For many inhabitants of the Tampa Bay area, the dream of living close to downtown shopping centers is often out of reach due to the high cost of housing. But what about rail service in the region? The answer is not as simple as one might think. The Tampa Bay region has 14 light rail stations in Petersburg, FL, but this is not enough for most commuters. With the construction of interstate highways and the conversion of the Sunshine Skyway bridge to meet interstate standards, passenger rail service has been affected as it has become easier to move around the Tampa Bay region by car. In a nutshell, the only train rides available to Tampa Bay residents who want to take a day trip by train are Amtrak from Tampa to Winter Haven, the TECO Line streetcar in downtown Tampa, or a trip at the Florida Railroad Museum. To make rail-based public transportation a viable option for commuters, the TBX needs to be eliminated and the funds should instead be used for constructing and implementing commuter rail and light rail in the Tampa Bay region.
This would include building a new section of Howard Frankland that takes into account rail-based public transport. The typical traveler lives in outlying suburbs and commutes daily to work in the city center. Unfortunately, when Amtrak took over almost the entire passenger rail network in the United States, the passenger service offered by Seaboard Coast Line (the predecessor of CSX) between Tampa and Venice, including Bradenton and Sarasota, was suspended. This was using the same track that the Florida Railroad Museum in Parrish (a small community in Manatee County 35 miles south of Tampa) used for its weekend train trips from Parrish to Willow and vice versa. In comparison, South Florida has alternative modes of transportation thanks to Tri-Rail, its commuter rail system. Bus connections in the three counties of South Florida, in addition to a connection to the Miami-Dade Metrorail at the Tri-Rail Metrorail transfer station, with schedules that coincide between the train and the bus, make getting around South Florida ideal for those who don't own a car. For public rail transport in the Tampa Bay region to be successful, service on weekdays and weekends is essential.
Instead of getting stuck in traffic on Interstate 95 in Miami or Interstate 4 in Orlando at rush hour, residents can take a commuter train to get where they want to go. The implementation of commuter rail and light rail systems in Hillsborough County would provide an efficient and cost-effective way for people to travel around the area. It would also reduce traffic congestion on highways and roads while providing an environmentally friendly alternative for commuters. Additionally, it would create jobs and stimulate economic growth by providing access to new markets and opportunities. The construction of commuter rail systems requires significant investment from both public and private sources. However, with proper planning and execution, it can be an effective way to improve transportation options for residents of Hillsborough County.
It is important that local governments work together with private companies to ensure that these projects are successful.