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ORLANDO-An estimated $355 million commuter rail project that is expected to open a new niche for commercial real estate development around the line’s stations is finally off the talk board and into the study mode at a cost of $1.5 million.

That’s the amount the 13-member Metropolitan Orlando, Central Florida’s chief transportation planning agency, has voted to spend on finding out whether or not the train venture is workable. The agency hasn’t yet disclosed the consultants’ names or their fees.

The 52-mile system would run on tracks owned by CTX Transportation Inc. of Jacksonville, FL. The route would be from suburban DeLand, FL, north of Orlando, through Downtown and then south to Kissimmee, FL. The trains would operate during the morning and evening rush hours.

The study aims to determine the hard costs of the system which have been estimated at $355 million or about $6.83 million per mile. When the project was first seriously discussed five years ago, the estimated cost was $70 million or about $1.35 million per mile.

Federal funds are expected to pay at least half of the system’s cost.

And that’s what is bothering supporters of another local transportation system, light rail. Pro-light rail backers fear federal funds will be depleted when and if a light rail project eventually is ready to request funding. Light-rail backers argue most merchants are solidly behind the light-rail venture while there is still hesitation among business interests for the commuter plan.

“Whatever system is finally up and running, it will be a tremendous help to the gridlock that now faces motorists daily on Interstate 4,” an independent transportation planner not associated with the project tells on condition of anonymity.

The light-rail system would run from Downtown north to suburban Altamonte Springs. The trains would run parallel to the existing Interstate 4 vehicle route. The light rail cost also hasn’t been determined but independent consultants tell the number would be at least twice the commuter train figure.

The rail leasing fee CTX would charge on the commuter plan also hasn’t been discussed. Either system would take an estimated three years to construct, consultants say.

Commercial real estate developers so far have shied away from announcing preliminary projects tied in with either rail system. But area land brokers tell on condition of anonymity that a handful of developers and investors already are taking options on land purchases near the proposed stations.

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