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Intercity rail still a key part of Orlando airport's grand vision

Over the past few weeks, there's been a lot of discussion about All Aboard Florida, the high-speed passenger rail service designed to link Miami and Orlando.

While most of the conversation centers on how the proposed train might affect communities to our south, it's important to understand this project will greatly benefit Central Florida in many ways. And it's something Orlando International Airport has planned for — and believed in — for decades.

At OIA, integrating intercity rail is a key part of our vision that traces its roots to a master plan developed in 1988. The Greater Orlando Aviation Authority, which operates the airport, has long seen rail service — on the state and local level — as a natural way for a diverse set of travelers to enjoy seamless intermodal connectivity.

Very soon, in fact, the airport anticipates construction of an intermodal terminal, part of which will serve as a hub for All Aboard Florida, SunRail and a new tram that shuttles passengers to flights in the existing north terminal. The hub will even accommodate a light-rail option, like maglev. It's the first stage of a much larger expansion in the works for many years, and we're excited to see it coming to fruition, perhaps as early as 2017.

Federal regulations prohibit OIA — a user-funded enterprise that receives no local tax dollars — from financing the rail hub, even if it shares a connection to the airport. So we're grateful for $213 million in a combined state grant and loan to OIA that covers a portion of the south transportation complex's construction cost — money that will be well spent as we build infrastructure to become the multimodal transportation hub we've long envisioned.

All Aboard Florida, a private conglomerate, will pay a fair-market value of about $2.8 million a year to rent its space at the airport's south terminal. In addition, each high-speed train passenger will pay a $1.50 fee to the airport.

Simply put, All Aboard Florida is not getting a free station in Orlando. In truth, the intermodal hub is being built for the airport, not any specific rail company. In fact, the airport will be required to repay the state the portion of the terminal construction cost to be used by All Aboard Florida. The grant money is in no way tied to All Aboard Florida; instead, it's a culmination of 26 years of independent, strategic planning by OIA.

For Central Floridians, rail service that connects to OIA opens a new world of opportunities. It might mean hopping on SunRail in DeBary to catch a flight to New York. It could also include using the airport to board a 110-mph train to visit South Florida.

With a growing number of international travelers — especially those from countries where high-speed rail is prevalent — the Sunshine State is poised to become an even more attractive destination. A family could fly in to OIA, for example, spend a week visiting our theme parks, local attractions and beaches, take All Aboard Florida to Fort Lauderdale, then ride a taxi to their hotel to enjoy another part of our state.

One vacation. Multiple cities. Three modes of transportation.

When it comes to economic impact, intermodal rail is a wise investment. According to a study by the Washington Economics Group, the All Aboard Florida project alone will create 1,799 jobs in Orange County, with $201.6 million in labor income and $57.4 million in federal, state and local revenue.

Just south of OIA, an 80-acre vehicle maintenance center will be built to service trains operated by All Aboard Florida, which will pay fair-market rent for the land it will lease for this facility.

Going forward, the airport's leadership welcomes input about our rail initiatives. We are the community's airport, and we will strive to keep the public updated on our dynamic role in the rapidly changing transportation landscape.

Thanks to the promise of intercity rail in Florida, we believe OIA — and its 35 million annual passengers — will enjoy world-class connectivity for generations to come.

Phil Brown is executive director of the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority, a seven-member, government-appointed board that operates and manages Orlando International Airport.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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