By Barbara Liston
ORLANDO, Florida (Reuters) - A Florida company cleared a major hurdle on Tuesday to move ahead with a project to build a new $1.5 billion passenger train service linking Orlando and Miami that is being billed as the first privately run rail link between two major U.S. cities.
The project, dubbed "All Aboard Florida" and slated to begin service in late 2014 or early 2015, would operate passenger trains on approximately 200 miles of existing track along Florida's east coast owned by Florida East Coast Railways (FECI), a Miami real estate and transportation company.
It also would include train service on an additional 40-mile inland segment to be built from Cocoa Beach, Florida, to Orlando.
FECI proposed the train service in March but the company could not negotiate to operate on the inland segment without the state of Florida first soliciting other proposals to lease the property.
No other bids were received so the state gave the company the go-ahead during a teleconference on Tuesday.
The new service is designed for tourists and business travelers and would link two of Florida's major urban centers.
The trains running between Orlando and Miami would make the journey in 3 hours, 3 minutes, traveling at speeds of up to 110 mph, according to company officials.
Amtrak, the government-owned national rail corporation, currently offers a twice-daily service between Miami and Orlando taking 5 to 7 hours.
The trip on "All Aboard Florida" would include stops in downtown Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and Orlando International Airport.
FECI 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 4 to 5 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.
(Editing by Kevin Gray; Editing by Gary Hill)