All Aboard rail foes pick up steam, but admit odds slim

Publish Date: 
Tuesday, July 22, 2014 - 6:30am

By Dan Sweeney, July 21 Sun Sentinel

Even opponents admit it may not be possible to derail All Aboard Florida's plan for train service from South Florida to Orlando.

But it's not stopping them from trying — and enlisting the support of some political heavy hitters to join in the criticism of noise, safety and funding issues.

"Two weeks ago, [state] Sen. [Joe] Negron took a strong position against All Aboard Florida," said K.C. Traylor, a Stuart resident who started the group Florida Not All Aboard (motto: Stop Big Choo Choo). "Congressman [Patrick] Murphy is also questioning feasibility, and Congresswoman Lois Frankel went with him to the secretary of transportation to voice the concerns of the community."

But those powerful voices haven't cut into support for the project from officials in cities which would get stops — Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and Orlando. They cite both increased tourism dollars and decreased traffic as benefits of the railway.

Opponents say their best-case scenario goes something like this: There will be a period of public comment once a study comes out in September about the rail's environmental impact on its West Palm Beach-to-Orlando leg. If there are enough negative comments, the federal government might not loan the company more than a billion dollars. And that might kill the northern leg of the project.

Despite all the ifs and maybes, the voices of residents of north Palm Beach County and Martin County have grown louder and louder in their opposition. Traylor is organizing homeowners who live near the Florida East Coast railway in every county from Broward to Brevard, though her group is at its strongest in Martin County. Another group, Citizens Against Rail Expansion in Florida, includes representatives from country clubs, gated communities and marinas around northern Palm Beach County and Martin County.

Their state and federal representatives have largely fallen in line.

Their arguments go beyond noise and safety. Gov. Rick Scott has said no state funding would support this privately funded project. But critics call a state-funded expansion of Orlando International Airport a gift to the rail project since it allows All Aboard trains to arrive there.

Additionally, the federal loan All Aboard may seek is reportedly worth $1.5 billion. Although it must be paid back with interest over 25 years, with collateral deposited in the interim, critics call it taxpayer funding.

Not all politicians in areas that don't have a stop are against the rail. William Capote is the mayor of Palm Bay, and he says his support for the project is based on future positives.

"I understand people being territorial because your name is not the first to go to the ball," he said. "But if you talk to me reasonably and tell me that in the future, assuming the funding is there and population grows, that other municipalities will get a station, then that's something I look forward to."

Capote said the travel methods of future generations may look very different than today.

"[Millennials] like living in the city and they want to travel right away, so rail makes sense. I'm basing my concept of the city not on my needs but on future needs," he said. "Every other country in the world goes by rail and has become bicycle-friendly.''

But while Capote hopes for additional stops in the future, All Aboard Florida maintains nothing of the kind is necessarily in the works.

That's another point of contention from All Aboard's critics — success is far from certain.

"I haven't met anybody that has been able to communicate to us that there is a profitable, unsubsidized passenger rail line," Traylor said.