Thursday, September 25, 2014

All Aboard Florida plans to run an express passenger rail service using 32 passenger trains a day from Miami to Orlando International Airport on the Florida East Coast Railway tracks, with Miami to West Palm Beach service expected to begin in late 2016 and West Palm Beach to Orlando to start in 2017.  The 235 mile route would take about three hours.  Over the next 8 years, $6.4BB will have a direct positive economic impact to Florida’s economy with $653MM in federal, state and local government tax revenue through 2021.  Construction will add 10,000+ jobs between 2014 and 2016 and more than 5,000 jobs on average per year after completion of rail line through 2021.
The 522-page study, required by All Aboard Florida’s request for a $1.6BB federal loan, concluded that:
·       the All Aboard Florida’s passenger train service between West Palm Beach and Orlando will have a minimal environmental impact, while improving air quality and reducing noise in surrounding communities with wait time at crossings between 1.7 minutes for passenger crossings and 2.8 minutes for freight
·       the  corridor will be shared with existing freight trains traveling between PortMiami and Jacksonville
·       if measures are not taken to reduce its impact, it could affect wildlife, traffic and the marine industry;  but, the report says that the trains are not expected to have “significant adverse impacts” on protected species or habitat
·       All Aboard Florida has proposed measures to reduce negative impacts, including efforts to minimize bridge closures, vibrations and noise
·       the 128-mile stretch of the Florida East Coast Railway tracks from West Palm Beach to Cocoa Beach could reduce noise by installation of less-noisy horns at rail crossing or implementation of quiet zones along the corridor
·       Encouraging mass transit would reduce vehicle emissions across South Florida should improve air quality with about 3MM less vehicles on the roads
·       Approvals are also required by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Coast Guard, the Federal Aviation Administration, the Federal Highway Administration, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service

While estimation is that 1100 jobs per year will be created by 2021 with labor income valued at almost $294MM, there is concern from opponents that, “They talk about the creation of jobs, but they are going to build a railroad and leave.” 
The nonpartisan Government Accountability Office has been asked to investigate whether the plan is financially viable with concerns of the Treasure Coast-Palm Beach Community, including the effect on the drawbridges that allow recreational and commercial boaters access to the ocean.  There are 18 locations that need either to be rehabilitated or to replace original bridges and improve two over the St. Lucie River and Loxahatchee River.  Plans are to mitigate boat bottlenecks by managing train schedules to two trains crossing at once and making the schedules public to boaters.  At most rail crossings, the service would result in about 3 new closures an hour or 54 closures a date with an increase of about 2 minutes over current conditions.
Tourism will increase with more easily reached destinations along the southeast Florida coast currently there are 95MM+ visitors to the state with 50MM currently making the planned route.  Florida will become the third most populated state in the US.  No ongoing taxpayer subsidies required.  Siemens will be the Train Manufacturer.
A Draft Environmental Impact Statements predicts:
·       3.5MM annual ridership per year by 2019
·       4 MM by 2030
·       69%, ridership diverted from cars
·       10%, riders diverted from air travel
·       10%, riders diverted from bus service
·       2%, ridership diverted from Amtrak
The public has 75 days to comment on the study, which ends on December 3rd; there will be 8 public hearings from Miami to Orlando.  One public hearing will be on Oct 29 at 3:30 pm to 7 pm at the West Palm Beach Marriott at 1001 Okeechobee Boulevard in West Palm Beach.

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