All Aboard Florida files suit to block agencies from releasing 'sensitive' documents

Publish Date: 
Wednesday, June 18, 2014 - 7:00am

By Arnie Rosenberg From TCPalm June 16, 2014 at 6:37 p.m

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.”
more news at www.CitizensAgainstTheTrain.com

Citizens Respond

Wednesday, June 18, 2014 - 6:45am

"The Freedom of Information Act is a good tool for citizens. If a company is doing business with any agency, Federal, State, County or Municipal, the citizens deserve the right to know. Take that FOIA away, reject all of the funding requested from the company.
Ridership studies quoted (relative to AAF's own pre-ridership study) http://ftp.dot.state.tx.us/pub/txdot-..."

"The public deserves to know all the details of a project such as AAF that will adversely affect our safety and quality of life. Millions of dollars of public funds are proposed to be spent to build out the FEC public infrastructure. Government in the Sunshine must provide all details of AAF, and our elected officials, and various governmental agencies regarding this public/private partnership."

"How much money has FDOT already granted to FEC Holdings for south Florida port rail projects and for FECI/AAF land easements and such? How much money has the state of Florida, and Orange County Expressway Authority and Orlando International Airport already invested in the AAF project? Why? What is this speculation with taxpayer monies based on? What is AAF telling these agencies that the public shouldn't know?"

"This thing gets slimier every day....Florida Not All Aboard!"

"Not sure how applicable Florida statute chapter 119, Sections 119.071(4c) and 119.15(6b)(3) are to the lease agreements made with FDOT, OOCEA and GOAA. 119.071(4c) Any financial statement that an agency requires a prospective bidder to submit in order to prequalify for bidding or for responding to a proposal for a road or any other public works project is exempt from s. 119.07(1) and s. 24(a), Art. I of the State Constitution. And 119.15(6b)(3) Protects information of a confidential nature concerning entities, including, but not limited to, a formula, pattern, device, combination of devices, or compilation of information which is used to protect or further a business advantage over those who do not know or use it, the disclosure of which information would injure the affected entity in the marketplace. It would appear that Florida Statutes do protect financial documents (and documents considered confidential and/or trade secrets by the private entity doing business with the state) submitted as part of a response to a RFP, like AAF did back in December 2012 with the FDOT request for lease proposals of the Beachline ROW. My opinion is that the guy who filed these requests is not familiar with Florida case law that has protected private entities from the requirements of the open government laws. Link to Florida Statute 119: http://www.flsenate.gov/Laws/Statutes... Here is another web page with lots of information:http://www.myflsunshine.com/sun.nsf/m..."

"As Florida NOT All Aboard has been saying from the beginning: AAF = All About Freight!"

"I'm also HIGHLY suspicious of PSL Rail. Seems he's simply a shill for AFF. Too much in depth information, and much of what is presented is skewed to support the motives he, and AAF, supports.

"AAF is sounding more and more like a bunch of sleazeballs talking out of both sides of their mouths. This is a slick talking group looking for federal tax payers to provide funding for a project that will only hurt the residents and economy of the Treasure Coast . All of the stops should be pulled out (Pun intended) to derail this plan which will cause irreparable harm to all towns along its path.

"Now you guys need to take a look at Flagler. FECI's other off-shoot. Some pretty interesting property up in Lakeland right on I4 access......"

PSL_rail: One of your quoted FSS' is solely based upon "BIDDER" information for RFP. If that "BIDDER" wins the contract, usually information will be released to the public, like the contract - but not the financials of the company."

The financials for FECI/R is readily available on the web also. SEC Quarterly reports. (There's no secret there!) The contract from AAF on the Beachline (528) between FDOT, OOCEA and OAI is readily available on the web."

"You gotta remember who AAF's grandparents are: Fortress Investment Group, i.e., FIG on the NYSE....they ain't in this to lose money!"

"They also own a large chunk of"surplus" land at the intersection of their ROW and the 528 causeway. Think intermodal hub. Containers from ships to rail to trucks. Look at what's happening at Port Canaveral. Forget the 32 passenger train stuff..it's a red herring."

"Transparency? They want a Federal LOAN backed by the people? We have a right to know? Additionally, Fortress and related companies should sign for the loan!"

"FAA's argument of the proprietary secrecy of their business plan is a moot point in regards to applying for taxpayer backed federal financing. We, the taxpayers are the bank and we have the right to know on what projections our money is being risked, otherwise this is a backroom deal."

"AAF isn't requesting just 1.6B via the RRIF...according to this article, they are seeking another 405M via 5 year notes. That puts the total loan amount over 2B!"

"FS 119.071(4c) did also mention that responding to a proposal (or RFP) is an action that would enable the confidentiality clause. That is what AAF did for the RFP released by FDOT for lease of ROW for an intercity rail line. Since the 'devil is in the details' and I am not a lawyer, I will leave it to others to interpret the Florida Statutes and previous cases involving private entities and public access to documents."

"The FDOT lease agreement and the original AAF lease proposal are public documents. I have read both - So based upon AAF winning the bid, they have released most all information about the lease and the conditions of the contract, FDOT is just excluding what AAF has deemed to be confidential or 'trade secrets'."

"Also, I thought I read that the RRIF loan applicant is protected by federal regulations from being forced to publicly release any financial information presented as part of a loan application. Not sure how the federal FOIA law stands when other federal regulations say otherwise."

"True, the overall publicly released financials of FECI are available. AAF does not want to make public their project specific numbers. That would be like asking Pepsi to reveal their profit margin on a specific product, like potato chips. For obvious competitive reasons they won't do that."

"Railroads will not release financial data with RRIF loans as that will let their competitors know their true financial health and/or future growth plans. The federal government recognizes this dilemma and setup the RRIF loan program to prevent that from happening."

"What cannot be counteracted, PSL-rail, is the destruction of all the coastal towns on the Treasure Coast. This Hedge Fund is making sure that none of their money is at risk but they will reap the profits.
"What will happen if the AAF passenger program turns out to be a failure, and the generated revenue for the project falls short. Will their be a government takeover of FECI until payment can be made? What are the projected employment numbers...long term? Too many unanswered questions."

"From Bloombergs: Current Junk Bond Yields 5.35% At 12% PIK, FEC is off the charts in terms of risk. You will have more fun playing blackjack in Vegas!"

"IF AAF passenger program fails, the collateral used for the RRIF would be seized and auctioned. It is my understanding that only the train sets, including locomotives, and the actual station stops for passengers which is land owned by AAF is being used as the collateral. They would be absolutely stupid to collateralize the ROW of the tracks. Then FECI/R would lose the train tracks and the ROW. AAF "LACK OF CASH FLOW" - most interesting part of the entire UK article!"

"I would expect that a company doing business within the State of Florida since 2007 as All Aboard Florida Operations, LLC (nee FDG Holdings), would have a business plan, model that would sustain THEMSELVES. Don't tell me they have been running on empty for the last 7 years while they spin this web!
 They have been sustained monetarily by Fortress. No surprise that when the chips hit the fan, they need money.  And should the FRA be entertaining a $1.6B loan application for a company that is now floating $405M in junk bonds?"