All Aboard Florida will not consider expanding its passenger rail service to Tampa or adding other stops along its Miami-to-Orlando route until its express trains begin running in 2017, the company’s President and Chief Development Officer Michael Reininger said Wednesday.
Reininger told members of the Northern Palm Beach County Chamber of Commerce that the company is focused on completing the rail project on time and doesn’t have the resources to consider expansion plans or additional stops.
Michael Reininger, left, president and chief development officer, All Aboard Florida, speaking during a Northern Palm Beach County Chamber of Commerce ... Read More
“The magnitude of the challenge that we have in order to get what we have in our program today across the finish line is significant, and we don’t’ take that lightly,” Reininger said. “The only way that we get successful with what we have on the plate today is through an extreme focus on tackling all the challenges that we are facing in order to get the business up and operating.”
Reininger didn’t rule out future expansion. Reininger said All Aboard Florida would begin looking at ways to grow once the company’s trains begin running.
All Aboard Florida plans to run 32 passenger trains a day between Miami and Orlando on the Florida East Coast Railway tracks. Miami-to-West Palm Beach service is expected to begin in late 2016 with the Orlando leg starting in 2017.
“I, for one,…don’t like our folks diverting their thinking around things that are beyond the horizon of the near term right now,” Reininger told chamber members. “The minute we get up and operating, we will do what every business does, which is spin around and start looking for every opportunity to expand our business to increase our revenue and to find new customers to support the business operations that we will put into place.”
Reininger said an Orlando-to-Tampa link would not be an “easy lift,” but added that it would not be “impossible.”
Reininger was one of four panelists who appeared before the chamber Wednesday to discuss the project. Others on the board included, Michael Kennedy, president of Marine Industries Association Palm Beach County; Wendy Harrison, council member for the Town of Jupiter and a board member of the Metropolitan Planning Organization of Palm Beach County; and Daniel Martell, president and CEO of the Economic Council of Palm Beach County.
Of particular concern to residents in Northern Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast is the impact All Aboard Florida will have on the drawbridges that allow recreational and commercial boaters access to the ocean.
The 600-foot-long Loxahatchee River bridge over the Jupiter Inlet was built in 1925 and is locked down for an average of 3.5 hours per day during the week for freight traffic, according to a federal environmental report looking at the impacts of the All Aboard Florida project.
Daily closures with All Aboard Florida’s 32 passenger trains will increase from 16 to 42, but with improvements to the bridge, the average single closure time would decrease from 20 minutes to 12. Still, the bridge will be closed a total of 8.6 hours per day during the week, and 7.2 hours per day on the weekends.
Reininger said boat bottlenecks will be mitigated by managing train schedules so two trains cross at once. Replacing the bridge won’t improve closure times, he added.
“The fewer times that we can operate that bridge, the less impactful it will be on the marine access to that waterway,” Reininger said. “So everything and anything that we can do to make maximum utility of every time the bridge comes down, pass as many trains over it as you possibly can, is the goal that we have set for ourselves.”
Kennedy said between 7,000 and 9,000 boats a month pass under the Loxahatchee River bridge. He urged boaters and those in the marine industry to submit concerns about the project to the U.S. Coast Guard.
“It is not the minute or two it will take this train to go across the bridge, it is the 12 minutes it takes for the bridge to go down and come back up,” Kennedy said. “We see the bridges as choke points in a way. What affects navigation on the flip side affects vehicular traffic.”
The Coast Guard last month said it is postponing previously scheduled meetings for the public to comment on All Aboard Florida because of the “number of comments already received and the demands of the boating public.”
In a letter to the Coast Guard on Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter, said it was important that the meetings be rescheduled “as soon as possible.”
Meanwhile, All Aboard Florida is preparing to begin construction on its $29 million station in downtown West Palm Beach. On Tuesday, the West Palm Beach City Commission approved a “letter of intent” with All Aboard Florida that details plans for a new road linking Clematis and Datura streets.
Under the proposal, the rail company would construct the road. All Aboard Florida would also sell the city two key downtown parcels needed for the road project for $2.1 million.
All Aboard Florida plans to begin demolition work at the station site in the coming weeks, officials said.