All Aboard Florida's big plans are still moving forward, including its planned $150-million Miami transit station, to be built by Suffolk Construction. (Image courtesy All Aboard Florida)
Last year, as widely reported, citizens groups along Florida's "Treasure Coast" voiced considerable, and loud, protests over the planned $2.3-billion All Aboard Florida (AAF) project, a 220-mile-long passenger rail line between Orlando and Miami. Back then, a main objection was over All Aboard Florida's plans at the time to utilize a $1.5-billion federal loan to help fund the project. (The company has since dropped the loan idea, and is instead planning to use $1.75 billion in private activity bonds.)
K.C. Traylor, the founder of one of those groups, Florida Not All Aboard, asserted the project would likely default on the federal loan when she told ENR: "Our concern is that doesn't turn into a Solyndra on rails."
Other issues raised by citizens living along the Treasure Coast—which includes Indian River, Martin and St. Lucie counties—include noise, public safety, the potential for interference with marine traffic, and possible negative impacts to real-estate values. The safety concern involves the numerous grade crossings that the "high-speed" All Aboard Florida line will make through the area. (A pair of opposing videos posted below address the grade-crossings issue further.)
But despite that vocal opposition—and some supportive words from Florida state officials—the project kept moving forward. Last July, All Aboard Florida hired Suffolk Construction to build its $150-million, 3 million-sq-ft Miami transit station, for example. Then, last month, the company announced it had hired Moss & Associates to build stations in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach.
Moss & Associates was hired to build All Aboard Florida stations in Fort Lauderdale (pictured above) and West Palm Beach. Rendering courtesy All Aboard Florida.
But more recently, the opposition seems to be stepping up the battle. On Feb. 18, for instance, another anti-rail group, Citizens Against Rail Expansion in Florida (CARE), announced—via a press release headlined, "AAF Doomed to Financial Failure"—that a study it commissioned suggested the project would not be financially viable. Conducted by John Friedman, a professor with Brown University, the study "analyzes the market for this mode of transportation, as compared with alternative travel options, to project fares and annual ridership."
The two most notable findings from Friedman's bullet-pointed summary were as follows:
• "All Aboard Florida will generate annual losses of more than $100 million and will be unable to service its large debt burden. Under optimistic projections, this report projects annual revenues of $95.8 million, operating costs of $81.5 million, and debt-service costs of $125 million, for annual losses of $110.7 million. AAF has no way to pay the resulting annual deficit, except perhaps by non-train-related business such as real estate profits.
• "All Aboard Florida would have to charge $273 per train ticket one-way, even under unrealistically optimistic assumptions, in order to service its debt. The revenue required to service its debt is more than twice as large as actual projected revenues. The implied fare of $273 required to raise this revenue – even holding ridership constant – would be $145 more expensive than airfare on the Miami-to-Orlando route. But of course ridership would fall drastically at such high prices."
For the anti-AAF groups, the point of those dire economic forecasts is that the state and federal governments shouldn't allow this project to move forward and negatively impact these local communities when it's not financially sustainable.
Speaking of finances, it sounds like some of these groups may get some help in fighting the project, possibly in the courts. Earlier this week, the Palm Beach Post reported that commissioners in Indian River County pledged $2.7 million to "fight" All Aboard Florida, while Martin County officials promised $1.4 million. (It should be noted that AAF does not presently plan to build any stations or have any stops in either Indian River or Martin counties, though officials have brought up the idea.)
Meanwhile, back to the grade-crossings issues, with those dueling videos. This first video, posted recently by Not All Aboard Florida, alleges the AAF project to be unsafe because of the high number of grade crossings for the "high-speed" rail system. It should be noted that the Florida Dept. of Transportation is mandating that AAF build the system with "sealed corridors" at 57 grade crossings, thus addressing the safety issue.
Youtube video posted by Florida Not All Aboard
Meanwhile, in this 2014 All Aboard Florida demonstration video included below, the company attempts to assure the public that its trains will have minimal impacts to traffic.
Video posted to Youtube by All Aboard Florida