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ORLANDO-A $4 billion commercial project, one of the largest in the state’s 181-year history, is in play as Walt Disney World gears up to oppose the route of a planned 200-mile fast train linking Port Canaveral, FL, Orlando and the Tampa-St. Petersburg market on the state’s southwest coast.

All sides are at an impasse as millions of development dollars and hundreds of new jobs are at stake in a battle that pits the area’s theme park attraction king against competitor Universal Orlando, the Orange County Convention Center and about 500 merchants and hoteliers along tourist corridor International Drive.

The rail concept is designed to ease road traffic congestion, simplify cross-state travel and attract the 2012 Summer Olympics to Orlando.

Dozens of similar rail proposals have bounced around for the past decade. All went south after the players couldn’t agree on vital operational points and funding. This one may wind up in the cellar as well if Disney’s political and financial muscle can’t be harnessed, say industry observers who have watched similar posturing in the past.

Disney is adamant in its stand against having the fast train running from Orlando International Airport to its Lake Buena Vista resort; then to the planned 2.2 million-sf Convention Center and along International Drive where 40,000 hotel rooms are fighting for the same nightly guests as Disney’s 26,000 hotel rooms.

Disney prefers a route that parallels the Bee Line Expressway and Central Florida Greeneway, linking the airport to Disney but bypassing the convention center and International Drive.

The theme park titan, which draws 30 million visitors a year to its 30,000-acre kingdom, says, however, it would not oppose two separate rail lines. One would run from the airport directly to Disney. The other, from the airport to the convention center.

Disney is understandably upset at any route that would give its arch rival Universal Orlando a window to increase market share of the tourist dollar. Universal owns 2,000 acres next to the convention center and plans to build at least one theme park and 10,000 hotel rooms there within the next five years.

Disney maintains that without its support, the state will have to shell out millions to buy rights-of-way from the theme park and construct its own station at Lake Buena Vista. Disney would also consider building its own rail line from the airport directly to its front door if current plans evaporate.

Even with Disney, the rail project is projected to cost $100 million a year to operate. It would have to be subsidized for years by public and private funds before passenger fare revenue would bring it to a break-even point, say consultants who have worked on similar projects in other cities.

Besides Disney, Orange County government, International Drive merchant and hotel groups, other players in the fast train controversy are GTE Corp., Publix Supermarkets Inc. and Florida 2012, a private group trying to bring 2012 Summer Olympics to this tourist destination.

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