All aboard, Florida? Not exactly.
It seems every time the folks from All Aboard Florida unveil pretty drawings of a shiny new station, another organized group sprouts to oppose the proposed Miami-to-Orlando rail service.
It happened again last week. First came renderings of a downtown Fort Lauderdale station. Then came word that some affluent country club communities and boat industry interests in Palm Beach and Martin counties had banded together to form Citizens Against Rail Expansion in Florida (CARE FL).
CARE FL seems better funded than Florida Not All Aboard, a grassroots Treasure Coast group started by a stay-at-home mom. Both have concerns about safety, noise and quality-of-life issues surrounding passenger trains that might zoom past at 110 mph.
"The more opposition the better," said K.C. Traylor, whose Not All Aboard has collected nearly 20,000 petition signatures online and in person. "I'm excited there's another group that's going to spread awareness." A Fort Lauderdale group concerned about the New River train drawbridge and boating impact also has formed.
Another worry: increased freight-train traffic that will come with proposed double-tracking. Besides All Aboard Florida's new 32 daily trains, freight trains along the route are expected to increase from 14 to 20 in 2016, according to projections All Aboard Florida submitted to federal regulators.
That means a near quadrupling of daily train traffic on the Florida East Coast Railway tracks along the dense eastern corridor — from 14 today to 52 in a few years. In other words, if you like sitting in traffic tie-ups along Broward Boulevard (insert your intersection here) for trains, you ain't seen nothing yet.
Did someone say it's time to build more flyovers? And who's paying?
Meanwhile, All Aboard Florida has temporarily thrown the brakes on the West Palm Beach-to-Orlando leg. That part still needs federal approval and a federal loan for the construction of double-tracking. So the private firm will start with Miami-to-West Palm Beach service, officials announced last week.
In other words, it looks to be a more expensive, eastern express version of Tri-Rail. Yet All Aboard Florida officials insist they won't be competing with Tri-Rail, even as they consider adding more stops. Talk about mixed signals.
The new CARE FL opposition group has hired Stephen Ryan, a high-powered Washington, D.C., attorney with experience fighting rail projects, and Alia Faraj-Johnson, a well-connected Tallahassee public relations consultant who served as communications director under Gov. Jeb Bush.
These are some pretty swank places that usually get the attention of politicians, especially those in contentious races. Gov. Scott might be rethinking his previous support of All Aboard Florida. "It is going to become a political issue," Faraj-Johnson told me.
On Thursday, the group sent a four-page letter to Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Ananth Prasad, taking issue with Gov. Scott's assertion that "there will be no state subsidies" for the project. "CARE FL respectfully disagrees with the accuracy of this statement," the letter states. It lists state subsidies for the proposed end station at Orlando airport, and the cost of safety upgrades that might be borne by cities, counties and the state.
As much as All Aboard Florida officials like to say the train has already left the station on this project, derailment still seems possible.
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