By Michael Mayo, full article at the Sun Sentinel
When he hands out pamphlets questioning what All Aboard Florida might do to Delray Beach and other coastal cities in southern Palm Beach County, Alan Schlossberg said the reaction is usually the same.
"People say, 'I had no idea this is going on,' " Schlossberg told me Wednesday.
For those who don't know, All Aboard Florida is a proposed new passenger rail service that will connect Miami to Orlando. It will run along the tracks east of I-95 now used by freight trains, with initial stops planned only for Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach.
That means in scores of smaller cities — such as Boca Raton, Delray Beach and Boynton Beach — residents will merely be able to wave at 32 daily trains as they race by. They'll get all the negative effects — noise, gate closures, traffic backups — and won't be able to hop aboard.
So it's no wonder the plan has started to gather more local opposition.
"To me, this whole thing makes no sense," said Schlossberg, a former snowbird from New York who now lives year-round in Delray Beach.
Apparently, it makes sense to somebody, because the private company developing All Aboard Florida has been moving full steam ahead, unveiling splashy renderings of its proposed downtown Miami station last month as it touted the rail line's convenience and need.
I have to admit, I'm a bit skeptical myself. If you're a business executive who has to hustle from a Miami meeting to a flight at Orlando International Airport — the train's endpoint — then maybe it's great (or maybe you can just fly out of Miami). But if you're a family vacationing in South Florida and want to spend a day at Disney World, are you really going to buy four tickets to ride a train and then figure out how to get to Kissimmee, or are you just going to rent a car and drive straight there?
Look, we all know that upgrading mass transit in South Florida is sorely needed. Express service between Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach along the eastern tracks could spur improved local bus and rail options. But this also strikes me as a bit of a vanity project, more concerned with tourists than everyday working folks. And not getting proper buy-in from the people along the route could prove problematic.
All Aboard Florida will cross 360 intersections along the eastern tracks, and although its nine-car trains will be much shorter than the 14 lengthy freight trains that traverse those tracks daily, it's still going to have a big impact on cities like Delray Beach. It explains why Gov. Scott has tapped on the brakes during an election year, asking for a delay to get more public input as federal regulators consider giving the train service a loan.
The backlash has grown especially fierce in Martin and St. Lucie counties, with an organized opposition group — Florida Not All Aboard — getting 17,000 petition signatures.
Schlossberg has become active in the fight, handing out pamphlets at the Arts Garage and asking the City Commission to "join the other 25 towns that have passed resolutions objecting to this project."
If opponents have their way, All Aboard Florida will not be in for a smooth ride at all.