The Sun Sentinel – Comments sought on passenger rail plan

Posted on October 27, 2014

By Michael Turnbell

Residents have until December 3 to comment on All Aboard Florida impact study

All Aboard Florida plans 32 trains a day starting in late 2016 between Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach.

Harboring some worthy thoughts on train travel? Here’s your chance to share.

Residents will have opportunity to sound off on All Aboard Florida’s plans for passenger rail service in a series of eight public meetings starting Monday.

The Federal Railroad Administration is hosting the meetings to get comments on a 500-page draft environmental impact statement that reviewed the project’s affect from West Palm Beach to Orlando.

Also under review: Its impact to boaters where the tracks cross drawbridges on the New River in Fort Lauderdale, the Loxahatchee River in Jupiter and the St. Lucie River.

The meetings will be in an open house format, with 30 different information stations set up for various topics in the study. There will also be video simulations of how long crossings will be closed when trains pass and how trains affect drawbridges. Find meeting times and locations at the end of this story.

All Aboard Florida plans to run 32 passenger trains a day on the coastal tracks that parallel U.S. 1 between Miami and Cocoa, and on new tracks between Cocoa and Orlando. Service between Miami and West Palm Beach is expected to start in late 2016, with the northern leg to Orlando starting in 2017.

The Miami-to-West Palm Beach segment has already received federal approval and preparations for construction are under way, with crossing work expected to begin at the end of the year.

The public will have 75 days to comment on the study, nearly twice as long as required. The comment period ends Dec. 3. Residents can submit comments at one of the meetings or by email or mail.

A draft study on the impacts of the proposed rail line found:

•The New River bridge would be closed 30 times a day for an average of 13 minutes vs. 10 times a day currently for an average of 19 minutes.

•The Loxahatchee span would be closed 42 times a day for an average of 12 minutes vs. 10 times a day for an average of 19 minutes.

•Drivers can expect crossings to be closed 54 times a day or three times an hour, compared to once an hour now.

“We found (the environmental study) is consistent with what we have been saying about the project, both in terms of benefits and impacts. The report shows there would be improvements to public safety, air quality and noise associated with the implementation of All Aboard Florida,” project officials said in a statement.

But residents and many elected officials from northern Palm Beach County to the Treasure Coast oppose the project and have grown louder in their opposition.

Some say the data used for boat traffic in the Loxahatchee River is flawed because it was done during a period of unusually high winds in January.

“The report tries to claim that winter is the peak season for boating traffic on the river, which is far from correct,” said Donna Dickerson, of Jupiter.

“It will be an absolute disaster for the waterways of South Florida if this goes through,” said Rod Crawford, of Jupiter. ” The Loxahatchee River Bridge for example takes an average of 40 minutes to open and close every time a train passes.”

Opposition is less vocal in Broward and Miami-Dade counties, but boaters in Fort Lauderdale are worried that bridge closures on the New River will impede marine traffic. The New River is the lifeline for Broward’s marine industry, home to about a third of the county’s marinas, with the largest concentration west of the railroad bridge.

The environmental study says impacts will be minimal, but can be mitigated by:

•Faster speeds for both freight and passenger trains, thanks to the construction of a second track.

•Coordinated train schedules so passing trains cross at the same time, and increased efficiency in how the bridges are raised and lowered.

•Putting bridge closures on a set schedule. Countdown timers or signals at each span will indicate when bridges will close and how long before trains will arrive.

•Employing a tender at the New River bridge. The span currently is raised and lowered remotely by a dispatcher in Jacksonville.

All Aboard Florida initially planned to seek a federal loan to build the segment north of Orlando, which many opponents said was taxpayer subsidized. But the company changed course and now seeks to finance the construction with $1.75 billion in tax exempt bonds. The first segment from Miami to West Palm Beach is privately financed.

If you go

The Federal Railroad Administration will hold eight public meetings on the northern leg of All Aboard Florida’s proposed Miami-to-Orlando passenger rail service.

All meetings are from 3:30 to 7 p.m.

Dates and locations include: Monday at Miami-Dade College’s Wolfson Campus, James K. Batten Room 2106, 300 NE Second Ave., Miami; Tuesday at the Broward CountyConvention Center, 1950 Eisenhower Blvd., Fort Lauderdale; and Wednesday at West Palm Beach Marriott, 1001 Okeechobee Blvd., West Palm Beach.

Also, Thursday at the Kane Center, 900 SE Salerno Road, Stuart; Nov. 5 at Indian River State College, Richardson Hall, 6155 College Lane, Vero Beach; Nov. 6 at Port St. Lucie Civic Center, 9221 SE Civic Center Place, Port St. Lucie; Nov. 12 at Cocoa Civic Center, 430 Delannoy Ave., Cocoa; Nov. 13 at Wyndham Orlando Resort I-Drive, 800 International Drive, Orlando. All meetings will be from 3:30 to 7 p.m.

You can email comments to:, or mail them, postmarked by Dec. 3, to: Mr. John Winkle, Federal Railroad Administration, 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE, Room W38-311,Washington, DC 20590.

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