Category Archives: All Aboard Florida

All Aboard project the high-speed rail state always wanted

You can thank Henry Flagler, not a constitutional amendment or federal stimulus dollars, for Florida’s best shot at a high-speed rail system.

Despite opposition, the All Aboard Florida project keeps chugging along with railroad and real estate construction in South Florida’s signature downtowns. Railroad grades are being redone; new signals and switches are being installed, and concrete is being poured for stations and affiliated commercial real estate.

“We see those things happening every day from West Palm Beach to Miami,” said All Aboard President Michael Reininger. “We are right where we’d thought we’d be.”

That means on target for a 2017 launch date — and those supporting Florida high-speed rail can thank the private sector, not government.

Here is a brief history.

Florida’s push to catch up to modern civilization on fast-speed passenger rail began in 2000 with the bullet train constitutional amendment. However, voters hit the bullet train reset button four years later with another constitutional amendment to void the first one.

Then, in 2010, along came President Barack Obama’s transportation secretary, Ray LaHood, with “free” money for high-speed rail projects, including $2.4 billion for a link from Tampa to Orlando. It really wasn’t free money, though, just more dollars added to the country’s national debt, now at $18 trillion and counting.

Gov. Rick Scott said no thanks, insisting the cost would be well above $3 billion. Two other governors, Wisconsin’s Scott Walker and Ohio’s John Kasich, who is still in the GOP presidential field, also rejected the federal giveaway.

Today, though, All Aboard Florida’s Miami-to-Orlando project, without the state constitution and without adding billions to the U.S. debt, is the only high-speed train with a chance to leave the station in Florida.

Privately funded All Aboard is using railroad infrastructure already in place — the same Flagler path that opened Florida to the world more than a century ago. It’s being funded by tax-exempt bonds All Aboard must sell to investors, not taxpayers, though opponents argue this much constitutes a subsidy.

“This is a transportation infrastructure project that started on third base,” said Reininger. “We’re the beneficiary of good fortune, in that history delivered to us the asset base that will allow us to build this.”

All Aboard still has major hurdles to surpass. It has to sell the aforementioned bonds, $1.75 billion worth, which Martin County is contesting. There are pending legal challenges and some pieces of Flagler’s railroad, now the Florida East Coast Railway, need work, including three pivotal but rickety bridges.

Here’s the thing: All Aboard’s cost is more than $3 billion.

Sounds to me like the government would have made a smarter investment by buying All Aboard’s bonds — and still have had dollars to spare — instead of proposing to put taxpayers on the hook for an entire high-speed line in Florida.

 

 

 

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FL: Bypass Track Opens, Lets All Aboard Proceed with West Palm Station

The $2.9 billion All Aboard Florida project hit a milestone Sunday evening when freight trains started using a newly built bypass track through downtown West Palm Beach — a shift that will allow crews to complete work on the company’s $29 million station and rail platform under construction near CityPlace.

The new section of track is located between Quadrille Boulevard and the Florida East Coast Railway line. The bypass line, which is being built within the FEC right-of-way, runs from just north of Third Street to south of Hibiscus Street.

The track shift clears the way for the next phase of construction at the downtown station. All Aboard Florida plans to remove the old track to make room for work on the station’s train platform, overhead lobby and waiting area.

“Moving the existing freight rail line will allow us to begin construction on the station and two new rails that will accommodate the passenger service,” said Adrian Share, All Aboard’s executive vice president of rail infrastructure. “This is another step toward creating a new urban living space with an interconnected mobility system.”

The bypass track is expected to be a permanent fixture. Eventually, there will be three rail lines near the station, which is just north of CityPlace between Datura and Evernia streets.

All Aboard Florida began work on the station this year.

In January, the company permanently closed rail crossings at Datura and Evernia streets as part of the construction plan. The station’s 800-foot train platform is planned to rise where the streets once crossed the tracks.

This spring, crews began installing water, sewer and stormwater pipes at the site

and crews started work on the foundation pilings in June.

The West Palm Beach station is one of four the company is building as part of its express passenger rail line planned between Miami and Orlando.

The company plans to run 32 trains a day along the FEC tracks with stops in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and Orlando. All Aboard Florida plans to launch service between Miami and West Palm Beach in 2017. The West Palm Beach-to-Orlando span is expected to begin by the end of 2017.

In Palm Beach County, All Aboard has several crews clearing land along the FEC corridor to make way for a second line, or double tracks, that will allow two trains to pass.

In the coming months, the company will begin upgrading rail signals and crossing arms at railroad intersections.

The company is working with Palm Beach County’s Metropolitan Planning Organization to create a continuous quiet zone to silence train horns along the FEC tracks from the county line north to 15th Street in West Palm Beach. MPO officials are working to extend the zone north to the county line at the same time All Aboard Florida launches its second phase between West Palm Beach and Orlando.

All Aboard a link to better future for Delray Beach

When All Aboard Florida was first announced, I had my questions, like everyone else. But I approached the project with an open mind, looking for opportunities to set our community on the right path for a more sustainable and mobile future.

I finally came to the conclusion that the investment and upgrades to our transportation infrastructure will benefit such cities as Delray Beach, even though we initially will not have a stop downtown.

 

One important benefit of All Aboard Florida will be the introduction of quiet zones along the Florida East Coast Railway corridor, so freight and passenger trains won’t blow their horns.

The majority of this work is now being paid for by the railroad, and the small remainder will be paid for by the Palm Beach Metropolitan Planning Organization. This is an important benefit for those who live along the tracks. Keep in mind that communities have been trying to implement quiet zones for decades, but have been unsuccessful due to the cost.

The biggest benefit I see for Delray Beach is the ability to fast-track the Tri-Rail Coastal Link, the commuter rail project between Miami and Jupiter on the FEC corridor. I am a big advocate of this project. Can you imagine the positive economic and transportation impact this will have on our downtown?

South Florida Regional Transportation Agency (SFRTA) Executive Director Jack Stephens recently said that the funding for Tri-Rail’s first link to downtown Miami has been completed. With this connection comes the first Coastal Link station, and the beginning of the expansion of the current Tri-Rail system along the FEC corridor.

This gives Tri-Rail’s riders immediate access from west Boca Raton or Delray Beach to downtown Miami. This is a great start.

It is clear that All Aboard Florida is moving forward. Let’s take this opportunity to work collectively with SFRTA and AAF to realize the potential to make Delray Beach stronger and better connected.

BRUCE BASTIAN, DELRAY BEACH

Editor’s note: Bruce Bastian is vice chairman of Human Powered Delray.

 

 

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