Publish Date: 
Monday, February 13, 2017 - 9:45am

Train Wreck Times by Susan Mehiel

Elections have consequences and that applies to local issues and train companies.  Indian River County’s newly elected State Senator, Debbie Mayfield, and the State Representatives throughout the region including Rep. Erin Grall, Rep. MaryLynn Magar (Co-sponsors) and Rep. Larry Lee and Rep. Gayle Harrell have submitted bills to their respective chambers that would curtail the heavy hand of AAF and FEC.
We’ve been told by the FL DOT that they will protect the residents of Florida but that they defer to the FRA for all regulation of railroads in the state.  This has never made sense and with the cozy nature of AFF/FEC and the FRA – residents of the Treasure Coast haven’t had a chance to level complaints about the safety hazards and costs to taxpayers for the rail expansion.
Senate Bill 0368 titled Florida High Speed Rail Safety Act and its companion House Bill 269 give the FL DOT regulatory safety oversight of trains like AAF.  FL DOT will be directed to establish an inspection system and team for express passenger trains and provide transparency of information about rail accidents.
The Act requires AAF to cover all costs of construction, maintenance and roadbed changes for the rail expansion and for the safety equipment at the crossings.  The Act also requires AAF to install Positive Train Control and, just as important, Remote Health Monitoring systems that alert rail operators of malfunctions in crossing equipment.  One of the biggest safety problems at grade crossings across the country is the speed with which rail companies are alerted to and repair safety equipment.
Giving some power back to our local governments, the Act allows local governing bodies to pass speed ordinances to control how fast the trains can go – a major victory for home rule!
The bills also point out the hazard of Liquefied Natural Gas being carried on the same rail corridor as passenger trains.  Like the state of Washington, if passed, these bills will require FEC to produce evidence that they can cover the cost of repairing damages in the event of a ‘worst case’ LNG breach on the rail.
We couldn’t be more pleased with these common sense bills and hope that you will support our legislators in their efforts.  The bills have been sent to committees and we’re providing you with the addresses of the committee chairs so you can encourage them to move the bills through to a vote.  They need to know how important these bills are to the lives and the livelihoods of residents of the Treasure Coast – and all Floridians in the future.
News articles on the bills:
Your humble editor coincidentally submitted a guest column to TC Palm prior to the announcement of the Bills.  It dovetails nicely with the nature of the legislation and was recently published.  Here is the link:
In my guest column, I referred to the expansion plans for Acela in the northeast.  We love this article about the FRA’s plan to use OUR tax dollars – Billions to be exact – to expand Amtrak’s Acela HSR in the northeast.  Like our towns, the small coastal towns of Connecticut already have the train tracks (2) but the plan is to double them to four.  Unlike our communities…” An FRA spokesman said the agency must reach an agreement with state officials from Connecticut and Rhode Island and its congressional delegations before it can make changes to the corridor.”
We don’t have the luxury of our elected officials approving the plan – only the unelected, unaccountable US DOT, FRA and FL DOT.  We can all relate to these sentiments:  Ms. Reemsnyder, the town’s first selectwoman, said… “To just have someone say ‘well we need to go through there to get people faster between New York and Boston,’ with no benefit to our town, is very concerning,” Make that Miami and Orlando!
“There’s no environmental benefit” from the CATO Institute.  Maybe for the northeast this expansion makes sense but for southeast Florida where the population isn’t nearly as dense, HSR just doesn’t make sense financially or practically. The following articles make it very clear why HSR or express trains are not profitable, do nothing for the environment and should not be developed in the US.  However, the articles do support the notion that FEC is using AAF to double its freight capacity.  And with HAZ MAT on the rails – the most important reason the entire corridor should be moved west on the FEC dime.
From the CATO Institute:
A report from Spain on millions lost on HSR is attached and linked here:
On an historical note… when AAF was announced it was highly touted by the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council as the greatest thing since sliced bread – no wonder, the TCRPC saw AAF as a cash cow for their staff in consulting fees and a way to implement their central planning, sustainable development scheme.  We went to their meetings and spoke out against AAF …we had been there before speaking out against their usurping power and home rule through the debacle – 7 Counties 50 Years, the federally funded regional takeover of our lives.
I thought I would mention the TCRPC since they have raised their ugly heads in our county in order to improve their cash flow through local taxpayer funded contracts and once again try to implement their regional planning by offering carrots of federal cash (our tax dollars!) to local communities.  The one thing we know about the TCRPC – they are in this to perpetuate their existence and try to control how our county moves into the future.  We caution anyone who approves money to be given to the TCRPC, they are an unelected, unaccountable non-governmental agency that lives off the backs of taxpayers!
And so it goes…We continue to wait for the ruling from the US District Court in D.C. on the counties’ law suits and we continue to say…

Susan Mehiel
High Speed Rail Safety Act
Senate and House Bills Descriptions:
TREASURE COAST LEGISLATORS:                                     
Transportation Committee:                         George Gainer     
Community Affairs Committee:                         Tom Lee         
Appropriations:                                               Jack Latvala      
Transportation & Infrastructure:                       Brad Drake      
Transport. & Tourism Appropriations:              Clay Ingram     
Government Accountability:                           Matt Caldwell