It really wouldn't take a Transportation Genius to look at the proposed High Speed Rail Projects in the Southern United States and decide where the hinge pin is on rail passenger transport. As tempting a target as Atlanta might seem, once one is beyond Atlanta, on any side, they will be dealing with hundreds and hundreds of miles of beautiful tobacco and cotton fields. Regardless of the beauty of the Deep South, cotton and tobacco, don't by train tickets. Just to the South in the Sunshine State there is an equal several hundred miles of semi-urbanized growth. Indeed one could walk from the Alabama State Line, East almost all the way to St. Marks, some 200+ miles and never leave the sight of coastal resorts. Beyond the Panhandle, is Tallahassee, State Capitol, University Center and rapidly growing urban center. From Tallahassee to Jacksonville is about as rural as Florida gets, and even this area is dotted with small cities or large towns bursting at the seams.
Jacksonville, as has been pointed out in several of these articles, holds the keys to the last great railroad Terminal in the Southeast. In fact so great is the opportunity in this hallowed Terminal, it dwarfs anything south of the Ohio River, Washington D.C. or East of Los Angeles. Once the busiest railroad station in the entire world (during the Great Florida Boom of the 1920's) today it slumbers oddly connected to a convention center of much more modest proportions. Plans have been floated to move the Convention Center to the East Side, of the Northbank, of Downtown Jacksonville. A Transportation Center of grand design may well take it's place, bringing with it a return of Amtrak to the heartbeat of the City. Government officials and CSX Railroad have already stated the Southeast High Speed Rail route will extend from the Northeast Corridor to Atlanta and Jacksonville Terminal. The other glaring difference? Atlanta no longer has any significant railway station forcing Georgia into the uncomfortable position of having to blow a hole right in the middle of that metropolis to replace what it once had.
Moving South from Jacksonville, Florida becomes the Florida of legend. The beaches just get whiter and the resorts more plentiful. In fact as the Florida High Speed Rail project continues to focus on the Orlando - Tampa - Miami triangle, hardly an acre of ground from the Jacksonville City Limits 100 miles South to Daytona Beach, isn't already on some mega development map. Names like Palm Coast, Bartram Lakes, Nocatee, Flagler Center and World Golf Village literally cover as much as 10,000 acres each. If Florida High Speed Rail isn't terminated on the Northeast end in Jacksonville, one can easily sense the gridlock that is right around the bend. Miami, Tampa and Jacksonville, combined waste 200 Million hours in traffic each year. Incredible.
So what about Jacksonville, AKA: "America's Logistics Center?" Let's play a little map magic here, and imagine what could be. Perhaps no where else in the entire United States is the opportunity greater to bring 3 distinct High Speed Rail projects into one grand interchange Terminal then right here on the banks of the mighty St. John's River. A station already linked to the core via "The Jacksonville Skyway." a modern monorail system. A station that soon may be linked to the rest of the urban area with Bus, Commuter Rail and vintage streetcars. This is the place where trains or cars from Houston, could meet the trains from New York, and all routes could meet the Florida High Speed Rail Lines.
So what needs to be done?
The Convention Center needs to move out as soon as possible, and reconstruction on the magnificent station's rail facilities started at once. The other Transportation Center components need to start their build out right in front of those 14 massive sandstone columns. Jacksonville and Florida need to get proactive, and create rail synergy. A summit of the 3 HSR planning agency's and every effected station on all 3 lines as well as standard Amtrak service.
So in my crystal ball how likely is this to happen? I'd say just a glance at the map says VERY likely. Will there be 300 MPH trains? Perhaps someday, but in the meanwhile, I expect the bump of new cash being poured into HSR will really end up equalling "HIGHER" speed rail. Read that as "Amtrak on Steroids." Already north of our city between the Folkston Funnel and our current Amshack Station, the trains of Amtrak have no problem on the CSX racetrack, hitting 90 MPH. Maybe that's not your idea of HSR, but it's light years away from what we've seen over the last 35 years. Jacksonville, time to pull our collective heads out, we have been handed this on a golden platter, let's "Get R Done".