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Trains = jobs in Florida

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Jobs. Thousands of them. That's one of the main ways supporters pitched the two trains heading for Orlando, Fla., the Sentinel reports.

"A lot of people have
inquired," said state Department of Transportation spokesman Steve Olson.
"That’s what it’s about, jobs. They want this thing to happen right
now."

So when will the hiring
begin? Looks like it could be a while yet. The best guess is contractors will
begin adding to the payroll late summer or early fall, with the rate of employment
increasing into 2011 and beyond.

"We’re moving as fast
as we can. It hasn’t been for lack of trying," said Orlando Mayor Buddy
Dyer, whose city is one of the sponsors of the SunRail commuter train.

The key is just how quickly
the $4.4-billion that been promised to build SunRail and high-speed rail ends
up in Tallahassee, the headquarters of the state DOT, which is overseeing both
projects. Millions of dollars – $44 million to be exact – already has been
spent on SunRail, the first phase of which would connect DeBary in Volusia
County with downtown Orlando and Sand Lake Road in south Orange County. Most of
the jobs – spread over 60 contracts – were filled by consultants drawing up
plans and completing studies.

Much of the preliminary
legwork for the high-speed train, which would link Orlando International
Airport with Lakeland and downtown Tampa, has been handled mostly by state
officials. They relied in part on work done previously at the behest of the now
disbanded High Speed Rail Authority.

Right now, SunRail is ahead
of high speed when it comes to hiring because two major construction
contractors have been selected to build the 61.5-mile corridor: Archer Western
of Chicago and RailWorks, a national firm with an office in Jacksonville. High
speed does not have any contractors.

But SunRail will not start
hiring until it gets a document from the federal government that essentially
says all the necessary paperwork has been filled out correctly and approved.
State and city officials speculate that won’t happen until late this summer.

Once the so-called full
funding agreement is recorded, the state can expect close to $130 million to be
released to it in stages from the federal government. That would be added to
the $44 million already sent from Washington, D.C., bringing the total to
around $174 million, or more than half of the $300 million total expected.

Once the federal money is
released, another $300 million from the state and Orlando, Orange, Seminole,
Volusia and Osceola counties will be freed up for construction. The state also
is paying $432 million to CSX Transportation for the tracks upon which SunRail
will run for other improvements to the railroad system. An additional $200
million will be spent by the state upgrading five road-rail interchanges.

High-speed rail,
conversely, is waiting for $1.25 billion from the federal government, which is
about half of the $2.6 billion the state requested to build the project. No one
is quite sure when that money will be turned loose, though design and construction
is expected to start next year.

Once the money is flowing,
SunRail proponents maintain that 6,700 construction jobs could be created by
the train. High-speed rail, meanwhile, envisions about 23,000
construction-related jobs. Both maintain thousands more jobs will be spun on
for development spurred the trains.

Among the jobs that would
be posted and filled during the process would be: Asphalt contractors and
workers to construct station parking lots; building trades workers and managers
to build the stations; computer technicians for control center and other
locations; control center workers (dispatch area) and managers; custodial
staff; design engineers; technicians to install fire sprinklers at the
stations; geotechnical staff/engineers; heavy equipment/construction equipment
operators; locomotive engineers and workers on board the trains; and
maintenance staff for the track and signals.

The train systems also will
need mechanics to maintain the locomotives and passenger cars; plumbers to install
water lines at the stations; public involvement workers to educate constituents
about safety; safety personnel-including corridor safety and station security;
signal workers to install and maintain the signals along the corridor;
surveyors; workers to install track, ballast (rocks) ties, and other
assignments along the corridor; and drivers to bring product to the
construction sites.

Since Florida is a
right-to-work state, jobs could be filled by union workers or those
unaffiliated with collective bargaining agents. The decision to hire union
workers, at least with SunRail, would be up to the contractors actually doing
the work. Most of the high-speed jobs are expected to go union because of
federal regulations. Union wages generally are higher than those paid to
non-union employees, leading one area construction worker to worry about the
future pay scale for the trains, particularly SunRail.

A 31-year veteran of
Central Florida’s construction industry, the worker – who asked that his name
not be used for fear of offending potential employers – said he worries that
wages will be kept artificially low to win bids or to increase the profits of
the contractor.

Non-union wages, he said,
typically range from $12 to $18 in the area, depending on the job and experience.
That’s not enough, he said, for a worker to spend on extras likely to stimulate
the economy.

Rich Templin, a spokesman
for the AFL-CIO in Tallahassee, said the unions are "working on trying to
figure out" how the hiring will be done and the wage scales.

"From floor to
ceiling," Templin said, "we expect to have people participating in
the process."

SunRail is supposed to
begin operations in late 2014, with the second phase, including stops in
Poinciana in Osceola and DeLand in Volusia, ready a year later. The high-speed
train is set to start in late 2014 or early 2015.

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