Originally published on CleanTechnica.
By Cynthia Shahan
An Orlando-to-Miami train, the potential passenger rail connector between Central Florida and South Florida, has just passed another crucial milestone. It has received approval for $1.75 billion in state funding.
The train will run from Orlando and only have stops in West Palm and Miami. Although it is not a “high-speed train,” at 125 miles per hour (a train needs to be 150 to be called high-speed), they want it to make its run between the cities in 3 hours. So, limiting the stops is one way to achieve that. However, John Brown and others do wish to have other stops — and plenty of choices to get on and off. The problem, Dan Tracy explains, is that a diesel-powered train does not have the capacity for acceleration and deceleration as an electric-powered train does. Thus, the operators must have relatively few stops on the 235-miles line — to keep up speeds close to 125 mph and hit its target travel time.
After winning the pivotal approval of a state board on August 5th, the 235-mile All Aboard Florida train route will be able to borrow nearly $1.75 billion at a low-interest and tax-exempt rate.
This 3-0 decision by the Florida Development Finance Commission is expected to swiftly enable the Coral Gables–based operation to get trains running in South Florida, with the estimate being by early 2017. Following soon after, they expect the trains running into Orlando by late 2017.
Tracy points out that “the vote capped a contentious eight-hour public hearing in downtown Orlando attended by several hundred people, many of whom lined up to speak for and against the proposal by the company that traces its lineage to the state’s original train builder, Henry Flagler.”
Still, more than half were decidedly in favor of the train. Florida is too car dependent (and not very aware quite yet of the healthier electric motorcar). There are ridiculous numbers of automobiles in Florida compared to better options, like reliable mass transit.
However, the discussion was apparently passionate with opponents and proponents from all over the state. Tracy reports, “Opponents came mostly from the Treasure Coast counties of Martin, Indian River, and St. Lucie. They did not have a stop and vowed to continue fighting the train though it was not clear what they intended to do next.”
All Aboard Florida expects to run 32 passenger carriers a day, in addition to the 14 freight trains that typically use the tracks. Mike Reininger, president of All Aboard Florida, quieted complaints and addressed anxiety. He presented information that the fears are unfounded. Tracy explained that Reininger presented a 40-minute presentation to the board, setting the record straight that the All Aboard Florida trains “typically would clear intersections within 45 seconds. You wait at traffic lights longer than that,” he said.
Thus, the state board approved All Aboard Florida’s request for tax-exempt status, since the train will serve the public (in various ways). They project it will also give a big economic boost to the region. And it should be noted that the state does not back the bonds. It is All Aboard Florida that handles repaying them.
Tracy continues by noting that essentially all of Central Florida local, state, and congressional leaders were in favor of All Aboard Florida. “I support 100 percent All Aboard Florida. I am a railroad lover,” said U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville.
U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Orlando, said the train “brings jobs to Florida. It reduces traffic, which affects us all.”
Fares will be close to $100 one way. It sounds as if some smart city influences are also in the works, with All Aboard Florida expecting to make money by developing around its three South Florida stations. That includes Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. The vision is for apartments, office space, retail shops, and restaurants.
And forget the fuss of getting to the airport. With a secured $213 million from the state, it will build a station about a mile south of the main terminal. Orlando Sentinel reports, “The stop would handle All Aboard Florida and two other systems, including a proposed SunRail link.”
Besides being much safer, and more relaxing, the trains would take a bit less time than by motorcar. About three hours to travel from Miami to Orlando is about a half-hour shorter than by car. Orlando Sentinel continues, “The trains would roll on improved freight lines the company already owns along the East Coast. The train would turn west at Cocoa to get to the airport.”
In an earlier article I wrote, “Miami To Orlando Rail May Mark Promising Return of Private US Passenger Rail,” I noted that there is a grand theme to this with a deep historical context. It is over 30 years since a private intercity passenger rail line has operated in the United States. There is an absence of fresh services for intercity rail further back than 30 years. Florida, which got a big population boost from rail projects many decades ago, now has very limited rail options.
Supporters of this new transit project say this is a substantial step in Miami’s quest to arrive as one the world’s great urban centers.