Anti-Rail Group Reponds To Letter From Federal Transit Agency

Posted on April 20, 2016

By Ryan Ray

A group protesting the expansion of passenger rail in South Florida never heard back from the feds.

But they did obtain a letter addressed to the rail plan they oppose.

The group, Citizens Against Rail Expansion in Florida, said they worked with U.S. Rep. Bill Posey to get a copy of the communiqué after hearing the Federal Railroad Administration’s Safety Office had written All Aboard Florida — the rail proposal in question — about issues related to the group’s concerns.

Initially, Martin County, where the proposed tracks will lie, reached out to AAF about safety and financial concerns they raised which align with CARE FL’s concerns — namely, that the AAF rail expansion could threaten pedestrian safety, local budgets and maritime commerce.

AAF didn’t get back to Martin authorities, with whom CARE FL is aligned on the matter, on their November 2015 inquiry, but activists with the group later learned AAF received a letter from the federal rail administration on similar issues.

In that letter, according to CARE FL, federal officials echoed concerns the group raised about railroad crossings, which they insist must be improved and maintained at no cost to local governments, a major sticking point in the row over expansion

“FRA has determined that the highway-rail grade crossing plans submitted by AAF do not conform to the highway-rail grade crossing treatments in the FEIS … We also disagree with AAF’s assertion that AAF’s alternatives comply with FRA’s sealed corridor guidelines,” the letter reads.

CARE FL also said the letter “rebukes” AAF President Michael Reininger‘s commitment on the railroad’s grade crossing obligations.

“We are pleased to hear from Mr. Reininger that AAF is not ‘resistant to grade crossing improvement obligations.’ Based on that understanding, and communications from Undersecretary [Peter] Rogoff and FRA Administrator [Sarah] Feinberg to AAF, we expect AAF to comply with the grade crossing treatments,” the letter reads.

CARE FL pounced on the letter’s contents.

“It is unfortunate that the FRA only responded to Rep. Posey after AAF was given time to take corrective action and resubmit grade crossing plans in a manner intended to lead the public to believe that all safety concerns had been appropriately resolved,” the group wrote. “That said, we are appreciative that the FRA Safety Office seems to take seriously its responsibilities with respect to this project, as the rest of the Department of Transportation has often appeared not to.”

They contend that the AAF plan, nearly six months later, still does not address concerns about transparency, funding of rail crossing upkeep, sidewalk construction and safety equipment.

“If this railroad were to be built, AAF has demonstrated it will not take responsibility and act safely unless forced to do so.

“To be clear, CARE continues to oppose the ill-conceived AAF project — not only for safety reasons but also because of the detrimental impact it will have on our community’s maritime economy and overall quality of life,” said the group. “But if the project moves forward, we strongly believe that the long-term costs of maintaining the safety features critical to protecting the public should not be heaped on the local taxpayers into perpetuity.”

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