Rail system proposals draw lots of feedback

By Robert Trigaux, Times Columnist

Published Monday, August 24, 2009

Should Hillsborough County commit to a regional light rail system and a high-speed rail system connecting Tampa to Orlando, one but not the other — or none of the above?

That's the debate under way in Hillsborough, with implications for all the Tampa Bay region. If Hillsborough makes the plunge, you can bet the remaining Tampa Bay counties will likely follow. I explored some of these issues in Sunday's column in the Times Business section, and the e-mail feedback has been vigorous. That's a good thing, given the big decisions ahead.

Here's a sample, evenly split at this point, between "without it, we're a backwater" and "what a colossal waste of money":

• "Tampa is perfect for a combination of light rail, high-speed rail and regional trains connected by buses. Go to Europe and see how a city like Vienna is linked by trams/trolleys that stop every half mile or so." — Robert T. Grimste, lieutenant colonel, U.S. SOCOM, Tampa.

• "A quick look at cities that have such rail systems will convince you that traffic hasn't been helped at all. It's gotten worse, and to take advantage of this inflexible transportation system you must move to an apartment near a station and have a job near a station." — James Klapper, Oldsmar.

• "Since this all cannot be done simultaneously, we might want to get started on one system (Orlando to Tampa?) and use a European model at the hubs. When we were in Milan recently, we noticed block-long bike racks with credit-card release mechanisms to allow anyone to 'borrow' and use a bike and then lock it up at another rack that is conveniently sited. … These kinds of programs would allow rail commuters to easily get to specific parts of town, once they leave the train." — Hal Freedman, St. Petersburg.

I'll share more feedback here and online (blogs.tampabay.com/venture) as the great rail debate grows.

• • •

Come on, Dick. Tell us what you really think. Dick Bove, the Rochdale Securities bank industry analyst based in Lutz, told CNBC he expects 150 to 200 more U.S. banks to fail in the current banking crisis.

So far this year, 81 banks have failed nationwide. What's compelling about Bove's insight is how more bank failures will affect the banking industry left standing. "The cost of covering those failures will be extraordinarily high for the healthy banks," Bove told CNBC.

Healthy banks may have to set aside 25 percent of earnings next year to pay for the failed banks, Bove said. In turn, that will force the FDIC, as the insurer of bank deposits, to rely more on foreign banks and private equity funds to shore up the banking system.

• • •

Former Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce CEO Kim Scheeler turns 55 this Tuesday and celebrates his first anniversary as the head of the Greater Richmond Chamber in Virginia. Based on a story in Monday's Richmond Times-Dispatch, Scheeler's built a reputation as a good leader although the chamber has lost members in the past year. Don't forget that Scheeler arrived in Richmond just as the economy began to falter and the stock market began its descent.

Robert Trigaux can be reached at trigaux@sptimes.com.


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