Morning must-read: High-speed rail would have been profitable, state report says

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The high-speed rail project that Gov. Rick Scott doomed last February by turning down more than $2 billion in federal money would have made an annual surplus of $31 million to $45 million within a decade of operation, according to a state report.

The Florida Department of Transportation sent the report to the Federal Railroad Administration in November. The Tampa Tribune obtained the document after a lengthy public records request.

The heart of the report is an analysis by two consulting firms of projected ridership, costs and the resulting surplus – or loss. If the project to link Tampa and Orlando would have gone forward, the research would have been used in determining an investment grade for bond sales.

According to data from both consulting firms hired by the state, the project, which would have given Florida the nation’s first high-speed rail line, would have been a fiscally sound decision.

The firm of Steer, Davis, Gleave projected Tampa-Orlando ridership of 2.5 million and a $9.1 million deficit in 2016, the first year of operation. By 2026, though, the high-speed rail would be carrying nearly 5 million passengers a year and generate an annual surplus of $31.1 million, according to the firm.

The projection by Wilbur Smith Associates was even rosier. The firm estimated 3.6 million riders in 2016, producing a $17.6 million operating surplus. By 2026, Florida’s high-speed rail would carry more than 5 million riders and produce a $44.8 million surplus, according to its analysis.

The state used the information from the two consultants to come up with a midrange estimate: 3 million passengers and $4.3 million surplus in the first year, and a ridership of nearly 5 million and an annual surplus of $38 million by 2026.

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Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.