All Aboard Florida: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly

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A collection of stories and comments

A privately financed high-speed train connection linking Orlando and Miami is facing mounting opposition in Florida from communities the train will pass without stopping. Lots of reaction to this project.

 Almost a dozen small towns and counties on Florida’s east coast, mainly in the route’s middle section, have passed or are considering resolutions or letters of concern about the All Aboard Florida rail link, citing traffic, environmental and financial concerns.

 “It’s kind of hard to envision there is an upside to this train,” said Paula Lewis, a commissioner in St. Lucie County, one of four counties along the 240-mile non-stop route.

The trains are to use 195 miles of existing track along the state’s east coast and then travel northwest on newly built tracks to Orlando’s international airport, according to All Aboard Florida’s website.

All Aboard President Michael Reininger said in an interview on Tuesday that the company turned down numerous requests for stops in the corridor, where the train is expected to reach speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour to keep the Orlando-Miami trip to under three hours.

Reininger predicted a federal environmental impact assessment of the project expected by early July will alleviate most concerns.

At the end of the day we’re building a business which is a consumer product … We think we will wind up with a very positive reception,” Reininger said.

The protests prompted Florida Governor Rick Scott, a strong supporter of All Aboard, to publicly release a letter this week asking Reininger to listen to local concerns.

Election year politics could be playing a part in the opposition. A group called Florida Not All Aboard, which claims almost 16,000 signatures on its petition against the project, posts candidates’ positions on the train.

 

One of the main complaints about the train include traffic delays at grade crossings caused by All Aboard’s 32 trains per day.

Reininger said a federal environmental assessment of the highest-density leg of the train from Miami to West Palm Beach found no significant impact on surrounding traffic. 

Noise concerns could be alleviated by $10 million approved by the state legislature for communities requesting help to pay for quiet zones, where certain safety measures are used to replace loud horn soundings.

Florida Not All Aboard raised concerns that taxpayers could get stuck paying off a $1.5 billion federal train infrastructure loan that All Aboard is requesting. Reininger said the loan will be fully collateralized by the company’s land, stations and track improvements.

On June 11, Florida”s Governor asked for a longer public comment period for All Aboard Florida proposal.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott asked All Aboard Florida President and Chief Development Officer Michael Reininger to request the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) extend a public comment period on the railroad’s environmental impact statement from the current 75 days to 90 days to better accommodate community concerns about the project.

In a letter to Reininger, Scott wrote he has heard “questions and concerns” about the private railroad’s proposed passenger-rail service between Miami and Orlando.

“We must ensure that there is a detailed conversation about this new rail service. Many families are worried about how these additional trains will affect their neighborhoods and their concerns should be heard,” the governor wrote. 

Scott also said he has assigned Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) Secretary Ananth Prasad to meet with community leaders and area legislators to listen to their concerns about the project and “ensure their concerns are heard” by the FRA.

All Aboard Florida has applied for a Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing (RRIF) loan through the FRA, and federal processes required for loan approval include ensuring the project complies with 26 individual federal regulations, Scott wrote. To better enable federal officials to do what’s best for Florida families, the state will supply input from communities to those who are overseeing this project, he stated.

The additional comment period will enable communities to have their specific concerns about the project addressed, the governor wrote.

“Specifically, the communities surrounding the railroad drawbridges over the New River, St. Lucie River and Loxahatchee River have raised concerns about the impacts from this proposed project,” Scott’s letter stated. “I understand that All Aboard Florida has taken specific steps for the New River Crossing including the reduction of the bridge cycle to limit the delays faced by boaters. During the public comment period, please also review the situation at the St. Lucie and Loxahatchee river crossings to address local concerns.”

In a response to Scott, All Aboard Florida’s Reininger noted the company’s ongoing outreach and education efforts on the proposed project in a posting on All Aboard Florida’s website.

He also noted that the railroad is aware of project misinformation circulating in some communities that have caused some of the concerns. All Aboard Florida is continuing to try to clarify facts and details associated with the project, Reininger wrote.

“We share your desire for a full and transparent examination of our project,” he wrote, adding that the railroad — in response to a previous request from Scott – expressed to the FRA that it is willing to increase the public forums and time frame associated with reviews once the draft environmental statement is made public by the FRA.

“Ultimately, the FRA must define the appropriate timing and schedule of the required reviews under the EIS process,” Reininger wrote. “We respectfully defer to their decision on this matter.”

Next we have another story from Ayn Marie Samuelson, Guest columnist    “Barreling through Brevard:

There are too many unknowns and hidden agendas to support All Aboard Florida’s push for high-speed passenger rail by the newly incorporated Florida East Coast Industries, LLC (FECI).

FECI has applied for a $1.5 billion loan from the federal government under the Federal Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing Program. Pretty clever to go for the big dollars at taxpayer expense and risk, with no track record of success and insufficient assets on its own to secure this big-ticket loan.

You’ve got to admire the global investment group behind FECI, searching for a real deal without taking responsibility to become a guarantor of the loan. In addition, passenger rail has repeatedly proven it is not financially viable without government subsidy, while defaulting on this type of loan may become an incentive for the FECI limited liability company, whose global investors stand to benefit greatly.

This is a project looking for failure on the backs of taxpayers nationwide.

With the sheer size and high risk of the unprecedented $1.5 billion loan, it’s difficult to come up with any taxpayer benefits to this mega deal. On the other hand, the looming costs associated with All Aboard are easy to enumerate.

First, the expense of maintaining the railroad crossings will escalate for Brevard taxpayers.

Second, there would be increased risks to the health and safety of citizens — think school buses and pedestrians crossing a track where trains speed past at 100 mph.

Third, there is the imminent loss of property values for parcels and buildings close to the tracks. And what about people living near enough to the tracks to hear and feel the rumble 32 times every 24 hours?

Fourth, there is the exceedingly dim short-term and long-term economic value for our residents, as these trains won’t be stopping in Brevard.

Fifth, short-term and long-term employment are dreams. Doesn’t track construction often begin at one or both ends of the tracks and continue along the rails until construction is completed? It would be unlikely that new crews would routinely be hired all along the route. It’s more probable that workers would live and travel in railroad cars as track construction progresses.

Sixth, once the loan is in default and the FECI crumbles, the Florida East Coast Railway (FEC), which in reality owns the tracks, will benefit from our deep pockets. FEC and the global investors who own it will be well-positioned to run additional freight trains on the brand- new tracks between Orlando and Miami to pick up and deliver cargo coming through the Panama Canal.

If anyone can identify benefits for the taxpayers and residents of Brevard, please enlighten us. However, it’s dubious that any benefits discovered will be sufficient to justify the costs.

We should be ready to voice a resounding “no” to All Aboard Florida. Barreling through Brevard doesn’t benefit us.

 

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