Florida Today: Local boards give rail plan differing views

Posted on September 2, 2014

Dave Berman, Stacey Barchenger and John McCarthy

Port supports it, TDC takes no side

Two local government boards took different approaches over the last few days when asked to support the All Aboard Florida passenger rail project that is planned to run from Miami to Orlando International Airport. The trains would pass through South Brevard and Central Brevard. Current plans call for interim stops only in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach.

The Canaveral Port Authority on Thursday voted unanimously to endorse the project concept, while encouraging future service to Brevard, including Port Canaveral.

The Brevard County Tourist Development Council a day earlier heard a presentation from an official of All Aboard Florida’s parent company but took no action, with a TDC member expressing negative views after the official left the meeting.

Port commissioners felt that, if All Aboard Florida has a future stop in Brevard County, it could benefit the port, because a large percentage of cruise passengers arrive in the area by plane at the Orlando airport.

Canaveral Port Authority Chairman Tom Weinberg said he believes the rail project “is good for Florida.”

Port Authority Vice Chairman Jerry Allender — who also represents the Port Authority on the Space Coast Transportation Planning Organization — said he expects that, eventually, All Aboard Florida would add more stops, including one in Brevard.

Allender, current chair of the 19-member Transportation Planning Organization board, said his votes on the TPO will reflect the Port Authority’s positive views on the project.

Rusty Roberts, vice president of corporate development for All Aboard Florida parent company Florida East Coast Industries, got less support when he made a presentation to the Tourist Development Council about the rail service’s benefits. He cited job creation; reducing by 3 million the number of vehicle trips a year on highways between Orlando and Miami; and making it more convenient to travel between the two cities.

Service from Miami to West Palm Beach is proposed to start in the third quarter of 2016, with the West Palm Beach-to-Orlando segment added in 2017, after an environmental review is completed and tracks are built from Cocoa to the Orlando airport. The company says it will run 16 trips a day in each direction.

Members of the Tourist Development Council and tourism officials in the audience seemed most interested in whether there would be astop in Brevard.

Roberts said the company could not make a commitment about future stops. But he said “Brevard is in a sweet spot,” in terms of having both a large population base and a large number of tourists visiting.

Roberts said the company would like to expand service north and west if the initial route proves successful.

He said it would take about two minutes to pick up and drop off passengers at a stop.

Roberts encouraged local tourism officials to outline the benefits of a stop in Brevard and to determine where the best place for that stop might be.

After Roberts left the meeting, Tourist Development Council member and local hotelier Jim Ridenour referred to that as “a political trick” to put the onus on the community to make the case, rather than the rail company, in deciding that Brevard is a good place to have a stop.

In a subsequent interview, Roberts said his comments may have been misinterpreted, as they were meant to urge cooperation between All Aboard Florida and local officials.