Florida East Coast Railway and All Aboard Florida: The “DoomSayers” are Coming Out of the Closet

All Aboard Florida would create ‘unavoidable’ traffic delays through Treasure Coast says TC Palm

Traffic delays at Seaway Drive and the railroad tracks in Fort Pierce — for motorists headed east to the barrier island — would nearly triple if All Aboard Florida begins running passenger trains through the Treasure Coast, according to traffic experts and the Federal Railroad Administration.

All Aboard Florida request delayed by West Palm Beach commissioners

West Palm Beach commissioners will wait until October to discuss All Aboard Florida’s request to close a section of downtown to build a rail station for its upcoming express passenger train service.

West Palm Beach Station
West Palm Beach Station

City commissioners were expected to take up the request at a meeting Monday, but officials said Thursday the item has been delayed and will not appear on the commission’s agenda, according to The Palm Beach Post.

The alley is located between Datura and Evernia streets to the west of the Florida East Coast Railway tracks.

Bridge closures on the New River in Fort Lauderdale would more than double under All Aboard Florida’s proposed passenger service. But the length of each closure would be shorter.

It’s a similar story on the Loxahatchee River in Jupiter, where bridge closures would quadruple though the duration for each would be less.

A draft study on the impacts of the proposed rail line found:

The New River bridge would be closed 30 times a day for an average of 13 minutes vs. 10 times a day currently for an average of 19 minutes.

The Loxahatchee span would be closed 42 times a day for an average of 12 minutes vs. 10 times a day for an average of 19 minutes.

 

Drivers can expect crossings to be closed 54 times a day or three times an hour, compared to once an hour now.

And here’s how the study says the impacts, which it labeled “minimal,” will be mitigated:

Faster speeds for both freight and passenger trains, thanks to the construction of a second track.

Coordinated train schedules so passing trains cross at the same time, and increased efficiency in how the bridges are raised and lowered.

There will be a set schedule for bridge closures and countdown timers or signals at each span to indicate when bridges will close and how long before trains will arrive.

There will be a tender at the New River bridge. The span currently is raised and lowered remotely by a dispatcher in Jacksonville.

All Aboard Florida plans to run 32 passenger trains a day between Miami and Orlando on the Florida East Coast Railway tracks at speeds of 79 to 125 mph. The FEC now carries about 14 freight trains a day, but that’s expected to increase to 20 a day by 2016.

Together with All Aboard Florida’s trains, that would mean 52 trains a day traveling through downtowns from Miami to West Palm Beach.

Some boaters say the impacts are understated.

“It is difficult to believe than an additional 32 trains plus 20 freight trains crossing the New River would not have any impact even if they actually manage to synchronize the passenger train crossings,” said John Dotto, a boater who lives west of the bridge.

“How can this possibly be considered no impact?”

The New River is the lifeline for Broward’s marine industry, home to about a third of the county’s marinas with the largest concentration west of the railroad bridge. The Loxahatchee River represents slightly less than quarter of Palm Beach County‘s marine industry.

The Marine Industries Association of South Florida has said one of its main concerns is making sure the New River drawbridge is up and the river open to boat traffic at least 40 minutes an hour.

The closures would impact about 36 percent of the 215 boats that pass through the New River bridge on average daily, up from 23 percent currently.

On the Loxahatchee River, the closures would impact about 47 percent of the 121 boats that pass through the bridge on average every day, up from 16 percent currently.

Residents and many elected officials from northern Palm Beach County to the Treasure Coast oppose the project and have grown louder in their opposition. They say their communities will suffer blocked crossings and noise but not get any benefit because the only stops are planned in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and Orlando International Airport.

Passenger service in the three South Florida cities is expected to start in late 2016 with the northern leg to Orlando starting in 2017.

Florida East Coast Railway is preparing for completion of the Port of Miami’s harbor-deepening project in the fourth quarter of 2015 by purchasing new equipment and locomotives and offering expedited services to population centers in the Southeast.

South Atlantic ports anticipate increased container trade with Asia in early 2016 with the completion of an expansion project at the Panama Canal to allow vessels with capacities of up to 13,000 20-foot container units to transit the canal.

Ports such as Miami, Jacksonville, Savannah and Charleston are at various stages of deepening their harbors so they can accommodate the mega-ships on all-water services from Asia to the East Coast. Miami in late 2015 is scheduled to be the first South Atlantic port to complete a 50-foot dredging project.

When choosing a load center for their mega-ships, container lines look for ports with large local markets plus intermodal rail connections to population centers and cargo hubs outside of their immediate hinterlands.

Trans-Pacific carriers are showing increased interest in Miami as a gateway to both Florida, with its population of more than 19 million, and the entire Southeast via intermodal rail, Jim Hertwig, president and CEO of Florida East Coast Railway, said at a press briefing last week at the Intermodal Association of North America conference in Long Beach.

A deep harbor is only the price of entry into the competition for gateway status in this era of big ships and ocean carrier alliances. Load-center ports must also have excellent inland transportation infrastructure, intermodal rail connectors and highway access to cargo hubs in the interior.

FECR is South Florida’s intermodal connection to the Southeast region. Its 351-mile route connects the ports of Miami, Port Everglades and Palm Beach with Jacksonville, Florida, where it interlines with the Class I eastern railroads CSX and Norfolk Southern.

FECR will be ready in terms of equipment, locomotive power, on-dock rail capacity and expedited service to handle the additional intermodal volume that is anticipated from the Panama Canal and Port of Miami expansion projects, Hertwig said.

The rail carrier is increasing its intermodal capacity by acquiring 500 53-foot domestic containers, 100 chassis and 50 refrigerated trailers. The trailers and containers are equipped with GPS technology.

FECR is also acquiring 24 new locomotives designed to meet federal Environmental Protection Agency Tier 3 emissions requirements. The railroad is also considering the use of retrofit kits that would allow the locomotives to burn liquefied natural gas, Hertwig said. LNG offers increased mileage and lower emissions than diesel fuel.

The railroad has access to Miami’s on-dock rail transfer yard and Port Everglades’ near-dock rail transfer facility that offer reduced costs and enhanced time-to-market service for intermodal services.

FECR is improving its intermodal services to and from cargo hubs in the Southeast, with second-day services to Charlotte, Nashville and Atlanta, Hertwig said.

As carrier alliances expand their service offerings in the major east-west trades, the introduction of one or two weekly services with 10,000-TEU ships would be sufficient to make Miami a competitor for all-water services from Asia, he said.

Public meetings

The Federal Railroad Administration is holding a series of pubilc information meetings. In South Florida, meetings will be from 3:30-7 p.m. on:

Oct. 27 at Miami-Dade College’s Wolfson Campus, James K. Batten Room 2106, 300 NE Second Ave., Miami;

Oct. 28 at the Broward County Convention Center, 1950 Eisenhower Blvd., Fort Lauderdale;

Oct. 29 at West Palm Beach Marriott, 1001 Okeechobee Blvd., West Palm Beach.

PropaneFlorida

But anything to do FEC or AAF hits the news

The tank, which is about as large as a house, was “venting off,” said Nate Spera, district chief with the Fire District.

They’re designed that if the tank should heat up, it’ll let some gas escape and it’s supposed to close back off,” Spera said. “This one did not close back off, so when we got here it was about 55 percent full at the time.

 

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