All Aboard Florida Rolls On To Orlando

It’s been a momentous week for All Aboard Florida. The controversial, privately owned venture got the blessing of a key environmental impact report and, more important, the OK to issue $1.75 billion in tax-exempt bonds it needs to proceed.

Now it’s up to the company, descended from Florida business and rail pioneer Henry Flagler, to make good on its optimistic vision of high-speed passenger rail service connecting the high-tourist cities of Miami and Orlando in three hours, by way of West Palm Beach and the Treasure Coast.

If All Aboard Florida succeeds, it would be a benefit for the most populous part of this still-growing state. It would boost the prospects for high-speed rail elsewhere in the United States. And if it fails, it will be a business failure that is the company’s and its investors’ alone. Neither taxpayers nor the counties and towns along the route will be stuck with the debts.

The critics have had their say. Now it’s time for residents of South Florida and the Treasure Coast to begin to learn to live with the reality of this project.

We understand those who fear the noise, delays, safety hazards and property depreciation that will accompany the 32 daily trips of All Aboard Florida trains. But it is disingenuous of Floridians to act as though they’ve never lived with a railway going through their cities before. Those Florida East Coast Railway tracks were carrying noisy freight before most of the towns were here.

And let’s get a grip about those feared disruptions. The high-speed trains that will carry passengers will be much shorter and much lighter than freight trains. They will create far less rumble and noise. Those delays? As the company shows in a video, when a train comes through, the gates will fall, the train will pass and the gates will rise, all in less than a minute.

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) this week published its Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for All Aboard Florida’s (AAF) plan to build a 235-mile passenger-rail line from Miami to Orlando, Fla.

The document evaluates Phase II of the project, which includes adding a second track within 128.5 miles of the existing Florida East Coast Railway right of way between West Palm Beach and Cocoa, as well as building a new 40-mile line parallel to State Road 828 between Cocoa and Orlando International Airport. In addition, Phase II involves building a new vehicle maintenance facility south of the airport, and improving grade crossings, bridges, signalization and adding new communication and train control systems, according to the FEIS document’s abstract.

In 2012, the FRA approved an environmental document that indicated AAF can proceed with the construction of Phase I, which involves building infrastructure for a line from West Palm Beach to Miami. The latest document, dated Aug. 4, 2015, addresses the environmental impacts of construction of both Phase I and Phase II.

Also this week, a Florida state financing agency gave AAF the green light to sell $1.75 billion in tax-exempt municipal bonds to help finance the private company’s $2.5 billion project.

The Florida Development Finance Corp. (FDFC) voted in favor of AAF’s application following an all-day hearing, Florida news media reported yesterday.

AAF still faces a federal lawsuit filed by Martin and Indian River counties, which are seeking to stop the bond issue.