By Zachary Fagenson
MIAMI, Oct 3 (Reuters) - A company vying to build Florida's first privately owned intercity passenger rail line struck a critical deal on Thursday, leasing the final piece of the 230-mile (370-km) route between Orlando and Miami and clearing the way for work to begin by the end of this year.
All Aboard Florida said construction on the $1.5 billion project should last about 18 months and said the rail line is slated to open in 2015.
Under Thursday's deal, the company secured the right of way to utilize a strip of land alongside State Road 528 linking Orlando and Cocoa, near Cape Canaveral.
"All Aboard Florida has now secured the critical right of way needed for the project," the company said in a press release.
The company also finalized an agreement with Orlando International Airport on Wednesday giving it the right to run the trains onto airport property that will allow passengers to make direct connections to flights.
"Floridians and visitors want transportation options and flexibility," said Frank Kruppenbacher, chair of the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority in a press release.
The trains running between Orlando and Miami would make the journey in about three hours, traveling at speeds of up to 110 mph (177 kph). Ticket prices have yet to be announced, according to a company spokesperson.
The new service is designed for tourists and business travelers and would link two of Florida's major urban centers.
The trip on the line would include stops in downtown Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and Orlando International Airport. The service will utilize 200 miles (322 km) of existing Florida East Coast Railway lines between Miami and Cocoa. Thirty-five miles of new infrastructure will connect the existing line to the airport.
Florida East Coast Industries, a subsidiary of New York City-based Fortress Investment Group and owner of All Aboard Florida and Florida East Coast Railway, proposed the train service last year, pending negotiations to secure the final link to Orlando.
The Orlando airport will seek a $200 million grant from the state to pay for a station near the main terminal, according to the Orlando Sentinel newspaper.
All Aboard Florida also wants to acquire land in downtown Miami to build a train station and transportation hub, linking with the local light rail and bus services.
Amtrak, the government-owned national rail corporation, currently offers a twice-daily service between Miami and Orlando taking five to seven hours.
In 2011, Florida Governor Rick Scott rejected a $2.4 billion grant from the federal government to build a high-speed rail line connecting Orlando, in central Florida, with Tampa on the state's west coast.
Florida East Coast Industries officials have said studies show that about 50 million people travel between Miami and Orlando every year, with 95 percent making the journey by car in four to five hours.
The project will include a set of diesel-powered trains with a 400-seat capacity offering an hourly service with first-class and business-class seating, gourmet dining and WiFi.
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