By Michael Turnbell, Sun Sentinal
The New River bridge would be closed 6.5 HOURS PER DAY. The Loxahatchee span would be closed 8.4 HOURS PER DAY.
Bridge closures on the New River in Fort Lauderdale would more than double under All Aboard Florida's proposed passenger service. But the length of each closure would be shorter.
It's a similar story on the Loxahatchee River in Jupiter, where bridge closures would quadruple though the duration for each would be less.
A draft study on the impacts of the proposed rail line found:
•The New River bridge would be closed 30 times a day for an average of 13 minutes vs. 10 times a day currently for an average of 19 minutes.
• The Loxahatchee span would be closed 42 times a day for an average of 12 minutes vs. 10 times a day for an average of 19 minutes.
• Drivers can expect crossings to be closed 54 times a day or three times an hour, compared to once an hour now.
And here's how the study says the impacts, which it labeled "minimal," will be mitigated:
•Faster speeds for both freight and passenger trains, thanks to the construction of a second track.
•Coordinated train schedules so passing trains cross at the same time, and increased efficiency in how the bridges are raised and lowered.
•There will be a set schedule for bridge closures and countdown timers or signals at each span to indicate when bridges will close and how long before trains will arrive.
•There will be a tender at the New River bridge. The span currently is raised and lowered remotely by a dispatcher in Jacksonville.
All Aboard Florida plans to run 32 passenger trains a day between Miami and Orlando on the Florida East Coast Railway tracks at speeds of 79 to 125 mph. The FEC now carries about 14 freight trains a day, but that's expected to increase to 20 a day by 2016.
Together with All Aboard Florida's trains, that would mean 52 trains a day traveling through downtowns from Miami to West Palm Beach.
Some boaters say the impacts are understated.
"It is difficult to believe than an additional 32 trains plus 20 freight trains crossing the New River would not have any impact even if they actually manage to synchronize the passenger train crossings," said John Dotto, a boater who lives west of the bridge.
"How can this possibly be considered no impact?"
The New River is the lifeline for Broward's marine industry, home to about a third of the county's marinas with the largest concentration west of the railroad bridge. The Loxahatchee River represents slightly less than quarter of Palm Beach County's marine industry.
The Marine Industries Association of South Florida has said one of its main concerns is making sure the New River drawbridge is up and the river open to boat traffic at least 40 minutes an hour.
The closures would impact about 36 percent of the 215 boats that pass through the New River bridge on average daily, up from 23 percent currently.
On the Loxahatchee River, the closures would impact about 47 percent of the 121 boats that pass through the bridge on average every day, up from 16 percent currently.
Residents and many elected officials from northern Palm Beach County to the Treasure Coast oppose the project and have grown louder in their opposition. They say their communities will suffer blocked crossings and noise but not get any benefit because the only stops are planned in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and Orlando International Airport.
Passenger service in the three South Florida cities is expected to start in late 2016 with the northern leg to Orlando starting in 2017.