Saint Peters Blog: All Aboard Florida foes question FDOT Secretary on safety, funding

Posted on July 11, 2015

By Phil Ammann

Original Article: Saint Peters Blog

A growing number of residents along Florida’s Treasure Coast are not on board with commuter rail, and they are taking their case to Gov. Rick Scott.

Anti-commuter rail activists released the contents of a formal letter delivered to the Florida Department of Transportation, asking the Scott administration to answer a number of questions on All About Florida.

Citizens Against Rail Expansion in Florida (CARE FL), a coalition representing wealthy communities in Palm Beach and Martin Counties, are the latest group to voice opposition to passenger rail service on Florida’s East Coast.

Many of CARE FL issues revolved around safety and the disruption of “quality of life” increased rail would bring to quiet suburban communities.

But the group had several other problems with AAF, specifically about funding and how much local communities will have to shoulder the costs of what was originally pushed as a privately funded project, free of state and local subsidies.

On Tuesday, the group sent a letter to Scott, followed on Thursday another letter to FDOT Secretary Ananth Prasad on Thursday. The letter was signed by the eight members of the CARE FL Steering Committee, including Bill Ward of the Mariner Sands Country Club in Stuart and Michael Kennedy President of the Marine Industries Association of Palm Beach County, Inc. in Riviera Beach.

CARE FL has also raised questions on the potential impact of AAF on drivers, boaters and first responders, who will be faced with trains running several times a day along Florida’s East Coast rails adjacent to peaceful waterfront communities.

All Aboard Florida was sold to the public as a privately owned and operated rapid rail service running along the Florida East Coast Railway (FEC). The proposed service, to be operated by the FEC, will eventually connect Miami and Orlando through a nearly 240-mile route along the Atlantic coast from Miami north to Cocoa, then turning west towards Orlando.

By early 2016, supporters say up to 32 passenger trains will run daily between Miami, Orlando, West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale.

“As we await the forthcoming Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and the opportunity it presents to submit formal comments on certain issues,” according to the letter, “we want to reiterate our communities’ safety-related concerns about this proposed rail expansion-stemming from the increase in both the number and the length of freight trains passing through our communities each day, as well as the speed of the proposed high-speed passenger trains.”

CARE FL asked Prasad what steps the FDOT will take over safety, as commuter trains could reach 79 mph in the connector between Miami and West Palm Beach, and reach speeds of up to 110 mph on the way to Cocoa, where new tracks will join the line to Orlando International Airport.

They also demand answers of exactly who will pay for safety upgrades at the total of 263 public and private grade crossings and approximately 90 grade crossings between Indian River County and Cocoa Beach.

“We believe AAF should be required to pay 100 percent of the installation costs,” the letter says, “but that does not appear to be the case. “

“Is FDOT content with these costs being heaped on the local communities?”

Earlier in the week, officials from All Aboard Florida announced a 2016 launch for the proposed Miami-to-Orlando service, the same time as a the Miami-to-West Palm Beach rail corridor.

Touting the project as a private venture, Scott also included $10 million in 2014-2015 state budget for train noise buffers, as well as another $230 million for an Orlando International Airport rail terminal for use by All Aboard Florida.

That money raised the ire of CARE FL members.

“We and almost everyone in the state believe the $200+ million the Administration has pledged to finance the railroad hub at Orlando International Airport amounts to a state subsidy for AAF,” the letter continues.

“While we understand that the Orlando terminal may ultimately serve as a transportation hub for multiple public and privately-financed trains, the $200+ million in state funding for the Orlando terminal will directly and exclusively benefit AAF, unless and until public funding is finalized for other projects.”

The group is currently waiting for a response from both Scott and Prasad.

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