Michael Goforth: Treasure Coast being railroaded by All Aboard Florida project

Publish Date: 
Tuesday, November 18, 2014 - 11:30am

By Michael Goforth TC Palm

“Railroad.”

As a verb it can mean “to rush or push something through quickly in order to prevent careful consideration and possible criticism or obstruction.”

The origin for that definition, according to Robert Hendrickson’s “The Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins:” “The speed with which lines were built and the railroad builders’ disregard for anything that stood in the way of ‘progress’ inspired the term ‘to railroad’ by the 1870s.”

The Treasure Coast is being railroaded by All Aboard Florida, the high-speed passenger service that could be barreling through historic downtowns here within the next few years with no stops and few benefits for residents. Maybe the project won’t be as destructive as it now seems. But, it might also be even worse than we imagine.

I don’t dislike trains either for cargo or passenger service.

They are a vital part of our infrastructure for transporting raw and finished products from one end of the nation to the other.

As a child, I was thrilled to ride along the Tweetsie steam locomotive in the mountains of North Carolina. I’ve traveled on passenger trains throughout Europe, between New York City and Montreal, between Los Angeles and San Diego. They can be a relaxing alternative to hassle-filled trips aboard airlines and give you a sense of the places through which you are speeding you do get when flying high above.

But, for the Treasure Coast, there is little to like about All Aboard Florida either for what it might mean for the region or how planning and implementation of the project have evolved.

I’ve long supported a return of passenger rail service along Florida’s East Coast that would include stops in Vero Beach, Fort Pierce and Stuart. And, I believe Florida is overdue for creation of a high-speed passenger railway to link major cities.

What All Aboard Florida is rushing forward with, however, is a bad deal. The 32 trains each day would run nonstop through quaint and historic downtowns rather than more appropriately farther west in less populated areas where there are already interstate and turnpike highways. For the Treasure Coast, it’s the worst of both worlds that could cause irreversible damage.

Trying to get answers from All Aboard Florida, residents were told to wait until after an environmental impact statement would be released from the Federal Railroad Administration in connection with a potential federal loan for the project. But, All Aboard Florida chose the firm to conduct the assessment and paid for it. Why would anyone think the report might be biased?

When the federal loan became controversial, All Aboard Florida said it might seek private funding instead.

When the Federal Railroad Administration held hearings on the Treasure Coast to get public comments on the environmental impact statement, many citizens who showed up viewed them as a sham and a public relations ploy.

When the Coast Guard announced meetings to get public input on rules that might be needed in connection with the All Aboard Florida project, residents were told not to address the project itself.

Shams and shame.

The project seems to be an attempt by Florida East Coast Industries, the parent of All Aboard Florida, to increase freight capacity on the rail lines it owns and to develop property it also owns around stations where All Aboard Florida would stop. As an added benefit, the passenger service might attract visitors to take the train from Miami to Orlando. It’s no coincidence that former Disney executives are also involved in All Aboard Florida.

It’s all about money. Or more specifically, greed.

The Federal Railroad Administration and All Aboard Florida claim they are listening to what the public has to say about the project. But, are they hearing and understanding? Apparently not so much.

And, some of those who might have the power to stop the project in its tracks simply shrug their shoulders and say there’s nothing they can do since it’s a private project.

Do they mean to tell us they can do nothing to stop an ill-advised project that could devastate communities along its route? I find that extremely hard to believe or accept.

Yes, we’re being railroaded.