Category Archives: All Aboard Florida

All Aboard Florida is speeding up: What that means for the Treasure, Space coasts

After years of speculation, anticipation, protests and lawsuits, the Treasure and Space coasts soon could see All Aboard Florida transition from much-discussed concept to brightly colored reality.

The company last week announced that work on Phase 2, between West Palm Beach and Orlando International Airport, could begin as early as next month.

A raft of financing and permitting approvals seem to back up these claims.

First, the company last week announced it had all necessary federal permits to begin work on Phase 2 and that it had received an important approval from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

That approval, known as a record of decision, indicated that All Aboard Florida’s plan for track construction and passenger service on Phase 2, which includes the Treasure and Space coasts, complied with the National Environmental Policy Act.

It allows the company to move forward with its request for a $1.6 billion federal loan, one of two financing options that are in play for Phase 2.

The other financing option sought by All Aboard Florida —$1.15 billion of private activity bonds — also seems to be moving ahead.

The Department of Transportation on Friday approved bond allocation, according to All Aboard Florida. That approval is needed by the Florida Development Finance Corp., the state agency that issues the bonds, before it can proceed.

Brightline previously seemed to struggle to sell its private activity bonds, and last year canceled its original bond allocation, $1.75 billion issued by the finance corporation in August 2015. It opted instead to break its financing request into $600 million for Phase 1 and $1.15 billion for Phase 2.

This strategy evidently was more successful: The Wall Street Journal earlier this month reported that All Aboard Florida apparently had an easy time selling its bonds and had received $2 billion of bids on its $600 million offering.

Brightline CEO Dave Howard announced Friday it had closed on the $600 million bond sale.

The company continues to consider the federal loan and tax-free bonds to fund Phase 2, he said.

A polarizing topic, Brightline has proved popular in much of South Florida and Brevard County, but has faced opposition and legal challenges from Treasure Coast governments and residents.

The company in recent months cleared many of the roadblocks put up by opponents, including a federal lawsuit filed by Martin and Indian River counties and challenges to environmental permits filed by all three Treasure Coast counties.

Despite its recent momentum, Brightline has a history of delays in its timeline: The company originally said it would begin full Miami-to-Orlando service by 2014, according to a 2012 Associated Press report, but in 2014, it pushed the target date to 2016

Now, the company says service between Miami and West Palm Beach will begin in 2018, with the expansion to Orlando opening in 2020.

For months, Brightline has said service between West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale would begin by the end of this month, but seemed to back away from that Friday, instead saying only that it continues “working toward operational readiness with the Federal Railroad Administration for the launch of introductory service between West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale, and will release details soon.”

Brightline already has “presold” tickets and corporate packages to “individuals and businesses throughout the region,” Howard said.

The company said it is “finalizing the engineering and design for the rail infrastructure” for Phase 2, but declined to provide details about when local track work would begin.

All Aboard Florida could start Treasure Coast, Space Coast construction as soon as next month

All Aboard Florida said on Friday it will begin construction north of West Palm Beach early next year.

The announcement follows two important financial developments.

First, the railroad on Friday won approval from the U.S. Department of Transportation to proceed with its application for a $1.6 billion federal loan.

The DOT approval, known as a record of decision, signifies that All Aboard Florida’s proposal for Phase 2 passenger rail service, between West Palm Beach and Orlando International Airport, complies with the National Environmental Policy Act, an idea that Treasure Coast governments have long disputed.

All Aboard Florida officials on Friday said the railroad now has all the federal environmental approvals it needs to begin Phase 2 construction through the Treasure and Space coasts.

“This is the most critical and final step in the extension of Brightline’s service to Orlando, and we are excited to move forward with Phase 2,” Dave Howard, Brightline CEO, said in a news release.

Hollywood a Possible Neighborhood Center for Planned Tri-Rail Coastal Link

Hollywood Gazette

Patti Morin wants to be able to travel more throughout South Florida. But she is concerned about the growing amount of traffic and the difficulty of traveling by car in the region.

“We need more public transportation in this area,” said Morin.

“The congestion on I-95 is getting worse,” noted Achim Nowak “It is becoming harder for people to use their cars. I think a new train station would be wonderful for Hollywood.”

Morin and Nowak were among the local residents, business owners and community stakeholders participating in the Tri-Rail Coastal Link Station Area Master Plan Community Planning Session on Saturday, December 2, at the Fred Lippman Multi-Purpose Center in Hollywood. The planned service, designed to be a major commuter railroad for the east coast of Florida from Miami to Jupiter, would operate on the Florida East Coast Railroad (FEC) track on Dixie Highway (Tri-Rail and other passenger trains now use the CSX tracks which run near I-95). Hollywood leaders are working closely with the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council, planning and zoning officials and the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority to make it happen. A Hollywood station would be a strategic stop between the major hubs of Aventura and Fort Lauderdale. The train station would be at the center of a larger community that would include business and housing development. Public sentiment at the meeting was leaning toward a downtown location near the Lippman Center.

Dana Little, urban design director for the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council, said the meeting offered people an opportunity to create their desired train stations for the service’s master plan. Working together in groups, they presented recommendations including more green space, housing and business projects and efforts to improve the area. They want a new train station and updated development to surround it. Most of those who participated believe there is a need for more effective public transportation and an effort to encourage more people to walk or cycle in Hollywood.

The planned Tri-Rail Coastal Link service on the FEC railway is a strategic investment for South Florida and could help in the economic development of the region. The Coastal Link will generate an extensive range of benefits that go beyond the direct impact of any individual project, including spurring economic development, creating jobs, improving regional access and mobility and providing opportunities for transit-oriented development. The South Florida Regional Transportation Authority, the Florida Department Transportation Council and the South Florida and Treasure Coast Regional Planning Councils are working together to develop the Coastal Link service.

More information is available at

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.

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


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.”

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.

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.