Cerabino: Wanted: 9,600 dummies to fill All Aboard train seats

Publish Date: 
Saturday, December 6, 2014 - 7:30am

By Frank Cerabino Palm Beach Post

I can understand why there’s some head-scratching over the plan to build Florida’s tallest skyscraper as part of the All Aboard Florida train project.

After all, it’s not as if the Fortress Investment Group said from the get-go that its vision to shuttle millions of people between South Florida and Orlando by rail involves the construction of what would be the eighth-tallest building in America in downtown Miami.

Until that revelation, most people have been operating under the assumption that the train project was about moving people horizontally by trains, not vertically by elevators.

But, hey. All Aboard Florida’s turning out to be like one of those Russian nesting dolls. There’s no telling what’s inside.

And so now, with 45 miles of track yet to be completed for the link between Cocoa Beach and the line’s northern terminus in Orlando, we have the Federal Aviation Authority being asked to approve a 1,120-foot tall tower on the 11-acre parcel slated to be the Miami station.

That’s a building taller than the Chrysler Building in New York and a few feet shorter than the Hancock Building in Chicago.

All Aboard Florida officials don’t want to talk about the tower. And I don’t blame them. This week ended the public commentary period on the environmental impact study about the train service.

So talking about the skyscraper might give people the wrong idea about the project’s priorities.

 

Even though the tower makes perfect sense.

My main qualm with All Aboard Florida has been its incredibly rosy ridership projections.

It imagines robust passenger levels on 32 trains a day, each one with a capacity of 400 people — all for a service that’s far more expensive than the existing Tri-Rail and Amtrak service, and one that lacks viable connectors that support its time-saving advantage.

When All Aboard Florida’s South Florida service between Miami and West Palm Beach opens, it will be competing against the heavily subsidized Tri-Rail, which has 17 stops to All Aboard’s three, and has fares that are about three times cheaper than those projected for All Aboard’s riders.

Even so, All Aboard Florida is projecting those 400-seat trains will be packed with an average of nearly 300 people.

Where are these people?

Now, we know.

They’ll be in the Miami skyscraper.

OK, well, they won’t be people, as in living and breathing mammals. They’ll be mannequins that look like people.

They’ll need to be lifelike enough to fool all the wheel-tapping motorists waiting impatiently in cars at the many railroad crossings along the route.

Drivers are bound to be steamed by all this new train traffic along the Florida East Coast tracks, which will cut through many coastal downtowns. And if drivers notice that these 32 trains a day going by are mostly empty, it will make them even more grumpy about the train.

To solve this problem, All Aboard Florida is going to need a huge inventory of passenger dummies to fill the empty cars, sitting shoulder to shoulder and clearly visible through the train’s windows.

I’ve figured that it takes about 9,600 mannequins to portray a viable business model for the train. And what better place to store them than in a large building at one end of the line?

So, the skyscraper in Miami needs to be big because a significant share of its condo apartments will be dedicated to housing the rider mannequins.

Nobody will know the difference. High-rise condos in South Florida are already filled with seemingly lifeless people.

So don’t fret over Florida’s tallest skyscraper at the train station.

It’s not a sign that All Aboard Florida is just a real estate venture cloaked as a rail service.

That skyscraper is an essential component of the ridership plan.