Rail crossings could cost Martin County millions

Posted on December 17, 2015

By Lisa Broadt of TCPalm

The $1.4 million Martin County taxpayers have spent fighting All Aboard Florida pales in comparison to what they will shell out annually to maintain local rail crossings once the passenger railroad begins its daily Miami-to-Orlando service, according to a new Martin County study.

Estimated annual costs associated with crossings over the existing Florida East Coast Railway tracks — including maintenance and land leases — would increase from this year's $323,300 to $1 million in 2020 and to $3 million in 2040, according to the county.

All Aboard Florida said it has not seen the study and declined to comment on the county's conclusions.

"When the agreements were executed — some as recently as 2004 — Martin County assumed responsibility for the maintenance of the grade crossings, many of which were double-tracked at the time," All Aboard Florida said in a statement. "As with all county roads, Martin County pays to maintain the roadway that is used by their residents and visitors each day."

Martin County in the study said local taxpayers should not be responsible for the projected costs associated with the $3 billion railroad. All Aboard Florida's Brightline trains are to begin service through the Treasure Coast by late 2017.

"Unlike the county's ongoing agreement with FEC — recognizing that the county has been built up around the longtime freight railroad — this new passenger endeavor is not, as a matter of fairness and equity, entitled to the same common law agreement," the county said in the report.

Increased maintenance costs from All Aboard Florida would nearly triple what the county would have otherwise paid, according to Martin County's research.

The majority of the cost increase would come from the increased cost of maintaining intersections with longer, wider tracks, Martin County Deputy Engineer Terry Rauth said in the study.

The county calculated the anticipated cost increase of the additional tracks — as laid out in All Aboard Florida's 90-percent-complete engineering plans — by breaking down and extrapolating from historical data, according to Rauth.

But Treasure Coast financial records show that a variety of factors affect maintenance costs and that increased costs may not be directly related to increased track length and width.

The infrastructure improvement that would be made as All Aboard Florida adds a second track along the existing rail corridor could save Martin County the cost of a maintenance cycle and other improvements, according to All Aboard Florida.

"For example, a crossing that is scheduled for routine rehab in 2017 may not have to be reconstructed for many years because of the maintenance and repairs that were performed as part of improvements," the company said in an email.

A smaller, but still significant cost would come from the annual cost of land leases, which increase 5 percent each year and would grow from $55,200 in 2015 to $186,800 in 2030, according to the county.

"Although these land leases exist whether or not the AAF project moves forward, the annual automatic increase of 5 percent is quite high," Rauth said. The county believes these leases could be renegotiated, if the railroad "were so inclined."

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