The TC Palm – All Aboard Florida files suit to block agencies from releasing ‘sensitive documents’

Posted on December 1, 2014

By Arnie Rosenberg

All Aboard Florida has gone to court to block public release of its most sensitive information, its financial and ridership projections.

The railroad filed a lawsuit last month in Tallahassee, naming the Florida Department of Transportation, the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority and the Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority. It wants a judge to block the three agencies from releasing its ridership and revenue study, which contains passenger, financial information and more.

The lawsuit also names Orlando real estate developer Matthew Falconer. Using Florida’s public-records law, Falconer had asked FDOT and the two Orlando agencies to release a raft of documents, including All Aboard Florida’s ridership and revenue study; its $1.5 billion federal loan application; plans for the intermodal terminal at Orlando International Airport; and details of its corridor along state Route 582, the Beachline Expressway, between Cocoa and Orlando.

Falconer also wants all documents involving “the potential purchase of the Florida East Coast Industry rail lines in southeast Florida by any government entity” and documents “on the use of taxpayer funds for the improvement of the Florida East Coast Industry rail line or potential subsidy of the rail service,” according to All Aboard Florida’s lawsuit.

All Aboard Florida contends the ridership study contains trade secrets and, as such, is exempt from the state public-records law.

“As is the case with many other companies, our business plan is proprietary, as is the ridership study that it was based on,” All Aboard Florida said in a statement.

The study, according to the lawsuit, “is an extremely sensitive and commercially valuable document, the disclosure of which to the public could place AAF at an unfair competitive disadvantage vis-à-vis airlines and other transportation alternatives.”

The study, prepared by an outside consultant, contains “a detailed ridership and revenue forecast that helped generate operating and financial models” for the railroad, according to the lawsuit. “The ridership study analyzes expected market share for AAF’s service, including the effects of various pricing and travel time scenarios on AAF ridership.”

Falconer, who ran unsuccessfully for Orange County mayor in 2010, calls himself a taxpayer advocate, and spent years poring over the details of SunRail, the Central Florida commuter train that began service May 1.

“There’s been a groundswell of support for this project, but it’s coming from the people who are designing and building it, not from the people who will ride it,” Falconer said. “I want to verify their authenticity and accuracy.”

In addition to requesting All Aboard Florida documents from the Florida agencies, Falconer said, he’s filed federal Freedom of Information Act requests, including one for the federal loan application, with the Federal Railroad Administration, which also is reviewing the $2.25 billion project.

“Like with SunRail, I expect to find that this was conceived years and years ago by people who stand to profit from it,’ Falconer said. “At the end of the day, this is a freight deal that will mean billions of dollars for the freight company.”

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