Privately funded high speed rail project nears finish
What seemed to be a dream that many believed would eventually fade away is well on its way to becoming a reality. In 2011, Florida East Coast Industries (FECI) announced plans for a privately funded passenger rail system envisioned to transform the way people travel throughout Florida. Despite years of anti-rail opposition, operations are expected to start before the end of the year on ambitious project that combines rail transit with transit oriented development. Here is a brief overview of where the $3 billion privately funded passenger rail project currently stands.
All Aboard Florida’s Brightline is a planned passenger rail service that will operate along the Florida East Coast Railway. The proposed service would connect Miami with Orlando, via a roughly 240-mile route along the Atlantic coast north from Miami to Cocoa, where it would turn west towards Orlando. Startup costs are estimated at $3 billion, including a new 40-mile track segment from Cocoa to Orlando. Unlike all other inter-city rail (Amtrak) in the United States the new service would be privately-owned and operated by Florida East Coast Industries (FECI). One segment of the proposed line would operate at speeds of up to 125 miles per hour, meeting the United States Department of Transportation’s definition of high speed rail.
Feasibility studies into beginning the service began in late 2011, and by the time of the public announcement had progressed into detailed ridership and engineering studies. One of the goals is to operate the trains with an overall average speed similar to the Acela Express operating on the Northeast Corridor between New York and Washington, DC, reducing the travel time between Miami and Orlando to three hours and two minutes versus the approximately four hour driving time. With plans for 16 daily departures from both Miami and Orlando, trains will offer a full range of premium amenities including Wi-Fi internet service, gourmet meals and beverage service, comfortable seating, reserved business & coach service seating, luggage & bicycle accommodations and online reservations.
Service was initially anticipated to begin in 2014. Delays, primarily involving lawsuits to stop the rail system from happening have pushed the start date on the Orlando segment to 2020. Significant construction is still taking place on downtown Miami’s massive MiamiCentral Station. However, operations are anticipated to begin by the end of 2017 between recently completed stations in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach.
While the national story focused on a company privately funding passenger rail, many overlooked the fact that FECI is a commercial real estate, transportation, and infrastructure companies, with 19th century ties to Standard Oil tycoon and railroad magnate Henry Flagler. With that in mind, the ability to develop dynamic mobility-centric urban centers of Transit Oriented Development (TOD) was a significant factor in the decision to launch the passenger rail service.
The development boom around Brightline stations in South Florida hasn’t gone unnoticed. As progress continues to be made, public officials in Brevard and St. Lucie Counties have begin to lobby for additional stops in their communities. In Brevard County, the Space Coast Transportation Planning Organization has gone as far as selecting a desired station location in Cocoa in its proposal to Brightline. In St. Lucie County, the City of Fort Pierce is taking the first step in securing a train stop is requesting a site analysis study from All Aboard Florida.
Brightline also has its sights on expanding to Tampa and Jacksonville. In a March 2017 Trains News Wire interview, Mike Reininger executive director at FECI had this to say about Florida’s second and fourth largest metropolitan areas:
“Tampa is Florida’s next largest population center. For years we’ve had an expression of interest from leaders in that marketplace who are more than a little interested in a connection into our service,” Reininger says, “So we will be able to research and apply ourselves to that opportunity for sure. And [Florida East Coast Railway] already controls the right-of-way into Jacksonville, so we will start to explore whether that is a feasible and reasonable alternative.”
Here’s a look at where each Brightline station and associated TOD currently stands, as well as what Tampa and Jacksonville are doing in anticipation of possibly being served by a statewide intercity rail system.
Page 2: Miami Page 3: Fort Lauderdale Page 4: West Palm Beach Page 5: Orlando Page 6: Jacksonville Page 7: Tampa
Article by Ennis Davis, AICP. Davis is a certified senior planner and graduate of Florida A&M University. He is the author of the award winning books “Reclaiming Jacksonville,” “Cohen Brothers: The Big Store” and “Images of Modern America: Jacksonville.” Davis has served with various organizations committed to improving urban communities, including the American Planning Association and the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation. A 2013 Next City Vanguard, Davis is the co-founder of Metro Jacksonville.com and ModernCities.com — two websites dedicated to promoting fiscally sustainable communities — and Transform Jax, a tactical urbanist group. Contact Ennis at firstname.lastname@example.org