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All Aboard Florida, Siemens and More

All Aboard Florida execs talk Siemens train purchase, funding options

The phrase “all aboard” is becoming a bit closer to reality for All Aboard Florida (AAF), as officials continue to make progress on the Miami-to-Orlando intercity passenger-rail project. Designs for stations in Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach have been unveiled and are being finalized. Station site prep work is under way, and construction is scheduled to begin in early 2015.
But two of the most significant project announcements to date have come in the past two months.
In mid-September, AAF officials announced they had awarded a contract to Siemens to build locomotives and single-level intercity passenger cars for the corridor. AAF execs chose Siemens after an “exhaustive” search and procurement process that took nearly two years, says President and Chief Operating Officer Don Robinson. The process included trips to Europe, where AAF officials rode trains to get a feel for the type of service and ride quality they want the Florida service to mimic.
Execs focused mainly on higher-speed corridors and trips in the three-hour range — the amount of time AAF trains would take to make the 235-mile trek from south to central Florida.
“As you go a shorter distance or a longer distance, [riders’] needs change,” says Robinson. “During a three-hour trip, how do people use and store their luggage? How do they use dining cars? What seat configurations worked for them?”
Seven rolling stock manufacturers expressed interest in the AAF contract. The agency selected Siemens because of the company’s willingness to adapt products for AAF’s needs. Plant location was a big factor, as well: Siemens will build the locomotives and rail cars at its Sacramento, Calif., plant, meaning the rolling stock will be made in America. The company will retrofit a portion of its plant so it can manufacture the intercity passenger cars — the first such vehicles Siemens will build for a U.S. rail system, says Robinson.
Rolling stock order
AAF’s order includes five trainsets that will operate on the initial Miami-to-West Palm Beach segment. The agency plans to purchase an additional five trainsets once it has financing and environmental approvals secured for the second phase of the project, from West Palm Beach to Orlando International Airport.
AAF officials say they are aggressively pursuing new options for the project on the financing front. The first phase is being funded through equity from Florida East Coast Industries L.L.C., which is developing the project and owns the rail corridor, as well as bonds that were issued earlier this year, says Robinson. AAF had been seeking a $1.6 billion federal Railroad Rehabilitation & Improvement Financing (RRIF) loan to help finance the second phase, but now is considering issuing private activity bonds to solicit debt financing from private capital markets.
Seeking private equity bonds
Doing so would ease taxpayers’ concerns that they might be on the hook for any project financing, says Robinson. The alternate financing also could be quicker to obtain.
“[This option] … gives us responsibility of and control over the timing of the process,” said AAF President and Chief Development officer Michael Reininger during an audio interview posted on the Treasure Coast Newspapers’ website on Oct. 7.
The private activity bond program is administered by the U.S. Department of Transportation, which must approve AAF’s application for a $1.75 billion bond allocation. Depending on the approved amount, AAF would be able to either eliminate or significantly reduce the requested amount of the RRIF loan, says Reininger.

All Aboard Florida to state agency: No local governments would oppose its new financing plan

More than 38,000 people have signed petitions to stop All Aboard Florida. Protests have reached the governor, members of Congress and the U.S. secretary of transportation.
Yet despite a groundswell against the proposed high-speed train, specifically on the Treasure Coast, All Aboard Florida has told the state it doesn’t know why any city, county or other local government would oppose issuance of tax-exempt bonds to fund its project, Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers has learned.
All Aboard Florida avoids even mentioning the vehement opposition with a plan to cut off the Treasure Coast from any of the bond money, instead spending $1.3 billion of it in the other five counties along its 235-mile corridor.
It’s a subtle distinction in All Aboard Florida’s application to the Florida Development Finance Corp.
“AAF has received clear and consistent support from each county in which proceeds from the private activity bond will be invested,” the company wrote in its application for the bonds.
Where the application asks, “Are you aware of any reason why any local government unit (city, county, special district, etc.) would not want Florida Development Finance Corp. to issue bonds in connection with this transaction,” All Aboard Florida marked “No.”
The application — submitted Sept. 24 and signed by Michael Reininger, All Aboard Florida president and chief development officer — was obtained by Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers under Florida’s public-records law. Reininger certified that “The information contained in this application is … complete and accurate and presents fairly the condition of the applicant … ”
Asked if the company had answered the question about opposition honestly, All Aboard Florida declined to comment.
Bill Spivey, Florida Development Finance Corp. executive director, said his agency asks about opposition “to make sure if there are any issues, we’re aware of it. Typically, bondholders want to know if there are any issues. We want to be fully apprised.”
Spivey also stressed his agency has “nothing to do with anything other than financing.” Issues such as zoning, development and land use — and other concerns that ignited a firestorm against the $2.25 billion project — are beyond the authority of the Florida Development Finance Corp., he said.
All Aboard Florida plans to spend more than $387 million to upgrade its rail right of way through Martin, St. Lucie and Indian River counties, according to an economic impact study commissioned by the railroad. Yet while its application to the state confirms no money from the private activity bonds would be spent on the Treasure Coast, the company won’t comment on how it would pay for construction here.
It also refused to explain why it chose to use the bond money only in Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Brevard and Orange counties.
“We are a privately owned company and are not disclosing our capital structure,” the company said in a statement. “All Aboard Florida is fully financed to begin construction on the south segment (from Miami to West Palm Beach). Proceeds from the private-activity bonds; equity contributions from All Aboard Florida’s parent company, Florida East Coast Industries; and rolling stock financing will provide all the funding necessary to develop the project from Miami to Orlando.”
All Aboard Florida has asked the U.S. Department of Transportation to authorize the sale of $1.75 billion of tax-exempt private-activity bonds. The railroad would pay a fee to Florida Development Finance Corp. to be the “conduit issuer,” and would begin marketing the bonds before the end of the year, according to its application.
All Aboard Florida initially asked the federal government for a $1.6 billion low-interest loan, a part of its plan that has drawn some of the most strenuous criticism. However, if the tax-exempt bonds are approved, the loan “would either be completely replaced or substantially reduced, ” Husein Cumber, Florida East Coast Industries executive vice president, said last month.
In addition to buying locomotives, train cars, maintenance equipment and equipment for its stations, All Aboard Florida plans to use money from the private-activity bonds to pay off $405 million it borrowed through a bond offering in July, according to the bond application. All that money remains in escrow, according to the application.
Private Activity Bonds
All Aboard Florida wants to scrap its request for a $1.6 billion federal low-interest loan and instead borrow $1.75 billion by having the state issue tax-exempt public-activity bonds. How would that work?
The U.S. Department of Transportation must approve “allocation” of the $1.75 billion, meaning it authorizes the amount of bonds to be sold.
All Aboard Florida pays Florida Development Finance Corp. an issuance fee as the “conduit issuer.”
Florida Development Finance Corp.’s name is on the bonds, but the state of Florida is not financially at risk if All Aboard defaults. The state does not pledge its credit, any cash or anything else, and acts only as a financing conduit, not a lender.
Bond interest rate is set by a third-party underwriter, based in part on market conditions, before the sale.
With a bond sale this large, buyers typically would be institutional investors.
All Aboard would repay investors their principal plus interest. Term of the bonds has not been determined, but state law sets a maximum of 30 years.
Investors would be exempt from paying federal income tax on the interest earned.
Brevard and Miami-Dade County commissions last month voted to approve the amount of bond proceeds to be used locally. It was required because they are the only counties along the All Aboard Florida corridor whose interlocal agreements with Florida Development Finance Corp. include “bond caps.”
Source: Florida Development Finance Corp.

Is It Florida Versus All Aboard Florida Or What?

Two companies with ties to All Aboard Florida —  Florida East Coast Railway and Florida East Coast Industries — have given more than $125,000 to candidates and committees during the 2014 election cycle — a fraction of what several other large businesses in have contributed during the same time frame, state and county records show.

Florida East Coast Railway contributed $74,825 to 2014 campaigns, state finance records show. The vast majority of that money — $70,000 — went to Let’s Get To Work, a political committee backing Gov. Rick Scott’s re-election campaign.

Florida East Coast Industries had contributed $51,689 as of Monday afternoon, according to state finance records. The money went to several campaigns, including: $7,500 to the Republican Party of Florida; $3,000 to Florida Agricultural Commissioner Adam Putnam: and $3,000 to state Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater.

The company contributed $1,000 each to both Democratic State Sen. Maria Sachs and her Republican challenger Ellyn Bogdanoff in the Palm Beach-Broward Senate District 34 race.

Florida East Coast Industries also contributed $1,000 each to Palm Beach County Commissioners Steven Abrams and Paulette Burdick.

By comparison, U.S. Sugar has given more than $2.3 million to state candidates, state finance records show. Roughly half of that went to the Republican Party of Florida.
Political newcomer David Silvers hopes to beat incumbent Bill Hager

David Ryan Silvers is running for political office for the first time, and in a district that might be the most competitive in Palm Beach County. What could make his chances of a win seem even more tough is that he’s running against a man who already has name recognition and two consecutive terms in his pocket. But Silvers says he is confident he’ll be the one chosen to head to Tallahassee , not Rep. Bill Hager.

The area is mostly coastal and is nearly split between the two parties; Republicans take 36 percent of the district and Democrats take 34 percent. It is the only district in the state house races that have both candidates running political ads on television.

Concerning All Aboard Florida. Silvers said some of his concerns are about safety and emergency crew response times possibly affected by the trains. He said the project would benefit the area economically, but, “when there’s such an outrage from a community, that usually would trump the economic impact.”

Hager said he is “sensitive” to the potential impact at the crossings. “So my position is we need to catch our breath and take a careful look at it,” Hager said.

All Aboard Florida cuts risk to taxpayers

To All Aboard Florida, the venture planning high-speed rail service through Brevard, for eliminating one of the main knocks against its plan. No longer will it seek a low-interest federal loan to build or upgrade tracks between Miami and Orlando — making it publicly subsidized and possibly a risk to taxpayers. Instead, the company plans to finance through private bondholders and repay them, tax-free, from private operating cash flow. The downside to those who oppose 32 trains a day zipping through towns on the Florida East Coast Railway: They can no longer fight the loan approval to monkey-wrench the plans.

 

Brevard Commission tackles train noise issue

County commissioners debated whether it would be a good idea to take steps to reduce the noise created by the horns of 32 passenger trains a day passing through 50 crossings in central and southern Brevard County.

The majority said they want to do whatever they can to implement a continuous “quiet zone” in Brevard along the route of the proposed All Aboard Florida train service. But Commissioner Trudie Infantini voted against that, fearing the safety issues created if the train horns do not sound as a train approaches the railroad crossings.

All Aboard Florida is proposing train service from Orlando International Airport to Miami, with interim stops in West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale. Plans call for 16 trains a day in each direction.

Some local residents are opposed to the service, because of its potential impact on the environment, noise, road traffic and safety. Compounding the issue: The trains will not be stopping in Brevard to pick up or drop off passengers.

The Space Coast Transportation Planning Organization proposes that the county and six affected Brevard cities and towns on the route seek quiet zone designation from the Federal Railroad Administration to eliminate the sounding of a train horn at each crossing the train approaches.

All Aboard Florida seeks private financing to replace or augment federal loan request

All Aboard Florida has changed its plan to pay for its express passenger rail line and will seek private debt financing that will replace or substantially reduce its current federal loan request, according to its website.

The private company, which plans to run 32 trains per day from Miami to Orlando, has applied for a $1.6 billion loan with the Federal Railroad Administration, but says it “has decided to pursue” the alternative route of a private activity bond allocation to pay for West Palm Beach to Orlando leg of the track.

The Miami to West Palm Beach portion of the plan was paid for with $405 million in high-risk bonds that the company sold in the spring.

Proceeds from the PABs, equity contributions from All Aboard Florida’s parent company, Florida East Coast Industries, and rolling stock financing, will provide all the funding necessary to develop the project between Miami and Orlando,” All Aboard Florida’s website says.

The $405 million in privately offered notes, which carry a 12 percent interest payout, were expected to be paid off by the $1.6 billion publicly subsidized federal loan once it was awarded.

In a prospectus for the bond sale, potential buyers were told that All Aboard Florida may redeem all or part of the notes sometime before the end of 2016 “with the proceeds of a Government Loan.”

All Aboard Florida said it floated the bonds because it didn’t want to wait to begin construction until the loan was awarded. An environmental impact statement, which was released last month, had been delayed since the spring, and a 75-day comment period still stands in the way of the loan being considered.

The company already pushed back the start date of the West Palm Beach to Orlando service to early 2017.

Cato Institute rail expert Randal O’Toole has said in the past that he is skeptical All Aboard Florida will be profitable either as a transportation or real estate investment.

At the same time, All Aboard Florida opponents have questioned why the federal government would loan money to a project that is considered so high-risk in the private sector that it required a 12 percent bond yield.

The money they borrowed in the marketplace was at a junk bond level,” said Steve Ryan, a Washington, D.C.-based attorney hired by the group Citizens Against Rail Expansion. “To me, raising money at junk bond levels is not an indication of strength.”

All Aboard Florida has said the total cost for its unprecedented project is $2.5 billion, and the prospectus notes that parent company Florida East Coast Industries has contributed $345 million in cash to the plan. It has also contributed to the land purchased for the stations in Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, which is valued at approximately $730 million, according to the prospectus.

“They definitely have skin in the game,” said Chris Kotowski, an analyst at Oppenheimer & Co. in New York. “Three hundred and forty-five million dollars, that’s not peanuts.”

In general, though, the RRIF program authorizes the Federal Railroad Administration to provide direct loans and loan guarantees up to $35 billion to finance development of railroad infrastructure. Up to $7 billion is reserved for projects benefiting freight railroads.

The money may be used to acquire and improve rail equipment or facilities, refinance outstanding debt taken on to rehabilitate rail lines, and develop new intermodal railroad facilities — all things All Aboard Florida plans to do.

If the company’s $1.6 billion request is granted, it will be the largest RRIF loan awarded to date.

 

Commentary: All Aboard Florida benefits to county

West Palm Beach City Commissioner Shanon Materio
West Palm Beach City Commissioner Shanon Materio

West Palm Beach City Commissioner Shanon Materio

Perhaps it is from my perspective as a member of the Palm Beach County Metropolitan Planning Council (MPO) that makes it difficult for me to understand the recent debate among some of the cities in Palm Beach County whether to support the All Aboard Florida passenger rail project.

The comments seem to surround answering the general question of determining the direct benefit to a particular city. That in fact is what we do on the MPO. We decide how to spend tens of millions of public tax dollars for transportation projects that will not only help a particular local government but will enhance the overall transportation grid within Palm Beach County as a whole.

Most projects don’t directly help my city of West Palm Beach. However, everyone on the MPO realizes that better roads, better mass transit, better turning lanes and beautified roadways, no matter in what city they are located, work to make all of Palm Beach County and our collective quality of life better for everyone. Try to imagine the gridlock that would occur on the MPO if every dollar for every project had to also be justified by a city proving a direct beneficial nexus to every other city in Palm Beach County.

It is also why the MPO voted to set aside funding for “quiet zone” upgrades for the cities in Palm Beach County that run along the FEC (Florida East Coast) rail corridor. All the cities to the west of the FEC corridor will not directly benefit from the quiet zones, but recognize that the overall benefit to our county far exceeds the incremental cost.

I know there is a grass-roots effort attempting to stop the All Aboard initiative or somehow turn it into a public-sector project based upon a federal loan application, and as an elected official, I certainly respect the right of every citizen to get involved and voice their opinions. But equal respect should be afforded to the industries and cities that actually believe passenger rail service being integrated into Florida is a good thing.

Yes, West Palm Beach is the city designated for the All Aboard rail station. But West Palm Beach is the county seat, is centrally located and in close proximity to Palm Beach International Airport. In the same way all of Palm Beach County benefits from Wellington’s equestrian economy, or Jupiter’s bioscience research hub, or Boca Raton’s technology corridor, all of Palm Beach County will benefit from having an All Aboard Florida station in West Palm Beach.

From my position as a member of the MPO, I am thrilled that we don’t have to use a penny of public dollars other than what our cities need for their application to the federal government to request a quiet zone. And if our federal government can actually make money by loaning All Aboard Florida money instead of spending money, I say that’s smart business.

Life in Florida is pretty good for most of us. Yes, we occasionally have to wait in our cars when a boat lazily passes through a bridge opening; or we wait while a train goes by, but what does it say about our lives if those inconveniences ruin our day?

On the MPO, we measure the public dollar cost against the overall public benefit. If the public benefit to Palm Beach County is greater than the cost, we all support the project no matter if one city might benefit more than another. In this case, the benefits of intercity passenger rail and the future infrastructure it will bring, allowing more commuter rail service on the FEC throughout Palm Beach County, far outweigh the cost to the public.

 

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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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Florida Rail Is, As Always, Exciting

Florida East Coast Railway boosts intermodal capacity

Florida East Coast Railway will boost its intermodal capacity with new equipment that will help further its strategy to convert existing trailers to containers to provide double-stack transportation service.

The Class II railroad has acquired 500 new 53-foot containers and 100 chassis, as well as 50 refrigerated trailers to cater to customers in the perishables market. All of the units will be in service by mid-October.

The containers and reefer trailers are equipped with GPS technology, providing real-time tracking capabilities, and the reefer units are also equipped with systems that provide information about operational performance, including temperature levels.

“We continue to see positive growth in our intermodal business as customers from a variety of industry segments recognize the value we provide,” said James R. Hertwig, president and CEO, in a statement. “With the addition of these new units, we are well-positioned to meet the needs of the marketplace during the upcoming peak shipping season and beyond.”

Earlier this month, Florida East Coast Railway launched a 53-foot container service, giving North Carolina shippers a new option to ship goods to South Florida for domestic consumption or transloading for export.

Florida East Coast Railway (FECR) is expanding its services to include intermodal transportation between Charlotte, N.C., and a number of South Florida locations.The railroad’s Piedmont Express service is available five days a week using FECR assets. The seamless two-day service offers various pickup and delivery options, including door-to-door, ramp-to-door and ramp-to-ramp service.

Now, customers have another option to move their freight to the growing South Florida market more efficiently and effectively, FECR officials said in a press release.

“On average, for every four southbound shipments arriving in South Florida, there is only one northbound shipment. This imbalance can be challenging,” said FECR President and Chief Executive Officer James Hertwig. “However, Piedmont Express [service] in FECR’s containers provides a cost-effective option for customers in the Carolinas.”

Florida East Coast rail bridge in downtown Jacksonville now has limited open and close schedule following repairs

FloridaJacksonvilleBridge

The span adjacent to the Acosta Bridge in downtown had been closed to a significant amount of boat traffic since Sept. 8 after a pinion gear broke. It was operational again at 3:45 p.m., said Debra Phillips.

“There will be a limited opening schedule to be sure the repairs continue to function properly,” she said.

She said the schedule is being coordinated with the Coast Guard and it will remain in the upright position for Sunday’s Jaguars game, as has been done in the past.

The closing affected both commercial fishermen and recreational boaters who could not pass beneath the rail crossing when it was in the down position.

The railroad bridge was built in 1926 and has had a history of breakdowns.

All Aboard Florida’s northern route will have minimal impacts, federal study finds

FloridaEastCoastRouteMap

The Federal Railroad Administration has found the overall environmental impacts of the northern leg of All Aboard Florida’s passenger rail service will be minimal, according to a draft study released this afternoon

The 500-page study, known as an environmental impact statement, evaluates the impacts of the rail project between northern Palm Beach County and Orlando.

The much-anticipated study was originally expected to be released in April.

The Palm Beach Post is in the process of reading through the document, which was released at 2:20 p.m. Check back for updates.

Read the All Aboard environmental impact study.

 All Aboard Florida could impact man’s pet business in Vero Beach

VERO BEACH, Fla. – A local business owner worries All Aboard Florida could force him to close.  He recently received a letter from the company behind the project telling him they have rights to part of his property.

Douglas Moore owns Cindi’s Pet & Aquarium Center here in Vero Beach. He sells reptiles, fish, birds and puppies plus food and treats.

“My future is very uncertain at this time,” says Moore.

That’s because of All Aboard Florida. The project will run from Orlando to Miami. It will add 16 round trip high speed trains in his backyard.

“According to my vet the vibration alone of that many more trains will probably put me out of the animal business,” says Moore.

He told us the vet says the vibration will frighten the animals. Moore is also concerned about a letter from the Florida East Coast Railway. The letter tells him the company has a right of way to the back of his business. That includes several parking spots and storage space.

“Losing 5, 6 parking spots is gonna mean I lose 5 or 6 customers,” says Moore.

He’s the not the only one concerned. Next door is Royal Ballroom Dance Studio. The owners started their dancing business almost four years ago.

“People like it you know we don’t want to move,” says owner Oleg Dimidrov.

He and his wife Asya worry about the noise and if the project will impact their property just like their neighbor.

Moore says he has written to lawmakers including the governor asking for help. He also has an attorney.

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U.S. Coast Guard will hold two hearings regarding the maritime impact of the proposed All Aboard Florida project.

The announcement of the public comment meetings comes after Murphy met with Coast Guard Rear Admiral John H. Korn in July to express his opposition to the high-speed rail and made a formal request for the Coast Guard to hold hearings so the public can explain the project’s impact on maritime traffic, commerce, and safety.

The Coast Guard will also conduct a navigation survey on the effect of rail traffic on the Loxahatchee, St. Lucie, and New Rivers.

With the proposition of 32 additional trains crossing the Loxahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers via draw bridges that are almost a century old, AAF stands to create major problems on the water backing up recreational boats, harming marine businesses, and delaying emergency vehicles by causing frequent closures,” Murphy said in a statement released today about the meetings. “It is imperative that business owners, boaters, and emergency personnel have their concerns heard so that the Coast Guard may evaluate how best to ensure the continued navigability of our waterways.”

Florida East Coast Industries CEO Vince Signorello appears on CNBC to tout All Aboard Florida project

Signorello said tourists and state residents make roughly a half a billion trips each year between Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and Orlando. All Aboard Florida’s express trains can move those passengers more quickly, shaving about an hour off of the time it takes to drive from Miami to Orlando.

It is the math that makes it work,” Signorello said Wednesday on the network’s morning talk program, Squawk Box.

Signorello said about 40 percent of All Aboard’s riders are expected to be tourists.

The balance is split between local people moving around the State of Florida and business people,” he told the network.

When asked whether it would be cheaper and easier for families to travel by car, Signorello said: “The economics work better for smaller groups.”

But Signorello noted that many tourists are willing to spend a little extra to save time and be more productive while they travel.

When you think about the people moving between Miami and Orlando, particularly the tourists, there is a level of affluence that allows them to get on the train and trade their time and productivity for dollars,” Signorello said.

All Aboard Florida plans to run 32 passenger trains a day between Miami and Orlando on the Florida East Coast Railway tracks. Miami-to-West Palm Beach service is expected to begin in late 2016 with the Orlando leg starting in 2017.

In a tweet Sunday, All Aboard Florida officials said to expect “lots of news this week about the project.”

 An environmental impact statement addressing the effect the project could have on areas north of West Palm Beach has yet to be released.

Find out about accomplishments and Fairpromise

It Is Florida Rail Friday In Our Newsroom

WOW, this high speed rail / Florida East Coast thing is even getting into the Governor’s Mansion. NEXT CITY has a big story on: High-Speed Rail Muddies Florida Governor’s Race.

High-speed rail has a complicated history in the Sunshine State. Florida’s current governor Rick Scott was one of several Republicans to refuse federal funds ($2.4 billion) earmarked for high-speed trains in 2011. According to the Tampa Bay Times, his decision elicited “cheers from his tea party base, and harsh criticism from leading Florida Republicans and Democrats.”

Fast-forward three years, and a high-speed project is in the works — with cautious support from Scott. But All Aboard Florida, as it’s cheerfully titled, is different from the project Scott refused for one simple Tea Party-pleasing reason: It’s privately owned and operated by Florida East Coast Industries. And Scott is quick to point that out.

All Aboard Florida is a 100 percent private venture,” he said in a TV interview in June. “There is no state money involved.”

The train is expected to connect Miami to Orlando in less than three hours with stops in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. It will be the slowest of the three proposed U.S. rail projects (others are Texas and California), maxing out at 125 mph.

Check out their article to see the political implications.

 

Jacksonville, Florida
Jacksonville, Florida

 

Now Jacksonville, who is not officially yet involved with All Aboard Florida has gotten into the news. The Jax Daily Record had a good article on “Better Transit Systems For Downtown Is Key To Growth”.

Getting Jacksonville’s Downtown better connected through public transit would lay the groundwork for regional high speed rail and help lift urban core real estate.

 

That was the takeaway of an industry panel that discussed the future of infrastructure in Northeast Florida.

The panel was part of an event that unveiled the Urban Land Institute’s 2014 infrastructure report. The report focused on how infrastructure investments could shape cities for global competitiveness.

The industry panel took a local view, though, by asking which investments would promote Jacksonville the best. Downtown public transit connectivity was considered one of the missing puzzle pieces.

It’s one of the things holding back All Aboard Florida, a privately funded high-speed rail initiative that will connect Orlando with Miami. Jacksonville is not yet included in that plan.

The initiative is first targeting cities that have local routes in place to take riders from high-speed rail stations to their final destinations, said Husein Cumber, executive vice president of Corporate Development for the Florida East Coast Railway, the parent company of All Aboard Florida.

Orlando is one such city. It has been investing in its public transportation system for decades.

To compete, Jacksonville would have to have routes in place so a rider could get from a high-speed rail station to places like EverBank Field for a game, to the airport, San Marco or Jacksonville Beach, Cumber said.

Read more of this article on Jacksonville.

 

Proposed West Palm Beach Station
Proposed West Palm Beach Station

 

South Florida Business Journal has a story involving two U.S. Congressmen.

In separate letters to the Government Accountability Office, U.S. Reps. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter, and Bill Posey, R-Rockledge, said an independent review of the All Aboard project is needed before federal officials decide whether to give the company the loan, The Palm Beach Post reports.

Read more on this story about the Congressmen.

Florida East Coast Railway Grade Crossing
Florida East Coast Railway Grade Crossing

 

TC Palm has the story on Indian River County rejectingAll Aboard Florida’s plan to maintain rail crossings

The Horror Behind Curtain No 2
The Horror Behind Curtain No 2

 

The Sunshine State News has a story on “The Horror Behind Curtain No. 2”.

All Aboard Florida (AAF) is like a rigged “Let’s Make a Deal” TV experience. 

They tell you the Big Prize is the shiny new passenger train service. But no matter which curtain you choose, you’re going to get what’s behind curtain No. 2 — the freight-train nightmare from hell.

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.

St. Lucie, Florida and Other News About Florida East Coast Railroad and All Aboard Florida

The “David” in this David & Goliath story is not Loren Data. It is the tiny village of St. Lucie, Florida.   If it comes to a fight between All Aboard Florida and St. Lucie Village, don’t bet against the village.  The tiny municipality north of Fort Pierce has a history of taking on powerful interests and winning.  St. Lucie Village – population 599 – is nestled between the Indian River Lagoon and U.S. 1.  It is mostly residential.  Running down the middle is a set of Florida East Coast Railway tracks.  The railway would like to add two more sets of tracks to accommodate All Aboard Florida, an affiliate of the railway, which wants to operate a high-speed passenger service between Miami and Orlando.  Sixteen trains in each direction every day.  Village residents are against the triple tracks.  At public meetings, they said they fear emergency services would not have easy access to homes east of the tracks.  St. Lucie Village is the oldest continuously occupied place in St. Lucie County, dating back to the mid-1800s.  But it was not incorporated until 1961 — so that residents could prevent construction of a steel mill in their midst.  In the 1990s, the village joined others to block a plan to expand the nearby St. Lucie International Airport.  Any big Goliath about to face this little David should take note.  Paul Janensch, Radio 88.9 FM, WQCS.ORG.

AllAboardFloridaTrain

Martha Musgrove from the Sun-Sentinal Talks About All Aboard Florida.

With infectious enthusiasm, Mike Reininger, president and chief development officer for All Aboard Florida, grabbed the microphone to whoop: “This is happening — now!”

This being the train-of-trains that will whisk passengers from Miami to Orlando in three hours, with interim stops in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach.

But All Aboard Florida isn’t a “done deal” and can’t “happen” until the financing is in place to restore double tracking to the FEC corridor and build an extension between Cocoa and Orlando. The financial linchpin to making things happen is a $1.5-billion Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement loan the company is seeking from the Federal Railroad Administration.

Trying to block the loan are well organized opponents in Florida’s politically conservative Treasure Coast and Space Coast, who are airing TV commercials depicting “Big Choo-Choo” as a house-shaking, dish-rattling behemoth with yellow eyes, an evil squint and bared steel-teeth. The NIMBY (not in my backyard) factor is clear. But it’s not the only political driver. There’s also an abhorrence of “big government” and lingering rancor over “waste,” “bail-outs,” and failed “public-private partnerships.”

Let’s focus on two NIMBYs: noise, which is inextricably linked to safety, and blocked navigation.

Railex

RAILEX OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE

Railex, which operates weekly unit trains that offer express five-day coast-to-coast service, recently shipped its 1,000th eastbound train and is celebrating its seventh year in business, according to Paul Esposito, executive vice president of network planning and government relations.

Esposito said that 1,000 trains is the equivalent of 142,000 truckloads, and the use of Railex’s service helped save over 63 million gallons of diesel fuel and prevented more than 1.2 million metric tons of carbon dioxide from being pumped into the atmosphere.

It’s a tremendous savings on the environment,” he told The Produce News.

Esposito and other Railex officials were on hand at the Produce Marketing Association Fresh Summit convention, here, to promote the planned opening of its new facility in Jacksonville, FL, which is expected to be operational by May or June.

Railex identified the location in Jacksonville in September 2012, said Esposito, and the company has been going through the permitting and scheduling process for the past year, he said.

It’s really an ideal location,” said Esposito. “It is on Phillips Avenue at the junction of FEC Railroad, which provides easy accessibility and gives us a rail option to South Florida as well as increases our distribution radius.”

Railex began operating in 2006 with service between its headquarters in the Albany, NY, area and a facility in Wallula, WA. In 2008, it added a facility in Delano, CA. The Jacksonville facility is its fourth and will facilitate express shipments to all major Southeast markets, including Atlanta and Miami.

Each of the four facilities offers refrigerated storage space with distinct custom temperature zones that enables it to properly handle the various perishable products, such as produce, seafood, wine, nursery and frozen items.

Florida Is Buzzing With News About All Aboard Florida and Florida East Coast Railway

About the neatest story, especially for the big critics is that All Aboard Florida is paying for bulk of rail crossing improvements in South Florida. There is a video and a great story in Sun Sentinal.

Officials say those improvements, such as new lights and gates – should put municipalities in a good position to qualify for quiet zone status at 115 crossings in Palm Beach County, 67 in Broward and 19 in Miami-Dade.

The company is adding a second track to the Florida East Coast Railway and rebuilding dozens of South Florida crossings to safety levels needed for passenger trains.

Cities will still have to pay for smaller upgrades that All Aboard Florida’s project won’t cover. That could mean something as simple as a $100,000 raised median to prevent cars from jumping into opposing lanes at crossings.

The private company expects to spend about $800 million to build the first phase of its passenger rail service, with stops in Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. It plans to run 32 trains daily – 16 each way – starting in late 2016.

Miami-Station-Design-4-jpg

Miami-Dade officials approve All Aboard Florida’s Miami station plan

The Miami-Dade County Commissioners approved All Aboard Florida’s land use plan to construct a nine-acre multi-modal station and transit-oriented development in downtown Miami.

The transportation hub will include a mixed-use development with residential, office and commercial uses, and a retail concourse, and will serve as a connector between All Aboard Florida’s passengers and Miami’s existing public transport systems, All Aboard Florida officials said in a press release.

The company selected Boston-based Suffolk Construction for pre-construction and construction management services for the station, which will be located in the downtown’s western area. Construction is anticipated to begin in late fall.

The passenger-rail system will be elevated 50 feet to align with existing public transportation systems and with retail spaces located beneath the track. The design will allow through-streets to remain open to traffic and create an atmosphere of walkability, All Aboard Florida officials said.

“This is definitely a project we want to see happen in the core of downtown. We are optimistic that the project will take us to the next level of urban living,” said Miami-Dade County Commissioner Bruno Barreiro.

All Aboard Florida is a Miami-to-Orlando passenger-rail project being developed by Florida East Coast Industries Inc.

West Palm Beach Station
West Palm Beach Station

 

The Sun-Sentinal talks about the new West Palm Beach station for All Aboard Florida

All Aboard Florida’s modernistic new train station is expected to help revitalize a ragged stretch of downtown between Clematis Street and City Place, officials said Monday as plans for the new stop were unveiled.

Renderings show a 60,000-square-foot complex with lots of glass, an elevated lounge above the tracks and signature V-shaped trusses at the station, located west of the Florida East Coast Railway tracks between Evernia and Datura streets. The design complements stations underway in Fort Lauderdale and Miami. A fourth station is planned at Orlando International Airport.

Then We Have An Editorial from a Realtor About How A “Transportation Workshop was Bogus

What was falsely advertised as a Transportation Vision Workshop on July 10 in Viera was nothing more than trolling for comments so railroad promoters could adjust their sound bites and sell their boondoggle to taxpayers.

Real workshops build good policy using the interplay of group expertise. In contrast, the Space Coast Transportation Planning Organization hosted a marketing presentation, not a discussion. Its plan promotes an ill-conceived 110-mph passenger rail blasting through Brevard, increasing congestion at U.S. 1, and diminishing property values along Indian River. As we Realtors know, buyers say that Brevard’s potential will be stifled until the railroad moves west.

Crowley's Port Everglades Terminal
Crowley’s Port Everglades Terminal

Finally we have a story about how Crowley Customers are Realizing Benefits of New FEC Intermodal Container Transfer Facility in Port Everglades

The opening of Florida East Coast Railway’ s (FEC) new, state-of-the-art intermodal container transfer facility (ICTF) adjacent to Crowley Maritime Corporation‘s Port Everglades, Fla., terminal is providing Crowley customers with more efficient cargo handling and faster deliveries now that containers no longer need to be trucked via interstate highways to and from an off-site rail terminal. Additionally, the strategic location of the 43-acre, near-dock station is allowing Crowley to handle bigger, heavier break bulk and out-of-gauge cargo more efficiently and cost effectively because of the shorter distance required for transit to the railhead.

CONNECTING THE DOTS: Global Warming, Florida Power & Light, Florida East Coast Railway, All Aboard Florida

Randy Schultz of the Sun-Sentinal  recently wrote about Global Warming from the political side: “A century ago, the most important company in what passed for South Florida was Henry Flagler’s Florida East Coast Railway. Today, Florida Power & Light comes closest to filling that role.

The region and nation plan to deal with climate change. Talk radio will rant on about uncertain science, but much of American industry — including FPL — already believes in the link between human activity and global warming. Last month, writing in The New York Times, former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson compared the potential failure to deal with climate change with the failure to regulate financial markets before the Great Recession.”

PanamaCanalLocks

More shipping will be coming to Miami area with the revitalized Panama Canal. A lot of what Florida East Coast Railway is doing will cut “nasty” emissions from hundreds of giant tractor-trailers growling up the Interstate.

Tractor Trailer Traffic Jam
Tractor Trailer Traffic Jam

All Aboard Florida will slow down the burning of jet fuel as Miami-Orlando planes spew it out to get up high enough to begin their descent. And then, less cars on the highway too.

Jet Plane Polluting
Jet Plane Polluting

So if we connect these three dots (Florida Power & Light, All Aboard Florida and Florida East Coast Railway, what conclusion do we see that will help the environment: AN ELECTRIC RAILWAY!!!

Electric Locomotive
Electric Locomotive

Electric Railroads only become cost-effective in high-traffic areas (like Europe, Japan or Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor). Listening to the NIMBY’s complaining about all the extra traffic on the railroads, I think it will qualify.

So, by “connecting the dots”, we get a WIN (for the environment), a WIN (for Florida Power & Light) and a WIN (for the railroads). And it all adds up to a WIN (for the people)