Brightline unveils 2nd phase safety plans, may delay completion
Posted on April 4, 2016
By Jennifer Sorentrue
All Aboard Florida’s Brightline train service unveiled safety plans on Monday for the second phase of its express route linking Miami to Orlando, but the timeline for when those upgrades will be made depends largely on the tight municipal bond market, company officials said.
The safety plans are the first step to silencing train horns from 15th Street in West Palm Beach north to the county line along the Florida East Coast Railway tracks, Brightline officials said. Quiet zone improvements are already under construction from the Broward County line north to 15th Street, where Brightline is building a train storage and maintenance facility.
Mike Reininger, Brightline’s president, said that construction on the service’s second phase — planned between West Palm Beach and Orlando — will depend on the “timing of our financing.”
The Coral Gables-based company had planned to sell $1.75 billion in tax-exempt bonds to help fund the project, but the tight municipal bond market forced officials to shelve the sale.
The company plans to launch service between Miami and West Palm Beach in 2017. Officials had said the West Palm Beach-to-Orlando would begin by the end of 2017, but on Monday, Reininger said “there is likely to be some movement on the date.”
Regardless of the financing, the project will still move forward, Reininger said. Any delay with the start of the second phase will likely be a matter of months, not years, he added.
“We are absolutely moving forward with the second phase,” Reininger said. “It is simply a question of timing.”
AllAboard’s Brightline won preliminary approval from the Department of Transportation in December 2014 to issue the private activity bonds. In January, the U.S. Department of Transportation said it would give Brightline until Jan. 1, 2017 to complete the bond issue.
It marked the second time Brightline had received an extension.
Treasure Coast officials have been battling to block Brightline’s service, saying it will bring increased noise, traffic and safety hazards as trains travel up to 110 mph through their communities and historic downtowns.
After a cursory review, Martin officials said Monday that Brightline’s safety plans lack key details.
“Martin County staff has identified safety measures such as vehicle presence detectors, remote health monitoring and positive train control that are not graphically depicted in the plans and remain in question” the county said in a statement. “In addition, we have serious concerns about the absence of sidewalk connections, bicycle lanes and Sealed Corridor requirements such as quad gates and concrete dividers.
Martin officials also said they fear county taxpayers could be on the hook for the cost of maintaining improvements made as part of the safety upgrades.
The Federal Railroad Administration has already blessed the safety upgrades, which detail safety improvements planned at every railroad crossing from 15th Street in West Palm Beach north through St. Lucie County. The plans show which intersections will receive new signals, warning devices, gate arms, and median upgrades.
Brightline officials said drivers won’t notice any major charges in Palm Beach County as a result of the upgrades.
Palm Beach County’s Metropolitan PlanningOrganization has pledged $6.6 million to help cover the cost of the quiet zone from Boca Raton to 15th Street in West Palm Beach. The organization said it is committed to cover the cost of additional safety improvements to extend the quiet zone north to the county line.