High-speed train bill could stall All Aboard Florida’s Brightline

By Jennifer Sorentrue
March 14, 2017
Palm Beach Post

The day after All Aboard Florida’s Brightline welcomed the second train in its growing fleet, officials with the private rail venture said a proposed billregulating high-speed trains could threaten its expansion to Orlando and other points across the state.

The bill (SB 386), dubbed the Florida High-Speed Passenger Rail Safety Act, cleared its first hurdle on Tuesday, winning support from the Senate’s Committee on Transportation. It would require high-speed rail companies such as All Aboard Florida to install safety features and pay for fencing along sections of its tracks where pedestrians could be at risk.

The bill also would establish minimum safety standards for high-speed rail, including the installation of Positive Train Control and Remote Health Monitoring safety technology. The features are designed to help stop a train if the engineer falls ill or a crossing gate malfunctions.

Rusty Roberts, vice president of government affairs for All Aboard Florida, told the Senate committee that the bill could threaten the company’s expansion plans, adding that it “unconstitutionally targets one company.”

Brightline announced this week that it plans to launch passenger service between West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale in late July. Service between Fort Lauderdale and Miami is scheduled to start in late August, the company said.

Eventually, Brightline plans to expand service north to Orlando. Track work for the second phase of the project, which runs between West Palm Beach and Orlando, has not yet begun.

All Aboard officials have said that federal agencies already regulate many of the requirements in the bill.

“What this bill does is create a climate for many years of legal and administrative challenges,” Roberts said.

He added that those challenges could jeopardize the company’s “ability to complete” the planned expansion to Orlando, as well as impact potential extensions of the service to Tampa and Jacksonville.

In a statement released late Thursday, Roberts said the private rail venture has already pledged to install safety features along its route.

“All Aboard Florida has committed for years that it would bear the financial burden of the significant upgrades and safety improvements being made in order to create the only railroad in full compliance with all the latest and highest applicable safety standards,” Roberts said. “Despite the fact that these costs are rightfully the obligation of the public under the existing long standing agreements, AAF will fully fund the capital improvements, continue to fund railroad maintenance, but expects that the public will continue to fund their obligations in the existing agreements. SB 386 would have AAF pay for all the financial obligations that currently reside with public entities.”

Sen. Debbie Mayfield, R-Vero Beach, who filed the bill, said the legislation is not designed to target a single rail operator.

“This is not about a particular high-speed passenger train,” Mayfield said. “This is about setting a framework for Florida.”

Brightline plans to run as many as 32 trains a day between Miami and Orlando on the Florida East Coast Railway tracks. The company’s trains are expected to reach speeds of up to 79 mph between Miami and West Palm Beach; 110 mph between West Palm Beach and Cocoa Beach; and 125 mph between Cocoa and Orlando.

Freight trains on the FEC line currently operate at speeds of between 35 and 40 mph, although the trains are capable of moving up to 60 mph, officials have said.

Brightline’s second train arrived in West Palm Beach on Monday.

The train, dubbed BrightPink because of the color of the markings on its passenger cars, left California last week. It will be held at the company’s rail repair facility in West Palm Beach until service begins this summer.

Brightline unveiled its first train, called BrightBlue, at a special event in West Palm Beach this year.

The company has been testing the BrightBlue train along a 9-mile section of track that spans from West Palm Beach to Lantana.

Three more trains are expected to arrive in South Florida by May, Brightline officials said. The third train to arrive will be called BrightGreen.

The trains are being built at Siemens’ manufacturing hub in Sacramento, Calif.

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