Category Archives: All Aboard Florida

All Aboard Florida receives $2B of bids for tax-free bonds

Read the full Wall Street Journal story here.

All Aboard Florida last week appeared to have raised the $600 million it sought to finance part of its passenger railroad, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.

The company received $2 billion in bids for the $600 million in private-activity bonds it was selling, leading to prices “a little better than we thought,” Wes Edens, chairman of Fortress Investment Group, All Aboard Florida’s parent company, told the Journal.

Brightline has said it plans to begin limited passenger service between Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach this month, with service between West Palm and Miami beginning early next year.

Full service through the Treasure Coast, which largely has opposed the project, and on to Orlando International Airport is still several years away, according to Brightline.

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Require Brightline to pay rail-crossing costs? You betcha!

TCPALM.COM

Some Florida lawmakers have set their sights, again, on regulating the Brightline passenger rail project.

Of course, the proposed Miami-to-Orlando rail line isn’t singled out by name in bills filed for the upcoming legislative session. But it’s clear, given the geographic proximity of the bills’ authors to the rail project, Brightline is foremost in their minds.

Brightline (formerly known as All Aboard Florida) is scheduled to begin passenger rail service between Miami and West Palm Beach by the end of the year, with full service to Orlando International Airport still several years away.

State Sen. Debbie Mayfield, R-Melbourne, has refiled a bill that sputtered and died during last spring’s legislative session. Among other things, Senate Bill 572 — also known as the “High Speed Passenger Rail Safety Act” — would give the Florida Department of Transportation authority to modify certain aspects of any passenger rail service in the state and impose penalties for violations.

It also would strengthen public-disclosure policies and give local governments a greater voice in decisions about installing fencing along rail corridors.

From the perspective of Treasure Coast residents opposed to Brightline, there is a lot to like about Mayfield’s bill. But its prospects for passage are virtually nil.

The Federal Railway Safety Act, passed by Congress in 1970, established the regulatory framework for freight and passenger railroads. With limited exceptions, federal law supersedes, or preempts, state and local efforts to regulate railroads.

Historically, rail companies have tended to prevail in court when challenging states’ attempts to regulate their operations.

Florida NIMBYs Can’t Stop America’s First Private High-Speed Rail

Inside a massive West Palm Beach garage, sleek yellow and silver train cars outfitted with high-tech controls and plush leather seats sit and wait. Manufactured by Siemens in a new California plant and owned by All Aboard Florida, a subsidiary of one of Florida’s oldest real estate, infrastructure and rail companies, the train doesn’t look like anything the United States has seen before. It isn’t. When the custom-built, high-speed “Brightline” coaches start running later this year, they will be the nation’s first privately run trains in more than 30 years — and the first ever in a new generation of fast, privately operated U.S. rail.

All Aboard Florida’s $3 billion Brightline express train is a bet on a denser, more connected and less car-addicted Florida — and a bet on a growing international industry that the U.S. has long lagged behind on: private high-speed rail. It will provide the first direct transit connection between downtown Miami and the region’s other two largest cities, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach (Tri-Rail stops at the Miami Airport), since the 1960s. In a part of South Florida that has long been the Sunshine State’s densest corridor with more than 6 million residents and a seasonal flow of tourists, the new rail service promises to cut commutes between Miami and West Palm by an hour or more. Brightline supporters say the train could take as many as 3 million cars off the road.

The rail could be a game-changer for transportation in the region and is already reshaping the urban landscape along its planned 240-mile route. Beyond shortening commutes and simplifying travel, it promises to drive hundreds of millions of dollars in new developments with sleek high-rise condo, shopping, dining and office destinations rising next to each Brightline station. And despite years of opposition by wealthy suburbanites, the passenger train is expected to connect to Florida’s very biggest tourist destination, Orlando, by 2020, transforming an arduous trip from Miami into a fast three-hour jump.

With a similar private rail project underway in Texas and another public high-speed commuter rail project moving forward in California, Brightline is a first test for a long-awaited U.S. foray into high-speed rail, and in particular, a case study in how to defeat a highly motivated and very deep-pocketed group of NIMBY opponents.

“On a national level, the scale of impact could be enormous. It’s a proof of concept for private financing corridor-based infrastructure,” says Adie Tomer, a fellow at the Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program. “There is major back-to-the-future element of this project too. Transit systems, most notably in Europe and America in the 19th century, were often developed by land holding companies and that is what is happening in Florida right now. And there is a major argument to be made that if you want to get more private financing into infrastructure markets, that’s the way to do it.”

A BET ON TRANSIT-ORIENTED DEVELOPMENT
Brightline was born in the ashes of President Barack Obama’s stymied attempt to build a national high-speed rail network — a lower-emission, higher-tech rival to the interstate highway system. Obama put $8 billion in federal stimulus funding behind his vision, hoping to give states the incentive to compete for federal transportation grants that would seed the system. That didn’t work, and in 2011, after Florida Governor Rick Scott killed plans for a public high-speed rail connector, All Aboard Florida’s parent company, Florida East Coast Industries (FECI), stepped up.

Since the late 1800s, FECI has owned the region’s eastmost train tracks, on which it ran freight and passenger trains. From the train stations along Florida’s Atlantic Coast sprung West Palm, Fort Lauderdale, Miami and smaller towns between. The last passenger train ran along its tracks in the 1960s. With attention focused on state plans for a publicly operated rail corridor running from Tampa to Orlando, FECI launched a feasibility study for running fast trains along its fallow tracks to the south. With the public project dead, the state was able to approve some public support for the project, including the company’s right to sell $1.75 billion in municipal, tax-free bonds. Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties have additionally set aside more than $12 million for upgrading rail crossings.

In addition to the bond revenue, All Aboard Florida plans to invest about $700 million in equity into the project and generate about $300 million annually in ticket sales. FECI hopes its initial investment will return revenue generated by real estate development around the stations. With a strategy modeled on profitable private high-speed-rail projects in Japan, the company is building more than 800 high-priced rentals at its Miami station and 290 in West Palm, along with skyscrapers that will be rented out for shops and offices. The company plans to begin leasing its luxury apartments in 2018. (Much to the chagrin of affordable housing advocates concerned about the gentrification displacing renters from increasingly high-rent Miami neighborhoods, there are no plans for affordable housing as part of the development.)

For the cities hosting Brightline stations, the privately run infrastructure is coming at an opportune time. After taking a massive hit in the housing market crash and facing up to a new reality of rising sea levels and increasingly harsh — and costly — hurricane seasons, South Florida isn’t eager to take on the huge expense of building and maintaining new transit infrastructure.

In July, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Giménez made headlines when he referred to trains as “19th-century technology” as a means to explain his decision to walk back a campaign promise for more light rail in the city and pitch a new plan for express rapid bus service instead. The pivot, he said, came down to money. Miami-Dade can’t afford to build new rail lines, let alone operate them. “I’m not abandoning anything. I’m just telling you what is the art of the possible,” Giménez​ told the Miami Herald editorial board. “If additional resources come our way, more things may be possible. This is what we can do, with what we have today.”

Yet he has not veered in his support for Brightline, offering public subsidies with the argument that the investment will be earned back through increased real estate and sales tax revenue. “As Miami-Dade County’s population and visitorship continue to grow, we must partner with the private sector to deliver services, such as transportation, to sustain this anticipated growth,” Giménez​ said in 2014. “All Aboard Florida is one of the best examples of public-private partnership that will help generate new tourism and business opportunities.”

Other mayors in the region agree on the ROI. “We’re already seeing more businesses coming up from Fort Lauderdale because West Palm Beach has all the culture and opportunities without the hassle of a bigger city,” West Palm Mayor Jeri Muoio told the Wall Street Journal in June. “I think we’ll soon see expansion from south of us as a result. This could be a real economic driver.”

Brookings’ Tomer says the two mayors have every reason to be optimistic. “This is an incredibly important project for Florida in particular Southeastern Florida because they are in desperate need of new mobility options that are competitive with automobiles,” he says. “They are out of space and they need to start building up, assuming they can keep the water at bay. This can be a powerful tool to start them on a different path for travel, improve mobility and help connect the region’s economic anchors — Orlando and Disney, Downtown Miami and the airport and the beach — and keep them competitive.”

Brightline has nearly finished building its South Florida stations and tracks and the Orlando tracks will be laid in 2018, says Brightline CEO Dave Howard. Meanwhile in Orlando, a $211 million train station, paid for by the state, is set to open next year at the city’s airport. The station will serve local buses, with hopes of eventually becoming a stop for the region’s commuter rail and Brightline.

A MULTIMILLION-DOLLAR NIMBY BATTLE
Many Florida politicians may be on board for Brightline, but for the small, scenic towns lining the affluent Treasure Coast, the prospect of some 32 trains per day rushing across their quiet streets has provoked nothing short of outrage.

Since 2014, two Treasure Coast counties have dedicated more than $6 million in taxpayer money fighting Brightline in court. Local anti-rail groups have also raised more than $1 million to pressure politicians and wage an ugly PR war against All Aboard Florida.

Brightline’s opponents have a long list of complaints. They say the train will kill pedestrians, crash into drivers, delay ambulances, delay police cars, delay fire trucks, delay daily commuters, delay boaters, suffocate the boating industry, blow horns too loud, waste taxpayer money, waste private investor money, pollute the environment, bring down property values, endanger President Donald Trump, and help line Trump’s pockets.

Indian River and Martin counties have fought rail expansion in courts and in the Florida legislature since 2015, allocating more than $6 million on legal appeals. But the counties’ lawsuits have been either tossed or dropped. Meanwhile, state lawmakers this spring killed a bill that would have singled out Brightline for regulation.

Brightline’s $600 million of bonds approved by Florida Development Finance Corp.

Brightline has been issued $600 million in tax-free bonds to pay for Phase 1 of its passenger railroad — between Miami and West Palm Beach — according to the Florida Development Finance Corp.

The finance corporation, which will issue the bonds, made its decision at a board meeting Friday. It’s the second time the agency has issued bonds to the Miami-to-Orlando railroad.

In 2015, the finance corporation issued Brightline $1.75 billion of private-activity bonds, but the company failed to sell them, and last year canceled that request.

Instead, Brightline said, it would seek the tax-exempt financing in two phases. It immediately requested $600 million for Phase 1 and said it likely would separately request $1.15 billion for Phase 2, between West Palm Beach and Orlando, said former All Aboard Florida and Brightline President Michael Reininger.

Bill Spivey, executive director of the state agency, said issuing bonds to All Aboard Florida is in line with the finance corporation’s mission “to promote the financing of projects for Florida business activities between the public and private sectors.”

Brightline first sought private-activity bonds in 2014 as a supplement or replacement to its original financing plan: a loan from the Federal Railroad Administration.

Citizen opposition group CARE FL on Monday criticized All Aboard Florida’s plan to use government-backed financing.

FECR, building products firm plan warehouse in Fort Lauderdale

Business Journals

A building products distribution warehouse could be developed along the Florida East Coast Railway in Fort Lauderdale.

On Oct. 24, the city’s Development Review Committee will consider the application by landowner Florida East Coast Railway (FECR) and tenant G. Proulx Building Products for the 6.55-acre site at 3125 S. Andrews Ave. The site, which currently has a concrete slab, is just west of Port Everglades.

The plan calls for a 90,000-square-foot warehousing and 118 parking spaces. The estimated cost is $3 million, according to the application.

Attorney Benjamin Hedrick, of Akerman in Miami, said G. Proulx Building Products wants to consolidate its facilities in Dania Beach, Hollywood and Davie into a single location. The company receives building materials by train, does light assembling and cutting to meet the specifications of clients, and then ships them to clients by truck.

If this project is approved, FECR would build a spur from its railway onto the property so G. Proulx Building Products could directly receive deliveries.

“The proximity to railroad is really what is key for this tenant,” Hedrick said.

Planning engineer Charles O. Buckalew designed the project for the developers

Want to ride FEC’s Santa Train? Here’s how you can win two tickets

A South Florida-based non-profit is raffling off a chance to ride (and work) on the Florida East Coast Railway’s annual Santa Train, which will deliver toys to children at several stops between Jacksonville and Miami.

The Florida East Coast Railway Society says the train ride is a “once in a lifetime experience” for rail enthusiasts. The winners will get to ride in two of the FEC’s business cars — the St. Augustine and the Azalea — while working as one of Santa’s elves when the train stops at multiple locations during the Dec. 9 trip south from Jacksonville.

Florida East Coast Railway has been running the holiday-themed train for more than five years. Tickets are not available to the general public.Proceeds from the raffle will be benefit the FEC’s Toys for Tots campaign, the society said. Two winners will be chosen, and each winner can bring one guest.
The cost of the raffle tickets are: $25 each; 5 for $100 ($20/ea); 10 for $175 ($17.50/ea); 20 for $300 ($15/ea); and 50 for $500 ($10/ea). They can be purchased by clicking here.

Brightline derails, causing extensive damage; ‘definitive’ cause in question

A Brightline train derailed during testing earlier this year, causing more than $400,000 of damage, according to the Federal Railroad Administration.

The derailment occurred at 5 p.m. Feb. 11 as one of Brightline’s five passenger trains returned to the railroad’s West Palm Beach maintenance facility, according to the incident report Brightline filed with the federal agency.

The train had just finished performing signal tests, according to Brightline.

As the train entered the yard, the locomotive truck — the part of the train that supports the locomotive and provides propulsion and braking — derailed, taking two axles off the track.

Damages to the train was about $408,000; damage to the track was negligible, according to Brightline.

The $3.5 billion Miami-to-Orlando passenger railroad is to begin phase 1 service, between Miami and West Palm Beach, by the end of the year. The railroad has not set a date for phase 2 — from West Palm, through the Treasure Coast and Space Coast and on to Orlando International Airport — but service is expected to be at least several years away.

Though popular in South Florida and much of Brevard County, Brightline has faced staunch opposition and legal action from Treasure Coast governments and citizen groups, which say the railroad would endanger public safety, the environment and quality of life.

Construction on Brightline’s apartment tower tops out

Rendering shows new real estate development called Park-Line, owned by Florida East Coast Industries, Brightline’s parent company,Wednesday July 12, 2017, in West Palm Beach.The rental apartments are being built next to Brightline’s stations in downtown West Palm Beach and Miami. The 24-floor Park-Line tower in West Palm Beach will have 290 units. Rental rates have not been released.(Photo by Florida East Coast Industries)

West Palm Beach —
Construction on the 24-story residential tower rising next to Brightline’s station in downtown West Palm Beach has reached its top elevation, marking a new milestone for the project, which is slated to open next year and is designed to appeal to commuters looking for easy access to the company’s soon-to-launch passenger trains.

Brightline’s parent company, Florida East Coast Industries, on Thursday celebrated the “topping out” of the Park-Line apartment tower, a ceremonial event to commemorate the end of its vertical construction.

The 290-unit building is located just west of the Brightline station, and within walking distance of both Clematis Street and CityPlace. Its proximity to the train tracks also gives tenants a direct link to Brightline’s trains, which are expected to begin service between West Palm Beach, Ft. Lauderdale and Miami in the coming months.

South Florida commuters have become a key demographic for the rail project. Brightline plans to link Miami and Orlando with stops in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, offering an alternative to millions of tourists who make the trip by car.

But construction on the line between West Palm Beach and Orlando has yet to begin, and officials have said it will be at least 2020 before the company’s trains start running between south and the Orlando Airport in central Florida. The delay means commuters and others — particularly those living and working in its buildings — looking to transit between West Palm Beach and Miami will be the line’s primary customers.

Palm Beach Post

So What Is Doing With Brightline In Florida?

Brightline has not said when it will begin regular passenger service, or how much fares will cost. But here are a slew of stats about the much-anticipated rail service.

Five trains. Four are in Florida. The fifth, Brightline Red, is expected around the end of the month.

Each train has two locomotives and four passenger coaches – seating approximately 240 guests.

The trains are built in the U.S. with the help of more than 40 suppliers in more than 20 states.

16 weekday round trips.

At the inception of service, Brightline will run 3 trains on regular daily duty, have one in reserve and one in maintenance.
A total of 473 parking spots in West Palm Beach, 670 in Fort Lauderdale.

5 Brightline “teammates” on each train, including engineer, train manager and guest attendants.

42,000 – number of Operation Lifesaver safety fliers that were sent to School District of Palm Beach county families living along Florida East Coast Railway tracks.

900 jobs created by project in Palm Beach County.

An app. The company says it will make an app available a week to 10 days before train service starts to facilitate ticket purchases.

$300 million: Brightline’s total economic impact in Palm Beach County.

Data from Florida East Coast Railway and Brightline

Brightline rail will start with deeply discounted fares

The new Brightline rail service linking Miami to West Palm Beach with a stop in Fort Lauderdale will start with deeply discounted fares when it takes its first runs in late summer and offers full service in the early fall, CEO Dave Howard says.

While he wouldn’t reveal the fare structure, Mr. Howard told a Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce transportation meeting last week that the discounted cost is “going to be less than the cost of driving your car.”
Fares, he said, won’t be revealed until just before operations begin. He did not provide specific dates.

The full service in the fall, he said, will amount to 32 round trips daily between Miami and West Palm Beach.

The West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale stations, built expressly for the Brightline service, are getting their final touches, Mr. Howard said, while the massive station complex in downtown Miami handled by parent All Aboard Florida continues to rise.

Asked to predict the status of the railroad next June, he said that Brightline will then be on the way to carrying 3 million passengers a year.
“The railroad is the answer of the future,” traveling on a line that was built by railroad magnate Henry Flagler just before 1900. “What an awesome opportunity to reinvent that system.”

The railroad as conceived by its owner, Coral Gables-based Florida East Coast Industries, was to be a link between Miami and Orlando, linking to Orlando’s cluster of globally known theme attractions. But communities along the route have tried to sidetrack the planned operations, delaying that longer part of the run.

Mr. Howard said only that the Brightline will be “ultimately connecting to Orlando in phase 2 of our project.” He did not provide an estimate of how long that might take.

He did note, as he has in the past, that no privately funded passenger rail service has been completed in the US in the past 100 years. “This is a privately funded project that has enormous public benefits,” he said.
He said the level of service planned on the line now exists nowhere in the nation.
That might help to cut into the car-centric culture in the region.
“Yes, we need to change behavior, Mr. Howard conceded, “but the behavior that we have to change is painful. So it should be relatively easy” to motivate South Floridians to ride the rails rather than suffer in heavy traffic.
As for the impact on the community, Mr. Howard, who arrived here in March from New York, where he ran sports-oriented organizations, said that he hears a lot from employers about dependency on cars impeding business growth. “They can’t afford to lose people for hours in the day in their cars just to attend meetings,” he said.

As for getting Millennials to ride the Brightline, he said that the generation is much more favorably inclined to alternative travel modes than their elders and they already feel connected to city centers. Brightline, he said, is one of the solutions to connect the cities together.

Mr. Howard said that the owners of the Brightline feel good about their investment. The cost was low, because they already owned the right-of-way. At a cost of a little more than $1 billion for the five train sets and stations combined, he said, “this is actually an extraordinarily efficient investment.”