Florida: All Aboard Florida, Tri-Rail Coastal Link, and All the Usual Suspects

State of Florida needs to rethink funding for Tri-Rail Coastal Link – Sun Sentinel

If there’s one decision the Florida Department of Transportation should backtrack on, it’s the refusal to use state funds to build a needed link that will bring commuter rail service to downtown Miami.

At issue is the $44 million needed to build a station for the Tri-Rail Coastal Link at All Aboard Florida’s Miami station. Unfortunately, Tri-Rail’s link to the proposed Miami hub is in jeopardy because of its ties to All Aboard Florida, a promising venture that faces opposition from communities north of West Palm Beach.

“This letter is to again restate that All Aboard Florida is not receiving any state funding,” Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Ananth Prasad wrote All Aboard Florida earlier this month in response to reports that the railroad may seek a state grant for the Miami station.

Unfortunately politics, not sound policy, is driving the decision here. Yes, the coastal link will help the new intercity rail line, but the bigger beneficiaries are Tri-Rail and South Florida’s longstanding dream of providing commuter-rail service to the downtowns of coastal communties.

All Aboard Florida is a private initiative that plans to bring higher-speed passenger train service between Miami and Orlando. Its first phase, between Miami and West Palm Beach, should start in late 2016.
The idea holds promise, but All Aboard Florida has drawn critics who believe the undertaking won’t live up to its billing of relying on private funding because the railroad has applied for a government loan to jumpstart construction. That criticism, however, shouldn’t impact the Tri-Rail Coastal Link.

The link includes a spur between the CSX tracks and a new Tri-Rail station at the All Aboard Florida Miami terminal, and is key to ultimately running Tri-Rail trains along the Florida East Coast Railway line. Tri-Rail currently operates on 72 miles of CSX tracks the state purchased from the freight line to run commuter trains between Mangonia Park and the Miami International Airport.

South Florida Regional Transportation Authority officials see the link as a way of connecting trains from Palm Beach County directly into downtown Miami. They insist quick action is necessary because it would be cost prohibitive to try to shoehorn a new Tri-Rail station into an already existing terminal.

The state of Florida has already invested millions of dollars in building and operating Tri-Rail, and earlier this year Gov. Rick Scott pledged $213 million in state tax money to build a new train depot at Orlando International Airport that All Aboard Florida will lease.

“This is the right thing for the state,” Scott said in February when he was joined at an airport news conference by Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs.

So, what’s another $44 million at the other end of the line? It doesn’t seem like a stretch, particularly because the state is already so heavily invested in moving commuters by rail. Unfortunately, Scott seems to be in an election-year retreat as rancor surrounding All Aboard Florida grows.

The coastal link is a badly needed capital project, and backlash against All Aboard Florida shouldn’t stop it. If local leaders want to see Tri-Rail link downtown communities along the FEC tracks, as they should, they’d better step up and insist the state deliver the money needed to make that promise a reality.

All Aboard Florida officials will attend a Boynton Beach City Commission meeting in September to answer questions about the project.

The meeting will be Sept. 3.

Mayor Jerry Taylor asked City Manager Lori LaVerriere to schedule a meeting so Taylor could hear where the city is on thoughts of the express passenger rail service.

All Aboard will run from Miami to Orlando on the Florida East Coast Railway tracks. It will have stops in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach.

The Miami-to-West Palm Beach service is expected to open in late 2016.

Read: Boynton Beach to have All Aboard Florida discussion

A new complaint regarding the proposed All Aboard Florida high speed rail service.

The city of West Palm Beach has heard from residents criticizing the architectural design of the train station that is planned for the downtown area.

City officials say they have no control over the station’s design because it is being built on property that is controlled by Florida East Coast Railway.

The city will create an informational program about the project to air on it’s governmental TV station.

All Aboard Florida last month unveiled an artist’s rendering of the train station’s design last month.