by Jeff Smith
Tampa Bay Online
Next commuter rail concept: share tracks with freight trains
Tampa remains trainless — alone with Detroit among major U.S. metropolitan areas — but local planners now think they might have a workable concept that differs from both light rail and SunRail's heavy commuter trains powered by diesel locomotives.
"The time for light rail in Tampa may be over," said Ray Chiaramonte, executive director of the Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization and the Hillsborough City-County Planning Commission. "We are looking for lower-cost ways to start rail transit, like Austin, Texas and San Diego."
For the past two years, MPO planners have quietly researched the possibility of a pilot project for a Diesel Multiple Unit train — a heavier version of light rail used in Texas, California, Oregon and New Jersey — to link the University of South Florida and downtown Tampa.
The plan would cost $20 million to $40 million a mile compared with more than $60 million a mile for light rail.
That's because the trains meet Federal Railroad Administration safety guidelines, enabling them to share freight train tracks. Light rail doesn't.