Laurence Reisman: If you’ve got issues with trains now, just wait

Posted on February 13, 2015

By Laurence Reisman


I really hadn’t planned on writing about trains.

But last Friday I had to catch a plane, the 6:20 a.m. out of Melbourne.

So I got up early. Really early. 3:10 to be exact. After all, my dad always taught me, “Plan ahead for problems.”

I figured I’d be out of my south Indian River County home by 3:40 and at the airport an hour later. I headed up 27th Avenue to Aviation Boulevard and east toward U.S. 1.

You can probably guess what I saw when I rounded the bend and saw the railroad tracks. Unfortunately, it was not All Aboard Florida’s high-speed train — the one expected to reach speeds of up to 106 mph, so fast crossing gates stay down less than a minute.

“Unfortunately” because what I saw were two freight engines in front of several livestock-looking train cars, headed south, with no end in sight, traveling maybe 5 mph. That’s right, 5 mph.

I did some quick math and figured (inaccurately, I realized later) I might have to wait about 20 minutes for a standard train of about 1.25 miles long to pass at 5 mph. And what if it was loading or off-loading freight? It would be the perfect time to do so, given so few vehicles were on the road.

I made a U-turn — a car waiting at the crossing gates made one right after me — and headed west. My next decision: head north on 43rd or 58th avenues? On 43rd, I could go through Gifford and cross the tracks at 45th Street.

I was worried the train might be blocking 45th Street, too — 1.7 miles away, I measured later. So I planned ahead for problems and took 58th Avenue north to County Road 510. I made a right there and, as I approached the tracks, found that I had gotten there just in time: The crossing gates were just heading up.

As I headed north through Sebastian, I was not too worried about missing my targeted airport arrival time of an hour before boarding. The last time I was at the airport first thing in the morning, Delta and USAirways were headed out at the same time and the Transportation Security Administration line was backed up unlike anything I’d ever seen there.

Farther north, around Grant-Valkaria, I heard what sounded like a train horn. A minute or two later, I looked left and saw a freight train headed north at 45 to 50 mph. Would I get stopped again as I attempted to cross the tracks westbound toward the airport?

Traffic signals in Palm Bay cooperated, and by the time I got to downtown Melbourne, I was past the train. I crossed there, lest I get stuck at red lights before reaching the road that connects U.S. 1 to the airport. I not only made it to the airport in time, but before TSA opened for screening.

And while I had not been too worried about the potential of 32 All Aboard Florida passenger trains going through Indian River County, my experience Friday was enough to persuade me otherwise. It’s the combination of freight stops, slower moving freight trains and the high-speed rail that convince me safety could be jeopardized — especially when people try to get to our hospitals from west of the railroad tracks.

Nowadays, Florida East Coast Railway, All Aboard Florida’s sister company, reportedly runs an average of 14 trains a day between Miami and Jacksonville. By 2016, that would increase to 20 trains per day, according to the Florida Railroad Administration. By 2026, we’re looking at 25 freight trains a day.

That’s no problem for me if I’m heading to the Melbourne airport; I’ll take Interstate 95. But running the gauntlet of freight and passenger trains while trying to get to the hospital would be a far riskier endeavor.

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