Boynton May Sign Agreement With All Aboard

Publish Date: 
Tuesday, October 7, 2014 - 6:30am

Boynton Beach could become the first local government in Palm Beach County to approve a contentious railroad crossing agreement with All Aboard Florida that details who is responsible for paying for safety upgrades and future maintenance requirements at intersections where the roadway crosses the train tracks.

City Commissioners are expected to vote on the two-page agreement at a meeting today. The item appears on the board’s consent agenda, where it is bunched with other items that can be approved together without discussion.

Local governments from Palm Beach County to the Treasure Coast have balked at the crossing agreements, questioning the potential costs and lawfulness of the contracts.

At least one Boynton Beach commissioner expressed similar concerns Monday.

“I am not comfortable with it,” Vice Mayor Joe Casello said. “I don’t think it benefits our city in any form.”

Boynton Beach’s decision comes as coalition of Treasure Coast and Jupiter residents opposed to All Aboard Florida takes aim at the express passenger rail project.

Members of the group, Citizens Against Rail Expansion, will hold a news conference this morning with law enforcement officials and emergency staff at Jupiter Medical Center to discuss what they say are negative impacts the project will bring to the area.

Speakers include John Couris, president and CEO of Jupiter Medical Center, Michael Collins, medical director of emergency services, and Tequesta Police Chief Christopher Elg, according to a notice sent by the coalition.

All Aboard Florida plans to run 32 passenger trains a day between Miami and Orlando on the FEC Railway tracks. The express trains will stop in the downtown areas of Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and at Orlando International Airport. Trains are expected to travel between Miami and Orlando in roughly three hours.

All Aboard Florida has been pressuring municipalities from Boca Raton to Cocoa to sign updated railroad crossing agreements since December. The company has set an Oct. 16 deadline for governments to comply.

Despite the pushback, the company noted Monday that other local governments outside of Palm Beach County have already approved the agreement.

Boynton Beach Mayor Jerry Taylor said Monday that the agreement was “pretty normal,” adding that he was not concerned other governments have yet to signed the document.

“Somebody’s gotta be the first,” Taylor said “We don’t mind taking a lead.”

Decades-old agreements between municipal governments and the Florida East Coast Railway include leasing and maintenance contracts that municipalities pay to allow for vehicular and pedestrian traffic across the tracks. The costs can be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars depending on the number of crossings and amount of maintenance needed in a given year. With All Aboard Florida’s plan to add an additional track to the FEC corridor and safety upgrades that will include additional gates, local officials have said they don’t want to sign agreements that don’t have an estimate of the increased maintenance costs.

In Boynton Beach, officials estimate the additional improvements will cost the city roughly $5,000 a year to maintain.

All Aboard Florida says it doesn’t need the agreements to start construction on its new tracks from Miami to Orlando. Considering its multi-million-dollar investment in rail upgrades and safety improvements, however, the private company wants to be named third-party beneficiary in the arrangements already in place with Florida East Coast Railway.

Florida East Coast Railway is an affiliate of All Aboard Florida’s parent company, Florida East Coast Industries.

Richard Radcliffe, executive director of the Palm Beach County League of Cities, said more than a dozen Palm Beach County municipalities have been asked to sign the agreements. The league has been working with local cities and towns to review the document, he added.

“There are a lot of concerns,” Radcliffe said. “There is some formatting we would like to see. We are working to get a baseline for legal sufficiency.”