TC Palm / SCRIPPS Papers: New opposition group presses Scott for action on All Aboard Florida
Posted on July 8, 2014
By Arnie Rosenberg
A coalition of wealthy communities and private clubs is taking up the fight against All Aboard Florida.
Mariner Sands Country Club and Loblolly, both in Martin County; Frenchman’s Creek Beach and Country Club in Palm Beach Gardens; and Jonathan’s Landing and the Club at Admiral’s Cove, both in Jupiter, have contributed money to the cause, hired professionals to run the campaign and made their first foray into the continuing controversy with a letter Tuesday to Gov. Rick Scott. Click to read the letter.
Citizens Against Rail Expansion in Florida — using the acronym CARE FL — told Scott it has “significant concerns” about the high-speed passenger-rail plan.
Its letter cites the 32 passenger trains that will run daily between Miami and Orlando, running nonstop through the Treasure Coast, and “the related Florida East Coast Railway freight-rail expansion.”
“As the highest elected official of our great state, Gov. Scott, we fully — and respectfully — expect you to not just consider our concerns, but to respond in a thoughtful and open fashion in keeping with the charge of your office and the expectation of Florida voters.”
The organization wants a meeting with Scott or his staff to discuss its concerns.
Its letter also cites safety concerns and issues facing maritime interests and questions whether All Aboard Florida is a private enterprise or “a hybrid that relies on community funding.”
The communities and private clubs behind the new coalition have more than a passing interest in the $2.25 billion project. All Aboard Florida would run 16 round trips a day along the corridor already used by Florida East Coast Railway for 14 daily freight trains. Those tracks run along the eastern edge of Mariner Sands and the western edge of Loblolly. In Palm Beach County, the tracks parallel Alternate A1A, which borders Jonathan’s Landing, Admiral’s Cove and Frenchman’s Creek on the west.
The high-speed trains — which would hit 125 mph between Cocoa and Orlando — would hit about 80 mph through northern Palm Beach County and southern Martin County.
The coalition will hire a safety expert and already has retained Stephen Ryan, a Washington, D.C., attorney with a track record of successfully fighting railroad expansion, and a public relations firm. Ryan helped the Rochester Coalition — a group comprising the Mayo Clinic, local Minnesota governments and the chamber of commerce — fight a plan to run 34 coal trains a day near the Mayo Clinic.
In that case, the Federal Railroad Administration in 2007 denied the application for a $2.3 billion Railroad Rehabilitation & Improvement Financing loan from the Dakota, Minnesota & Eastern Railroad. The Rochester Coalition lobbied heavily against the loan, arguing that the railroad already had a bad safety record and questioning its ability to repay it the loan.
In rejecting the request, the FRA cited “too high a risk concerning the railroad’s ability to repay the loan.”
All Aboard Florida is seeking a $1.5 billion federal loan — from the same program — to add a second track between Miami and Cocoa.
“I don’t think it’ll get off the ground without the RRIF loan,” Ryan said. “This is a risky proposition.”