Commuter-rail deal hits snag

Feb 7, 2008

Orlando Sentinel–Feb. 7, 2008

TALLAHASSEE–The deal to bring commuter rail to Central Florida encountered some resistance Wednesday in the Legislature over the liability in rail accidents on the 61-mile rail line the state is proposing to buy from CSX Corp.

The $491 million deal the state Department of Transportation reached with the company late last year to buy the CSX line going through downtown Orlando called for the state to take on a federally mandated $200 million in insurance coverage for potential accidents.

But the draft legislation the department had floated to authorize the liability was written far more broadly — drawing the ire of a House panel that heard complaints Wednesday from stakeholders, state Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, and the state’s trial-lawyer association.

Among their concerns is that it gives open-ended permission for the department to extend liability coverage and the government immunity from large jury verdicts to other rail companies.

"We think this is probably not good policy," Michael Carlson, Sink’s legislative-affairs director, told the panel.