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ORLANDO-Like a good salesman, Ben Biscan, vice president and general manager of Florida Central Railroad, never takes no for an answer. Eleven months ago, the Florida Transportation Department, closed the window on his proposed $68 million, 35-mile commuter rail line from Lake County to Downtown Orlando because Biscan couldn’t produce a ridership study and documented local government support for the concept.

But today, the railroad man is back in the game, awaiting a reply from his new application to the state for $8 million in startup funds and another $22 million in multi-year money. He also will be submitting a $250,000 ridership study expected to be finished in three months.

That may or may not be in time. Biscan won’t get a partial answer until January when the transportation agency makes its annual funding recommendations to the Legislature.

Even if he received a total commitment of $30 million in state funds, the developer would sill need $32 million to cover most of the costs, say planners familiar with the enterprise. Meanwhile, Biscan is receiving backing from cities where terminals or depots would be built–Eustis, Tavares and Mount Dora. The developer’s plan calls for the cities to build and maintain the terminals and depots.

New commercial and retail development is projected at all of the terminal locations. The railroad had hoped the Orange County leg of the project would be operating by year end 2002 or early 2003. The Lake County segment would be completed at year end 2003 or early 2004. The rail system would follow existing tracks along County Road 448 through Eustis and Tavares. Then they would split and align with tracks along U.S. 441 that would run through Zellwood, Apopka and Lockhart in Orange County before winding up in Downtown Orlando on Robinson Street near Interstate 4.

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