Train Wreck Times
By Susan Mehiel
Movement on LNG and a CALL TO ACTION!
WE'RE PLEASED TO REPORT we’ve made some headway on drawing attention to the issue of LNG streaming through our communities on the FECR tracks. First, we sent out the attached press release and it was picked up on a couple of news sites. It details how our two congressmen, Posey and Mast, voted for a ban on LNG on the rails which was an amendment to an appropriations bill in the House. Even though the amendment passed and the entire bill passed, it will now be sent on to the Senate where we fear it will be stripped.
We have somewhat better news regarding the administration’s move to fast track an approval for putting LNG on the rails throughout the country. Shortly after the last TWT came out we heard that the FRA was preparing to approve a special permit to allow a Fortress energy company, Energy Transport Solutions LLC to transport liquefied natural gas (LNG) in unit trains 100 cars long for the express purpose of moving LNG to export facilities. Two articles outlining this process including a comment period for review of the Environmental Assessment are linked below. Experts stated that the assessment was manipulated to make it appear the risk is far less than it really is and there is no distinction made regarding the location of the tracks to be used.
PLEASE COMMENT! The Comment Period on the Assessment was to end July 8 but it was announced the period has been extended to August 7. We believe the outrage from many quarters regarding this most dangerous plan forced the extension. It has been our contention that exporting LNG is fine – just don’t move it by rail through densely populated areas and don’t allow it to share the same rail corridor with speed trains!
After you review the material below (or just use your common sense), please contact the FRA and let them know how you feel about LNG on Florida rails by going here.
If you have problems, the agency is:
Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration of the U.S. Department of Transportation (PHMSA)
Docket No. PHMSA-2019-0100
NO CONSTRUCTION PLANS! There have been meetings and discussions around the region regarding the fact that Virgin held the groundbreaking for Phase 2 but did so without letting the counties know the final plans for 150 at-grade crossings. Brevard, Indian River, St. Lucie and Martin county representatives have all voiced concerns over this fact – what construction drafts they’ve received have not changed much in 3 years and do not reflect what has been promised. Shall we say “we told you so” now or wait a while?
In meetings and written communications, everyone has voiced the same concerns including:
As Mr. Szpyrka, Public Works Director for Indian River County, recently wrote, “Virgin Trains construction plans dated Feb. 13, 2019 showed a lack of detail for pedestrian crossings, conflicting design information... disregard for public safety and a general lack of consistency…” He added many of the comments provided to AAF in August, 2016 had not been addressed.
John Denninghoff, Brevard County Assistant Manager, wrote in late June, “The only plans we have are over two years old …and do not show the safety improvements needed or promised.” He also wrote, “We remain concerned…we can’t provide assurance to the public of traffic circulation during construction… (or tell) Fire Rescue or law enforcement this information.”
Another Brevard representative wrote sarcastically, “Even being provided with the 2018 plans would be wonderful. And learning which properties are to be acquired (for the new portion) and the schedule of the acquisitions would be nice.”
As important, it’s obvious that Virgin Trains has no idea what the total cost for Phase 2 will be and that means the PAB’s they sold will not cover the cost of construction. What did they base the cost of all of the promised safety equipment on; what did they base the land acquisitions in Brevard County on; what did they base the cost of bridging over I-95 and RT. 528 on? We see them running out of money before completion, the project becoming ‘too big to fail’ and the taxpayers picking up the tab. We wonder how the bond buyers will feel when that happens.
Sen. Mayfield wrote to FDOT Sec. Thibault on our behalf to express her deep concerns about this total lack of transparency and the safety of our communities. Her letter is attached here. We suggest you contact the Martin County Commissioners and ask what they intend to do to protect their constituents. Now that they’ve ‘settled’ with Virgin Trains and received their promise of cash, how do they plan to ensure the trains will be safe? 22 people have already been killed by Virgin Trains.
Doug Smith Stacey Hetherington Harold Jenkins Edward Ciampi
firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com
(772) 221-2359 (772) 288-5421 (772) 221-2357 (772) 221-1357
Speaking of that settlement: We’ve been informed that the federal appeals court scheduled the oral argument in Indian River County’s Virgin Trains litigation for September 24th at 9:30 A.M. in the DC federal district court in Washington. We will keep you posted on any developments.
We were mentioned in this somewhat more honest article from the Miami Herald about Virgin Trains and their plans and financials. Although they claim “a spike” in ridership in 2019, they’re still on track to miss the 2019 total ridership projections by 50% and they’re still hemorrhaging money. We’ve heard from our friends to the south that they’ve been giving tickets away to organizations and offering ‘2 for the price of 1’ offers to get more riders. No wonder they had a ‘spike!'
The big media push now is their plan to open more stops on Phase 1. We find it interesting that they’re so eager to trash their business plan that required them to get to the Orlando airport in 3.15 hours to compete with air travel and cars. Could it be they want people to overlook the deaths in return for a shiny new stop? Nothing would surprise us. You can read more here.
For the best laugh yet… you must read this article from the Palm Beach Post on the glories of commuting on VT! This gentleman enjoys beer or wine on the ride home, “I arrive home more mellow than I would otherwise, which Mabel appreciates,” Dusty said. What’s even more hysterical is their projection of 2.3 million of these wealthy commuters riding by the end of the year. No wonder they said they wouldn’t compete with Tri-Rail, it’s for the poor folks!
Whew! We’ve covered a lot and there’s still one last thing. We met an amazing man this past week in Jupiter who understands all of our concerns possibly like no one we’ve met in a while. He’s a nuclear engineer with experience in designing rail system safety equipment and has also worked in the energy sector. Best of all, Christian Acosta is running for congress in Florida’s 21st district which runs through south Palm Beach County down past Delray Beach. We’ll keep you posted on his progress as the 2020 campaign season unfolds. We’re happy to call him a friend of The Alliance for Safe Trains! Follow Acosta's campaign on Facebook here.
Enjoy the summer and remember – It’s not a done deal!
Florida Alliance for Safe Trains
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