to offer visitors.
A high speed train to Tampa that could take people all the way from either Orlando or Miami is likely to make the Central Florida tourism experience even more appealing — and could boost those visitor numbers in the future.
And for residents of Tampa Bay, being able to get around more quickly without risking traffic congestion will also make living here even more enjoyable.
The addition of a high-speed train could also become a major boost for the region’s housing market. If the prospect of living, working and playing in the Tampa Bay continues to appeal to newcomers, then that will mean a lot more people relocating to the Tampa area, and in need of a home.
Tampa Bay already has a winning combination right now of a strong economy, more commercial development in downtown Tampa, and a healthy and vibrant housing market.
That’s a key reason why so many people are moving here in search of new opportunities and an exciting lifestyle. A high-speed train would likely make this area even more attractive as a permanent home.
Those newcomers will need someplace to live, and it helps that builders like Domain Homes are constructing new houses here.
Domain Homes procures older, dilapidated houses in some of the city’s most appealing neighborhoods, and replaces them with brand new, move-in ready homes.
The neighborhoods that Domain Homes builds in include highly sought-after, established neighborhoods like South Tampa, West Tampa, North Hyde Park, the Heights, and St. Petersburg. These locations are close to the top-rated school districts, the downtown cultural amenities and shopping, and to the jobs centers.