St. Petersburg Times business columnist Robert Trigaux writes about a coming bidding war among companies looking to build and operate Central Florida’s high-speed rail line, which is expected to be the first project of its kind in the United States:

State rail officials expect as many as eight bidders — foreign high-speed rail companies, often partnered with U.S. interests — to try to win the right to design, build, operate and maintain the Tampa-to-Orlando link as the country’s first piece of a statewide, and eventually nationally linked, high-speed rail network.

The players in this high-stakes project range from Europe’s veteran high-speed rail providers like Germany’s Siemens and France’s Alstom to Canada’s Bombardier, Asia’s Central Japan Railway (Japan pioneered high-speed rail) and companies from China and South Korea. Since this country never pursued high-speed rail, there is no U.S.-based company building bullet trains. But a few U.S. companies, notably General Electric with China, are partners with foreign firms in the coming bidding war.

Florida Rail Enterprise, the agency created by the legislature to oversee the development of passenger rail in the state, estimates that construction will cost approximately $2.6 billion. The project has already received $1.25 billion in federal stimulus funds.

Nazih Haddad, the agency’s chief operating officer, says the state has applied for an additional $1.14 billion from the federal government and expects a decision in the coming weeks. That second round of funding requires a 20 percent matching contribution from the state.

Once construction is complete, Haddad says the project’s ridership (revenue from ticket sales, concessions, etc.) is expected to pay for the operation and maintenance of the system. According to the project’s website, the risk will be shared in a public-private partnership between the state and the company that wins that portion of the bidding war.

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