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    A Times Editorial

    Rail report good for a laugh

    © St. Petersburg Times
    published November 24, 2002

    Well, glory be. Just when you think the world has become humorless, along comes another consultant's report. This one, from the folks lobbying for high-speed rail, predicts that a line between Tampa and Orlando could pay its way on rider fares alone.

    We congratulate Florida's High Speed Rail Authority for discovering the magic financing formula that has eluded rail systems around the globe. It ratifies last year's prediction. The authority found, as of last December, based on preliminary figures, that fares could cover costs, and now -- lo and behold -- the latest study shows the numbers coming through.

    But before we revel in the prospect of breaking even, a cautionary note is in order. The money raised, $30-million or so a year, wouldn't cover the billion-dollar cost of constructing the rail line or buying the trains. It assumes solid growth in population, tourism, airport traffic and jobs. Assumptions, the study said, "may prove inaccurate."

    This sort of overlooked fine print is like those nutritional labels on the minidoughnuts in the snack machine that assume you will swallow anything that looks irresistible.

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