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Amtrak is ending agreement with state after CSX deal

UPDATED 3:50 p.m. An Amtrak spokeswoman is providing a clearer picture of what the letter below could mean. If the state doesn't strike a deal with Amtrak, it's possible Amtrak would discontinue service on theDeLand to Poinciana track -- the portion the state intends to purchase from CSX . (No changes in service are expected in the next 30 days, however.) As for federal funds for rail, this deal would not impact how the money is disbursed, despite implications in the Amtrak letter. The bottom line: It's just another glitch in the plagued Sun Rail deal.

UPDATED 12:45 p.m.: A letter sent Thursday to DOT Secretary Stephanie Kopelousos puts Florida on notice that Amtrak is terminating the 2008 memorandum of understanding with the state. Without the agreement, Amtrak CEO Joseph Boardman writes that Florida possibly couldn't tap federal commuter rail money.

The problem is the liability clauses in the Sun Rail deal approved by the Legislature in the December special session and later signed by Gov. Charlie Crist. Amtrak raised these issues in a Nov. 30 letter to Kopelousos that went unheeded.

The termination would occur in 30 days if the state can't scurry to cut a deal with Amtrak, which is asking lawmakers to put in legislation an "enforceable, no-fault, indemnity agreement" similar to the one the state made with CSX.

The DOT's agreement with Amtrak on liability issues "preclude FDOT from assuming the indemnity obligations for which CSX is responsible," the letter states.

It's unclear whether this is just a bureaucratic mess or a roadblock that could interrupt commuter traffic in Florida.

But Boardman makes the implications for commuter rail clear:

"Florida has enormous untapped potential for passenger rail service -- high speed, intercity, and commuter -- that has not been realized to date. The Federal government’s unprecedented funding support for passenger rail expansion provides a window of opportunity for translating that potential into reality. For that to happen, Florida must address the statutory and other impediments that have inhibited the development of passenger rail service in Florida, and have precluded Amtrak and FDOT from reaching agreements."