Scott jumps off fast-moving All Aboard train plan

Publish Date: 
Wednesday, June 11, 2014 - 6:30am

By Frank Cerabino Palm Beach Post 5:46 p.m. Tuesday, June 10, 2014 Source Article Here At Palm Beach Post

When it comes to passenger rail ventures in Florida, Gov. Rick Scott has played many roles.
He started out a principled foe, then turned into a cheering participant, and this week he debuted his new position as a concerned bystander.
Three years ago, when the federal government offered to spend $2.4 billion in Florida to build a high-speed rail connecting Tampa and Orlando, Scott nixed the free money and the jobs it would have created.
“Put simply, the proposed high-speed rail line is far too uncertain and offers far too little long-term benefit for me to consider moving forward,” he wrote.
You might think from those words that Scott would also be opposed to All Aboard Florida, the latest rail proposal for the state, this one linking Miami to Orlando, with a service that promises to operate 32 trains a day, each holding as many as 400 passengers.
But this project, spearheaded by a New York private equity company, and contingent on a $1.5 billion federal loan, has been welcomed as a valuable jobs creator by Scott.
In a ceremony in February, Scott announced that the state would help the railroad project by committing more than $200 million to design and build an Intermodal Transit Facility at Orlando International Airport that will serve as the north hub of All Aboard Florida. And the president of All Aboard Florida applauded the state’s support.
“With the governor’s goal to attract 100 million visitors annually to Florida, the ability to provide them with a convenient way to connect easily with great destination cities in both Central and South Florida validates All Aboard Florida’s decision to place its Central Florida terminal at the airport,” All Aboard President Don Robinson said in a statement.
The state legislature also went ahead, with Scott’s approval, to allocate another $10 million to pay for “quiet zone” crossings along All Aboard Florida’s route.
If the bullet train was killed because its success was “far too uncertain”, then you might expect that All Aboard Florida has already validated its business model.
But it hasn’t. How much will tickets cost? Who knows? What do ridership surveys say about whether people will actually take this train? What ridership surveys?
So far All Aboard Florida is a faith-based venture.
Amtrak already runs between Miami and Orlando, and it can barely fill two trains a day. All Aboard Florida’s going to fill 16 more trains?
So you might imagine that Scott would have exhibited the same amount of caution about the viability of All Aboard Florida as he exhibited with the bullet train.
But he hasn’t. Why?
The cynical answer is that the bullet-train was an Obama Administration project, and therefore, rejected on its face. And that Scott’s chief of staff, Adam Hollingsworth, used to work for Florida East Coast Industries, All Aboard Florida’s parent company.
But whatever the reason, Scott’s cheerleading days for All Aboard Florida have come to an end. At least until November’s election.
There are too many Treasure Coast voters, many of them Republicans, who despise the idea of 32 more trains rushing by them every day. And it has become a liability for Scott’s re-election efforts.
So this week, Scott debuted his new rail posture as a concerned bystander in a letter he wrote to All Aboard Florida.
“In response to local communities’ questions about All Aboard Florida, we must ensure that there is a detailed conversation about this new rail service,” Scott wrote.
Yes, the state may have already committed a couple hundred million dollars to the project, but this would be a good time to start talking about it. Oh, and as for that state money for the airport terminal and the crossing improvements, that wasn’t really for All Aboard Florida, Scott wrote. The state was going to spend that anyway.
“The All Aboard Florida proposal is a private sector venture to construct, operate and maintain a passenger rail system,” Scott wrote. “There will be no state subsidies for this project.”
Just lots of freshly hatched concern from the governor’s office.
“As you continue to outline your plans for All Aboard Florida, please be sensitive to the impact of additional rail traffic in the rail corridor to our communities, their home values and public safety,” Scott wrote.
That sound you hear is a man jumping off a moving train