ORLANDO, Fla. -- Two options are emerging as likely routes for possible future high-speed travel between Orlando and Tampa.

  • Possibe routes emerge for high-speed rail between Tampa, Orlando
  • Brightline submits bid to lay tracks between sister cities
  • Could make 1.5-hour car ride into 45 minute train ride

State Sen. Linda Stewart (D-Orlando) says any future high-speed expansion is expected to originate at Orlando International Airport's new intermodal terminal.

Service to Tampa will then likely run parallel to either State Road 528 or State Road 417 as connectors to Interstate 4.

I-4 will be used as the primary link from Orange County to Tampa.

The promise is to turn an approximately 1.5-hour car drive into a 45-minute train ride.

"We've got to look at that route and see where we can go," Stewart said.

Where the final route will go and where a station in Tampa will be built has yet to be determined.

Stewart says a new study will have to be conducted to determine the feasibility of high-speed travel for the route and which method works, pointing to various environmental challenges along the I-4 corridor.

"In certain areas where we can't be on the ground, we're going to have to bridge over, where there are rivers or streams or lakes, so there's a lot to consider before we move forward," Stewart said.

Additionally, Stewart says some past right-of-way options no longer exist, and there is no determination of where in Tampa a station could be built.

This is a renewed effort in the face of a 2012 decision by Gov. Rick Scott, who turned down $2 billion in federal funds that would have created a rail system between Tampa and Orlando.

"Everybody was pretty excited about it," Stewart said. "We had hoped for high-speed rail that would be 200 mph."

Stewart says those dashed dreams are alive again.

Brightline parent company All Aboard Florida is getting an early start by submitting an unsolicited bid to lay tracks for high-speed service between the sister cities.

In the past year, private rail service Brightline launched a route linking West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami. Work is underway to extend the link from West Palm Beach, north to Orlando with a stop at the intermodal station at Orlando International Airport.

The total project for service between Orlando and South Florida is an estimated $3 billion.

Brightline hopes to win a bid to allow it to expand the service in the future from Orlando to Tampa.

However, the company is not alone, according to Stewart.

"I've heard of four," Stewart said. "We have new technology and new people on the block wanting to make a bid."

Existing planned Brightline service between Orlando and South Florida is expected to begin at the intermodal station at OIA in 2020. Stewart says she thinks any high-speed travel service between Orlando and Tampa is likely to come after that.

Past studies predict eventual high-speed service between Orlando and Tampa would carry as many as five million passengers per year.

It is a project that Stewart says is still years in the making but years behind from where it should be.

"Tampa has a lot in common with Central Florida; we have the businesses, we have the arts," Stewart said.