Fast-rail funds not Florida governor’s cup of tea

WASHINGTON (Kyodo) Florida Gov. Rick Scott said Wednesday he will reject federal money for a high-speed rail project, likely sinking Japan’s chance of selling shinkansen technology to the state.

The expected cancellation of Florida’s railway plan is not only a blow to the Barack Obama administration but also to Central Japan Railway Co. (JR Tokai), which had planned to bid for the project, as well as to Japanese transport officials with high hopes of exporting shinkansen technology.

The announcement by the fiscally conservative governor came after Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara swung by Florida last month to pitch the bullet-train system to Scott.

His state’s high-speed project had been going forward at the fastest pace in the U.S.

“We are extremely disappointed because we have steadily proceeded with preparations to bid for this project,” JR Tokai said in a statement.

JR Tokai operates the key shinkansen service linking Tokyo and Osaka.

The carrier said it will continue to monitor developments in the United States, focusing attention on a rail project linking Los Angeles and Las Vegas, and other projects in Texas and the Midwest.

“We never expected such an announcement would come because we thought considerations would be made after much time is spent,” said Ambassador to the U.S. Ichiro Fujisaki.

“We can’t give it up,” said an official at the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry. “Along with the Foreign Ministry, we would like to urge reconsiderations be made.”

The government has made a priority out of the Florida project, which envisaged using track specifications similar to those of JR Tokai.

“We thought it was the most feasible route as the amount of subsidies from the federal government will be big and risks to the state are small,” the transport ministry official said.

Scott, elected Jan. 4 with the backing of the tea party movement, has said more than once that the railway plan runs counter to his policy of smaller government and would be a drain on taxpayers.

“The truth is that this project would be far too costly to taxpayers and I believe the risk far outweighs the benefits,” Scott said in a statement. “President Obama’s high-speed rail program is not the answer to Florida’s economic recovery.”

Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood expressed disappointment with Scott’s decision, suggesting the federal government may allocate its funds earmarked for Florida to other states.