Debate over All Aboard Florida

Publish Date: 
Sunday, June 1, 2014 - 9:00pm

Full story here: http://www.tcpalm.com/news/2014/jun/01/debate-over-all-aboard-florida-wa...

WEST PALM BEACH — It was more a gentlemanly disagreement than a debate. But the two sides of the All Aboard Florida controversy had their opportunity to make their cases once again Sunday morning on WPTV’s “To the Point” program.

P. Michael Reininger, president and chief development officer of All Aboard Florida, and Richard Geisinger, president of the Martin County Taxpayers Association, put their best spin on the key elements of the continuing controversy.

For Reininger, the benefits of All Aboard Florida are clear: a massive infrastructure investment, upgraded crossing safety and an economic benefit to all Floridians, not just those in the counties where significant real estate projects already are being announced as part of station construction.

Geisinger stressed the damage that would be done to Treasure Coast communities and particularly to Martin County. He pointed to the high-profile concerns of the maritime community, the potential delays for emergency responders to cross the tracks and the impact 32 additional trains a day could have on property values.

Still, said Arnie Rosenberg — TCPalm.com and Treasure Coast Newspapers reporter, who provided analysis on the program — it’s more than likely the $2.25 billion project will move ahead because it’s not dependent on federal subsidies. Although All Aboard Florida is seeking a $1.5 billion federal loan, it needs no federal, state or local approvals to be built.

“In six months to a year from now, where will this be?” WPTV anchor and “To the Point” host Michael Williams asked.

“I think they will be breaking ground all along the corridor,” Rosenberg said. “They unveiled (last) week a very impressive Miami station, with office towers and skyscrapers. I think they’ll do the same in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm, and they will begin upgrading the tracks, putting in a second track all the way through the Treasure Coast, so that when it’s completed, those trains will run through our communities without stopping.

“And that’s where the people in the Treasure Coast don’t see a tangible benefit.”

All Aboard Florida — a sister company of Florida East Coast Railway, which runs freight trains between Jacksonville and Miami — plans its high-speed passenger trains to make the Miami-to-Orlando trip in three hours, hitting speeds up to 110 mph in rural areas north of Palm Beach County and up to 125 mph between Cocoa and Orlando International Airport.

Yet regardless of whether communities have stations, they’ll benefit from All Aboard Florida, Reininger insisted.

“If you participate in the economy of Florida in any way ... you can’t help but be benefitted by the literally thousands of jobs and billions of dollars that will be coming into it that will be directly related to the investment that’s being made by a private company,” Reininger said.

“What’s unusual about this is that it’s an infrastructure program being instituted with private-sector dollars,” he said. “Almost always, infrastructure programs are the responsibility of the taxpaying public to shoulder the burden of that responsibility and, therefore, pay the freight, so to speak, with respect to the outcomes that you would like of these infrastructure systems.”

Geisinger, though, stressed one of the core objections to All Aboard Florida that’s been a rallying cry for opponents from the start.

“We have no problem with high-speed rail,” he told Williams. “We think it’s a good idea. We just don’t think it should go down existing tracks and through little communities at high speed, or any speed, because of the difficulty it put on the community.

“The biggest concern ... is that you have a number of small communities that have worked very hard over the past 20 or 30 years to remain with a certain lifestyle, and to drive 32 more trains — 16 going both ways — is a tremendous increase of traffic” affecting safety, emergency vehicles and property values.

The two men strongly disagree on the impact on maritime traffic, specifically the possibility of extended, not to mention more frequent, closings of Stuart’s single-track bridge over the St. Lucie River.

When Williams suggested that, between passenger and freight trains, the St. Lucie bridge and others might be “shut more often than not, or far more often than they are now” — maybe as much as 45 minutes each hour — Reininger was emphatic: “I don’t think any of those things are true,” he said. “The bridge certainly will not be closed more than it is open. It won’t be closed 45 minutes in an hour.”

The real answer to questions surrounding the bridge and other questions should be answered in the Federal Railroad Administration’s Environmental Impact Statement. An FRA official last week told Treasure Coast Newspapers only that the report would be release “sometime this year,” but refused to offer target dates.

What, Williams asked Rosenberg, could swing more support to All Aboard Florida’s cause? Adding stations north of West Palm Beach, Rosenberg said, at least would remove one of the objections of Treasure Coast residents.

“But that’s not going to happen, at least not initially,” Rosenberg said. “Because as All Aboard Florida people have said, they call it their ‘sweet spot’ — three hours from Miami to Orlando. They can’t make stops and make that time.”

Citizens Respond

Sunday, June 1, 2014 - 9:00pm

Public monies--taxpayer monies---at the federal, state, and local levels are being sought to fund this AAF boondoggle. While the AAF "infrastructure program is being instituted with private-sector dollars,” as Reininger says, in reality it's the public being squeezed to cough up safety and infrastructure systems for this quasi high speed rail that provides no economic benefits to 4 of the 8 counties it will travel through---but is quite the safety nightmare.

 

Henry Flagler said of his intent to extend his railroad to Key West, "I believe this state is the easiest place for many men to gain a living. I do not believe any one else would develop it if I do not ... but I do hope to live long enough to prove I am a good business man by getting a dividend on my investment." Unfortunately, Flagler did not live long enough to determine if his endeavor was sound. And if it was sound, the railway to our nation's southern most point would have been reconstructed after a major hurricane in 1935.The point is, P. Michael Reininger's words seem very similar to those words spoken by Flagler at the onset of a business venture that failed. Reininger's words; “If you participate in the economy of Florida in any way ... you can’t help but be benefitted by the literally thousands of jobs and billions of dollars that will be coming into it that will be directly related to the investment that’s being made by a private company." But Flagler's venture did provide one necessity; bridge piers. Little did he know he was laying the foundation for a highway to Key West, where none existed prior. Flagler did know one thing. His railroad would prosper by connecting with the towns in it's path; not by passing through them without stopping. For All Aboard's modern venture, hype is more than a century old and failure will not provide anything that doesn't already exist. But trains simply passing through multiple communities without stopping while sheepishly trying to convince those folks they're getting a huge financial benefit is outlandishly misleading!

 

AAF doesn't care about public safety, AAF isn't concerned with the communities it will travel through and those it will detrimentally disrupt, and FDOT appears to already be in the pocket of AAF. Your above statement personifies the unethical and unprofessional manner in which FECI and subsidiaries appear to operate. Such manipulation as you pen above is the very way in which the rail acquired much east coast ROW in the early 1900s when the Inland Navigation was dredging the Intracoastal. Almost 100 years later, it seems there is still no integrity in this business of robber barons and railroad bulls.
So, as you say, It's time to let the Rail Wars begin!