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High speed rail ridership study shows line would have had operating surplus

An updated ridership study released Wednesday shows that the high speed rail line connecting Tampa to Orlando would have had a $10.2 million operating surplus in 2015, its first year of operation, and a $28.6 million surplus in its 10th year. A 2009 study showed the line would not have seen a surplus until 2021.

The study shows the line would have had 3.3 million riders in its first year. The previous analysis predicted the line would have had 2.4 million riders in 2015.

Gov. Rick Scott cited concerns about operating losses when he decided to kill construction of the project by rejecting $2.4 billion in federal money to build the line. He said he made the decision last month based on a verbal review of the ridership study, as well as documents provided by the libertarian Reason Foundation and the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. Scott said he feared the 84-mile line would be a burden to Florida taxpayers, even though private vendors had indicated they would be willing to cover any operating losses or construction cost overruns, and federal officials said Florida would not have to repay the $2.4 billion if the project failed.

Thad Altman, a Republican Senator from Melbourne who unsuccessfully fought Scott's decision in the Supreme Court, said he doubts an earlier release of the ridership study would have made a difference to the Governor.

"His conclusion was political, not based on economics, good business or even protecting the taxpayers," Altman said. "As time passes and more information comes out, you can see the injustice that was done to the state of Florida." 

U.S. Department of Transportation secretary Ray LaHood is expected to announce by the end of the week which states will receive Florida's money. According to an attorney for the governor, Florida had already spent about $110 million on the project when Scott announced that he did not want to go forward with it.