Tampa: Lightning Strikes Frequent and a Train Roils Residents

A Town car picked me up at the airport in Tampa and as we crossed a bridge to turn onto an expressway, we saw a towering black column of a rainstorm, hovering like an apparition above the coast in the distance. “That’s my golf club over there,” the driver told me. “My golfing buddies are getting soaked.” He said that the thunderstorms are fierce here, and frequent. “It’s the second worst place for storms on earth.”

Two people in Tampa have died in recent months from lightning strikes. “One guy, they found him with his shoes all black on the bottoms, dead” the driver added. I picked up a copy of the local newspaper, the Tampa Bay Times, and read a story about a controversial plan to build a train from Orlando all the way down the east coast to Miami. The All Aboard Florida trains would use tracks last used in 1968, and built by tycoon Henry Flagler. But the plan is being fought all up and down the coast, especially in Martin County, where trains would in some cases block bridges that allow boats to travel under roads. And the trains won’t even stop in Martin County since there are not enough passengers there. Thirty-two trains would run beginning in 2016 between Miami and Orlando with stops in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach.

The governor here, Rick Scott famously rejected federal funds a few years ago from the Obama administration to fund high speed rail between Tampa and Orlando, and now he’s embracing this semi-private plan that calls for a $1 billion private sector investment but also asks for a $1.5 billion loan to be constructed. All up and down the coast, people are angrily writing letters to Gov. Scott begging him to stop promoting the train. They get an infuriating automatic email saying that “the state has no involvement in this railway,” which makes them even madder.

This is a state that can truly benefit from having an alternative to cars, ask anyone who has sat in Miami or Tampa’s traffic. But it will take a very convincing series of meetings and the public comment period is being extended to 75 days. It might take a miracle to see these 110 mph trains replace the cars that dominate the Sunshine State.