Economy Vs. Environment: The Dueling Aspects Of A High-Speed Train Across Florida

Florida is at the center of a revitalized railroad revolution as one company aims to connect the state in high-speed fashion.

Right now Brightline trains can take you between Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. An Orlando station is currently under construction and a proposal for an Orlando-Tampa connection has gained steam.

So why is this so important when trains have been around for what feels like forever? Well, there are the dueling aspects of the economic impact versus environmental hazards.

According to the Real Deal, a real estate news website, South Florida real estate experts agree the high-speed rail system would be transformational for the region. The positive economic impact could be close to $6.4 billion through 2023. That number includes an approximate 10,000 jobs created for its construction, 5,000 post-construction positions and $653 million in tax revenue.

As of December 2018, the Bureau of Labor Statistics states Florida’s unemployment rate is at low 3.3 percent. In a tight labor like the one now, the rail line expands the range potential employees can take in regards to a job opportunity.

The Real Deal quotes Rick Gonzalez, president of REG Architects in West Palm Beach, as saying, “You can now work in downtown Miami and live in Fort Lauderdale or West Palm Beach.”

The train system would also be a boon for Miami and Orlando tourism, as visitors would now have an affordable means of travel between the two vacation destinations. In an online survey conducted by marketing communications agency Percepture, 80 percent of respondents said “yes” to the idea of visiting more cities if they were connected via high-speed train.

But not everyone is convinced the high-speed rail system will be nothing but profits and positivity. One of the chief concerns is potential environmental damage.

Steve Ryan, attorney for Citizens Against Rail Expansion in Florida, believes an accident is waiting to happen between the high-speed rail cars and freight trains carrying hazardous commodities sharing the same tracks.

“There’s very dangerous things on those trains, and they’re proposing to do a ballet where 32 passenger trains, traveling as high as 110 mph, are going to be weaving in and out of the slower moving freight trains,” he was quoted as saying in the Guardian News.

Another contentious point is the idea that more cars would be off the road. Ryan’s group rejects Brightline’s notion that 3 million vehicles would stop taking Florida’s highways. His reasoning is that the group asked for a $1.6 billion loan in case private funding fell through.

“If the market believed it, they would have been able to obtain the money in the private sector to do this, and wouldn’t need government subsidies and bonds,” he told the Guardian.

However, billionaire investor Jeff Greene believes Millennials could be the driving force behind taking vehicles off the road because “they’ve opted for a simpler life oriented toward mass transit.” And Harvey Oyer, a real estate lawyer in West Palm that roadway options are finite and commuters will transition to train transportation.

The debate will rage on as the Orlando station isn’t set to open until at least 2021.