Two firms studying potential ridership for the now-cancelled Tampa-to-Orlando high-speed rail line concluded separately that the system would have been profitable by its first year, according to preliminary data released in early March by the Florida Dept. of Transportation.
According to the findings, the $2.7-billion system would have generated $62.9 million in revenue in 2015, its first year of operation, along with an estimated $10.24 million in profit. By its 10th year of operation, the latest estimates indicated $91.75 million in revenue and $28.6 million in profit.
Though the study is not yet complete, FDOT presented the preliminary data to Gov. Rick Scott (R) in mid-February. Gov. Scott announced his rejection of federal funding for the project on Feb. 16. The governor’s office did not respond to a request to comment on the new data.
Two of FDOT’s high-speed rail consultants, Wilbur Smith Associates of Columbia, S.C., and international consulting firm Steer Davies Gleave, conducted the study, which is still being finalized for completion by mid-April. Both firms were part of the program management team hired by the Florida Rail Enterprise, a division of FDOT, to oversee the state’s rail program, says Nazih Haddad, chief operating officer of the FRE. The two firms conducted their research independently.
Since the project has been terminated, the study is now being finalized for delivery to the Federal Railroad Administration and the U.S. Dept. of Transportation, which funded the report, says Haddad. The new data represents an update of research conducted in 2009 for Florida’s application for federal funding for the project. Wilbur Smith Associates and AECOM conducted the previous study.
Haddad says the firms repeated the methodology of the 2009 study, including using questionnaires and surveys administered at proposed station locations, such as Orlando International Airport, to gauge market interest in the proposed high-speed rail system.
According to the results, more people were expressing a preference for riding high-speed rail. The latest estimates indicate a sharp increase in both ridership and revenue, compared to the 2009 study results. The current data projects 3.3 million riders in the first year, based upon an average of each firm’s estimate. That figure was approximately 37% higher than the corresponding estimate in the 2009 study, which forecast 2.4 million riders.
Likewise, ticket revenue projections for the first year of operation jumped from the 2009 estimate of $48.5 million to nearly $60.8 million. By the 10th year of the line’s operation, the new studies estimated $88.2 million in ticket revenue, compared to the $65.4 million forecast in the 2009 report. The new estimates pegged ridership in the 10th year at nearly 4.5 million, compared to the 3.2 million forecast two years ago.