President Obama, the high speed rail network & Disney

President Obama yesterday unveiled his administration’s blueprint for a new national network of high-speed passenger rail lines as was widely reported on US as well as international media. However, most of the reports just covered the rough plans and included the offical map as also placed next to President Obama during his presentation. That map – unfortunately, however understandable as it had to show off the lines in all off continental – didn’t allow to identify all off the cities that would be served by the high speed rail network. So the question from the point of view of The Walt Disney Company certainly must have been: what about the high speed rail lines proposed and discussed earlier in the vincinity of the two US-Disney Resorts?

The good news: both resorts would be more or less “served” by the new network!

Let’s start with the “big” winner: Orlando. In the past various high speed train lines had been porposed in Florida, most notably a line connecting Tampa Bay with the Orlando area. That one was to include stops at the Orlando airport and ine one concept also the Walt Disney World Resort – perfect for tourists. Albeit, the already approved concept was repealed by voters in 2004.

Now thanks to Obama’s plan the project might finally move ahead. Obama’s plan includes two high speed rail lines in Florida: the shorter one connecting Tampa Bay with Orlando and then a longer lines between Orlando and South Florida (notably: Miami). As the plans are very general on the current national level (which is more concerned about the financing via $8 billion for improvements in rail service in the stimulus pland and a proposed separate five-year, $5 billion investment as part of the administration’s suggested fiscal year 2010 budget), there are no details yet, whether the high speed train would stop at the Orlando airport and / or close to the resort. However, it would make sense for the operators due to the high passenger potential of these. For guests of the resort this would mean: a quick day trip to Miami and the Everglades or Tampa and its beaches (as well as its Busch Gardens Africa theme park) could then be made without a car. For the resort it would mean that locals from a much larger area could stop by for a one day visit – as long as train tickets are affordable priced.

In addition the high speed train system could also become a viable (affordable?) option for guests to travel to the resort from all over the east coast! As the map shows with the exception of a short segment between Orlando and the northern border of Florida (on which regular trains would operate) the high speed train system would run the full length of the east coast – so guests could travel by high speed train nearly all the way from, say, NYC to WDW. As flying due to security checks and excessive tag-on-fees becomes not only more and more of a hassle but also more and more expensive such high speed rail network could very well become a major element supporting the resort. Hence, from today’s point of view WDW (and with it Orlando) could become one of the big winners of the system – always assuming decent pricing certainly.

With that on to the other, the original Disney resort in the US: Disneyland Resort Anaheim, California. Here the plans for a high speed rail system had been moving forward more recently already anyway. Two (or depending on how you qualify them three) connections had been discussed recently here already: a shorter line between the Anaheim area and Las Vegas and a longer line between the Anaheim area and San Francisco. The great news for the Disneyland Resort here is that not Los Angeles but Anaheim would be the hub. However, according to earlier reports the hub would be located such that passengers would still require further transportation to get to the resort itself. However, that should be a minor thing, shouldn’t it?

The San Francisco line would be great (similar to the Miami line in Florida for WDW) to expand the “local” market for Disneyland (San Francisco shure is not a local market right now, but could very well become one reasonable pricing for rail tickets assumed) and would also be nice for tourists  (and Disney fans who could easily combine a visit to the original Disneyland Resort Anaheim with a visit to the Disney Family museum to open in San Francisco this year). The short Las Vegas line would be of importance in particular for tourists – especially international tourists seem to be frequently interested in combining these two famous land marks of the western US in one trip. However, Obama’s plan does NOT include that shorter line at this time. On the other hand included is the line connecting the Anaheim area with San Francisco and also further down south Anaheim with San Diego, as well as short line between San Francisco and Sacramento and another long line between the Anaheim area and Sacramento (state capital). Great news for guests as well as the Disneyland Resort!

It is worth noting, that the non-exclusion of a line (such as the Anaheim – Las Vegas line) does not mean that the line is not going to be constructed. However, only lines included in the administration’s plan are eglibile to receive money out of the according pots of the stimulus package. In any case dont’ expect the high speed rail lines to open in a couple of months. The high speed rail line between Anaheim and San Francisco already under consideration and preparation in California before President Obama unveiled the national plan would take about 10 years to build – at a cost of approximately $34 billion, which do not include the connection between San Francisco and Sacramento as well as Anaheim and San Diego, that were included as later phases in the California projects as well. Note again that amount: §34 billion for just ONE line in California not all lines in California or all lines in the new national plan.

As stated above right now the stimulus plan has earmarked §8 billion for rail investments and President Obama has proposed another §5 billion via the administration’s budget spread out over 5 years. Easy math, isn’t it? In other words: that money is just a small drop into the huge, currently still empty bucket need to pay for the national high speed rail network. So we need to wait and see if, when and which lines will eventually become reality. According to press reports the White House stated that the funds will be used for three different steps in fostering the creation of the newotrk: first to upgrade projects already approved and only in need of funding (“short term); second to finance high-speed rail planning and third a commitment to help in the execution of the earlier created rail plans when the stimulus funds are long spent (“long term”).

According to the same press report in the USA Today Transportation Department officials also claimed that about six proposed high spped lines stand a good chance to receive funds out as they already obtained federal approval prior to the plan being drafted. The press report mentions that these include lines in Texas, the Chicago region, a southeast line through North Carolina and Louisiana as well as a Florida project. So good news for Walt Disney World. However, even so not mentioned in that report the Californian line between Anaheim and San Francisco might become reality rather sooner than later as well, as voters already approval of nearly $10 billion of bonds for the project. So good news for Disneyland as well. Just don’t expect to board either of the trains next year.

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2 Responses to “President Obama, the high speed rail network & Disney”

  1. John Frost Says:

    Great Article,

    The Snow White to Sin City line has been proposed to be partially private financed, so that’s a check in its favor, but I’m sure Disneyland Resort officials would prefer the Purple Haze to Alice in Wonderland Express be built first.

    The trouble with the Florida project is that residents first voted for the bullet train, then on Gov. Bush’s urging, voted it down. So we look wishy washy. Additionally this years legislature is doing the procrastination dance (again) with central Florida commuter rail. If that was approved and under way already, the Orlampa bullet train proposal would look a lot stronger.

    As it is the Orlampa route has some advantages. $30 million has been spent to prepare for the project. The general track layout and station location study has already been done, as have most environmental studies. That cuts 2-years off the project time right there. Plus the estimated cost is only $1.2 billion, one of the cheaper routes on Obama’s map (it’s pretty much flat and straight, so that keeps the cost down).

    Let’s hope those two projects get the greenlight, and soon.

  2. Dirk v. Diringshofen Says:

    Hi John,

    thanks for the kind words on the article.

    Regarding the various high speed rail lines in California: it will be interesting to see whether the lines included in the Obama concept move ahead of the Anaheim – Las Vegas line despite the private financing for the latter which you mention. I agree that the “Purple Haze to Alice in Wonderland Express” most probably is more interesting to Disney. The one thing that really surprised me in the conceptual map of lines presented by Obama was that (as far as I read the map) it included an Anaheim San Francisco and an Anaheim Sacramento line plus the San Francisco Sacramento line. Why that? The two lines running north from Anaheim are both very long. Wouldn’t it make more sense to have just the Anaheim San Fransisco Sacramento line??

    What you mention regarding the “Orlampa route” in Florida sounds promising as well. In particular the fact that the track layout and the station location study are done. Just based on the experience with high speed rail lines here in Germany the bickering over which cities along the a route will actually receive a station (and thus a stop) is one of the political things that drag the planning process out for a rather long time. I fear especially routes through rather densly populated areas such as the coastal route in California will run into this delay as well – afterall every major would love to get a stop to bring in additional guests for its businesses but each stop slows down the train / lengthens the ride from the start to the end point.

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