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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Here’s a really clever idea:

Let’s run express passenger trains 16 times round-trip every day between downtown Miami and the Orlando airport. That’s right, the airport.

Except the trains won’t go straight there, but will stop first in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, then head up the seaboard to Cocoa and hang a hard left 40 miles west across the middle of the state.

Oh, and the trip will take at least three hours one way.

Leaving aside the fact that you can inexpensively drive from downtown Miami to the Orlando airport in about the same time (or fly commercially in only 42 minutes), the project grandly known as All Aboard Florida raises other elementary questions.

Like, “Why?”

As it waddles down the tracks, this turkey enjoys the robust blessing of the Republican-led Legislature and Governor Rick Scott, who said the following to a reporter last month:

“It’s all funding that will be provided by somebody other than the state. It’s a private company.”

Scott’s either clueless or lying. All Aboard Florida is a future train wreck for taxpayers. With the possible exception of the Hogwarts Express, passenger rail services almost always lose money and end up subsidized by government.

All Aboard Florida already has applied for $1.6 billion in federal loans and plans to rent space at a new terminal at the Orlando International Airport, for which state lawmakers recently appropriated $213 million.

That’s just the beginning. According to the Scripps/Tribune Capitol Bureau, the company also wants the state to pay $44 million to connect its lines with Tri-Rail, the daily commuter link serving South Florida.

Only three short years ago, playing the Tea Party scrooge, Scott killed a proposed high-speed train project between Orlando and Tampa. In rejecting about $2 billion in federal funds, the governor asserted that Florida taxpayers would have ended up paying to operate the rail service once it was finished. He was right.

Now he’s yodeling a different tune, perhaps because his latest chief of staff, Adam Hollingsworth, formerly worked for one of the companies connected to All Aboard Florida. (When a reporter asked Scott if he’d talked to Hollingsworth about the project, he didn’t answer.)

Meanwhile, all along the proposed route, opposition is erupting. Here was the front-page headline in the July 13 Indian River Press Journal: ALL AGAINST ALL ABOARD.

Officials in Stuart, Fort Pierce, Vero Beach and other communities are rightly worried about the impact of adding 32 trains every day on the Florida East Coast tracks that All Aboard Florida plans to use.

The frequent stoppage of traffic at rail crossings is a major concern, especially because it will impede police, firefighters and other emergency responders. For residents and businesses near the track, the train noise and vibrations will be a recurring headache.

Indian River County Commissioner Bob Solari believes it could hurt local property values. And where the trains will cross busy waterways like the St. Lucie River, many say the repeated lowering of the railroad bridges will restrict boat travel and hurt the marine trades.

All Aboard Florida insists that its trains will be moving so fast that boaters and motorists won’t be inconvenienced for long periods, and it has promised to upgrade the road crossings to make them safer.

Few of the many critics seem reassured. Municipalities and counties fear they’ll be stuck with funding new infrastructure, just for the privilege of watching shiny locomotives whiz past all day long.

The whole project is anchored on the dubious notion that millions of people can’t wait to hop a train from Miami to the Orlando airport (via Cocoa). Although All Aboard Florida has sued to keep secret its ridership surveys, its website sunnily predicts that three out of four passengers will be tourists.

Tourists who are what … afraid to fly? Too scared to drive?

Talk about a narrow market.

And while it’s always beneficial to reduce the number of cars on the highway, this particular experiment can’t possibly break even. The only money will be made in the beginning with real-estate deals, by well-connected contractors working on new stations, modernizing the rails and laying 40 miles of fresh track between Brevard County and the land of Disney.

At this point, the momentum for All Aboard is all political, and only the rising outcry can derail it. Scott, who’s up for re-election, recently asked the Federal Railroad Administration to extend to 75 days the public-comment period that will follow the agency’s upcoming environmental impact study.

If the trains ever start running, spewing red ink with every toot of their horns, don’t be surprised if the state steps in to bail out the project, or asks the feds to do it.

Either way, we’ll get stung with the bill somewhere down the line.

All aboard, suckers.

Carl Hiaasen is a columnist for the Miami Herald. Readers may write to him at: 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, FL, 33132.

Photo: Buddahbless via Flickr

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  • Independent1

    Leave it to Rick Scot and his cronies in the GOP legislature to push some worthless transportation project which has to clearly be for some form of political/monetary kickback – the GOP votes don’t appear to be based on the merits of the project given the widespread resistance.

  • Dominick Vila

    I support public transportation, including bullet trains, as a vehicle to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, reduce traffic congestion, and the incidence of car accidents.
    The problem, in this specific case, is the way this new train line has been designed. Its route, all the stops along the way, and our preference to drive, pretty much condemn this project to become an albatross around our taxpayers necks.
    Bullet trains are used by large numbers of people in Europe, Japan, and other industrialized nations. They are reliable, offer an inexpensive alternative to driving, and stop at key spots where the train operators know there is a solid customer base. Reliable and inexpensive bus transportation is also provided from the train stations to business and populated areas in nearby cities and towns. Why do we insist on building new train lines, using antiquated and slow trains, and absurd routes?
    By the way, European and Japanese companies are winning contracts worldwide, including in rich Arab countries and in Latin America, where the quality of their trains is admired. If we want to compete abroad, reduce our trade deficits, and create jobs in America, we better pay attention to what our competitors are doing successfully. Selling lumber and cereals is not going to do the trick for us.
    As for Rick Scott, he will do and say whatever it takes to be re-elected. Considering his record, including his experience as founder and former CEO of Columbia HCA, and the fact that Florida voters decided to send him to the Governor mansion in Tallahassee instead of jail, I would not be surprised if he is re-elected.

  • longtail

    Florida was screwed the moment they elected this crook.

    • Wolf

      Whats lame is that he was against the whole high-speed rail transportation shortly after being elected.

      • dana becker

        only because he and his friends were not going to be able to profit from it. He does have standards you know. Wink wink.

      • CPAinNewYork

        Think that he was bribed?

        • Sand_Cat

          People like him don’t need to be bribed to do rotten things, but then, it’s a thought.

        • Magnus Thunderson

          Nope just standing with his party anti Obama policy as thus was going to be one of the first rail that would of show a small profit as show by an independent group and I believe them as 25 percent of the time I4 took and hour to seven hours longer from Tampa to Orlando as there are no service roads like in NY so any accident or construction slow the road to a turtle craw

          • CPAinNewYork


            Have you considered using commas and periods in your comments?

      • plc97477

        I wonder if the change comes from expectations of losing his seat soon.

      • longtail

        In all fairness, this seems to be very low-speed rail transportation. Perhaps Republicans enjoy a somewhat slower pace.

        • Russell Byrd

          The “high speed rail” is the direct route to their bank accounts. The taxpayers need not apply.

  • Budjob

    If I live to be 200 years old,I will NEVER understand the mentality of the electorate in the state of Corruption,excuse me I meant the state of Florida! Please,vote on election day and get this corrupt bastard out of office! I reside in Ohio and, we have our own mentally challenged asshole to deal with.

    • Billie

      As we do here in Texas

      • Ford Truck

        And those of us in Nebraska.

        • Billie

          my daughter lives in Kansas and they have the same thing.

          • dana becker

            all republican controlled states. I see a pattern.

          • Allan Richardson

            There is a new ending to “The Wizard of Oz” these days. Dorothy does not WANT to go back to Kansas.

            But seriously, Kansas has a better chance to get rid of the TP crook than other states. Even the GOP leadership is endorsing Brownback’s Democratic opponent.

    • highpckts

      From Ohio! I hear ya!!

    • CPAinNewYork

      Budjob: I agree that Florida is corrupt, but if you live in Ohio, why do you care about the stupid voters in Florida?

      Nassau County, New York is arguably the richest county in America, yet it is broke: it can’t even refund property taxes that were over-assessed. So, where did the money go?

      My point, Budjob, is that American government is corrupt. Totally corrupt. Fraud and outright theft are the norm. With that in mind, how can you care about Florida’s corruption when your own state, Ohio, is equally corrupt or possibly even worse? Short of a revolution, corruption in all levels of American government in here to stay.

  • Eleanore Whitaker

    The northeast and southeast have the greatest need in the US for public transportation that’s reliable, safe and progressive. Every developed country of the world BUT the US has reliable public transportation in and around the most urban areas.

    The real reason the north and southeast don’t? Red state conservatives who live in DogPatch rural areas and can’t see the need for it. So their politicians sabotage the use of the federal tax dollars we pay into the transportation fund by refusing to pass legislation that would support public transportation in key areas of the US.

    What public transportation does exist in the northeast and southeast coastal states is “hit or miss.” Take a good look at the world’s most urban center, New York City.

    I always love when CON states rely so heavily on our federal taxes to support their relic polluter industries we pay with OUR state taxes to clean up and then their politicians act as if public transportation isn’t a necessity.’s not a necessity in backwoods Appalachia or the wilds of the Wild West. In the Metropolitan area, it’s the lifeblood of industry including Wall Streeters.

    The next time some red state yahoo decides to vote against public transportation, demand your politicians vote against any more funding for Big Oil, Big Pharma, prison and military industries that keep red states in your federal tax dollars. Give as good as you got.

    • TZToronto

      Well, not every developed nation has high-speed rail. There is a real need for bullet trains in the Quebec City-Montreal-Ottawa-Toronto-Windsor corridor. But we have a Conservative government in charge in Ottawa, and they are western Canada oriented since that’s where their votes are. So they ignore rapid transit in the east while promoting the oil sands in Alberta. On the other hand, even the recent Liberal governments in Ottawa did nothing for rapid transit in the very important corridor I mentioned above. Right now the trains might average 60 mph, which is less than travel by car. What’s needed is something that can go 180 mph to cut travel time from downtown Montreal to downtown Toronto to 100 minutes. . . . Ain’t gonna happen, just as it won’t happen in the U.S.

      • Magnus Thunderson

        it however is happing in China and there even thinking of a tunnel under the Bering strait to connect to the north America

      • Eleanore Whitaker

        We in NJ, the most densely populated state per square mile in the US, have the same problem. Politicians from the conservative states see no value in spending on high speed rail. They have no plans for change and live in the past. Any federal funding that doesn’t benefit their states first is considered “wasteful spending.” That’s what happened when NJ, NY and CT all suffered from Superstorm Sandy and Rand Paul, a KY hillbilly had the gall to say that NJ people weren’t entitled to help from FEMA. All while his state lives off annual FEMA funding just like TX, MS, LA and FL.

        What fries me most is Big Rich Texas, That Whole Other Country of blowhard cowboys who take in hundreds of billions in MY state’s federal tax dollars year after year after year and then deny the states doing all that funding federal return on our investments.

        • TZToronto

          Perhaps the red-state politicians (and the people who live in those states) think of rail only as slow freight trains taking their agricultural produce to who-knows-where for processing. For people, the only way to travel is by car (the gas-guzziling-er the better). And those bullet trains are foreign to the American psyche since, well, they’re foreign-type trains and therefore un-American. Plus, they’re really for populated areas with big cities, not for the “heartland.” They like the bullet part, but the train part not so much.

          • Eleanore Whitaker

            Excellent post! You certainly have the gist of the problem in keen sight.

  • We (the people) have subsidized roads for over 100 years now. It IS time we became more ecologically responsible and started subsidizing rail at the same level.
    I am against political hand outs with a project like this. Scott should have accepted the high speed rail funds from the feds. The work should have gone to the most qualified and cost-effective.
    It is unfortunate that instead of doing it right Scott is now proceeding to do it as a series of giveaways, a boondoggle.

    • ralphkr

      I do believe, Jude, that you missed the history classes that covered RR. The RR have been heavily subsidized for many, many decades. One instance was when the railroads were built west of the Mississippi they were given every other section of land that they crossed (The RR got section 1, 3, 5, etc. south of the line and 2,4,6, etc. north of the line and the same for north-south lines)

      • Let me know when the rail lines span 1/10 the distance of roads and you may start to have a valid argument.

        Until then no comparison is valid.

        • ralphkr

          Considering that far more people use roads than RR and that it is a fact that RR are heavily subsidized I must say that it is obvious that my statement is valid. By the way, I have noticed that when RR subsidies are cut that they abandon the lines which has resulted in far fewer miles of RR now than in the past plus bear in mind that most freight arrives at the final retail destination via truck.

          • Sadly, you obviously have not traveled abroad. In Europe rail is far more popular than cars.

            What is needed is an INTEGRATED public transportation system. Rail alone will not attract passengers if trains are not met by buses and streetcars at important stops. I did not say that passenger rail is not subsidized I simply said that rail should deserve its turn to be subsidized as heavily as cars and roads and car companies have been.

            We should also take into account that cars waste an enormous amount of fuel and are poisoning the planet..

          • ralphkr

            Shucks, Jude, in Europe bicycles are more popular than cars but, guess what, we are discussing the US where there would be NO passenger rail traffic OR bus without heavy subsidies.

          • Magnus Thunderson

            if public transport was more functional it would do better as Tampa use to have a large trolley system with over 50 miles of track and ran every 7 minutes on main lines to every half hour to the out areas were there were parks. it ran from 5am to 3am and ran in the black. the reason it was dismantled along with the trolleys in a lot of other city’s was GM greed as they bought the Chicago transit authority to out all the trolley system they could which were mostly owned by the local electric company’s. The few city’s such as new Orleans and san Fran keep there trolleys as they were owned by the city’s which kept them safe.
            and the GM buses that replaced the trollies ran the budgets red which meant reduced times of operation and frequency which did not work with peoples schedules so people who could afford it got cars.
            As a trolley system is expensive to build but once completed it becomes so much cheep to run

          • ralphkr

            Actually, Mangus, it was Goodyear that was the biggest driving force in convincing cities to convert from trolleys to buses (trolleys do not use tires). Their most convincing argument was how easy and inexpensive it was to reroute buses (in addition to the gifts given to officials). Some cities left the overhead electric power lines in place and used electrically powered buses. Since almost all trolley systems were owned by cities, not private companies, neither Goodyear nor GM had to buy any trolley companies to put them to death.

            I am always tickled when I read or hear people complain how the automobile was the cause of the Los Angeles sprawl when it was actually the LA basin trolley system. The line would be laid and then developments would pop up on each side of the line. I had an Uncle who ran one of the A-trains after he broke his back while in the Black Horse Cavalry just before WW2. I remember how you had to use extreme caution any time you were driving near the trolley track in LA because the trolleys completely ignored traffic signals and would blow through a red light like a bat out of H— (if they hit a car it was always the fault of the automobile driver for getting in their way).

          • Magnus Thunderson

            Tampa trolley system was owned by TECO our electric company not the city and was bought out by the Chicago transit system and while it ran in the black with zero subsides for years it was torn up 3 months later in an excuse they need the metal for the war effort but that was a lie as wall they did was warehouse the trolleys and tear down the electrical wiring and poles which turned up in a ware house back in the 1970s and now sit in our transit museum

          • Magnus Thunderson

            Development is why trolleys should also be built as development develops around fixed rail and not along bus routes as the sprawl that happened in many city since the 1940s left a belt of old run down houses around them. So if we just ran light rail out to the to the far edge of the belt you see the about 6 blocks deep along it tracks in construction to start and that will developed to about 16 blocks over time as younger people are not wanting cars as much so public transport for them is critical and will buy along the track

          • ralphkr

            Interesting, Magnus, as that is exactly what I blamed the Los Angeles sprawl upon. Trolley lines causing the dreaded spread of suburbs.

          • Magnus Thunderson

            That why we need them again this time not for sprawl but for redevelopment of areas which creates a better more stable tax structure which benefits the community overall

  • Richard Piamai

    Scott is an idiot and clueless. He is a criminal and not a bright person. He knows how to steal from companies and governments. For ten years his companies screwed medicaid and medicare out of millions of dollars and in his defense he said he didn’t know about it. Florida is now a sewer. Don’t raise your children there. Also do not eat the fish there. You will contract cancer 10 years down the road. He does not want you to know that.

  • cosliberal

    This is the same guy that turned down the money for high speed rail from Tampa to Orlando, right?

  • Billie

    My Dad worked for Missouri Pacific railroad and I loved riding the train. Unfortunately, it no longer runs in our area. I would ride it up to East Texas if it still ran. So I have to drive. Incidentally, it is now Union Pacific. Or it was the last time I checked.

  • adler56

    You CANNOT drive from Miami to Orlando in three hours- at least not without one or more speeding tickets.

    • Siegfried Heydrich

      Yeah, was going to say . . . I live in Lee county (Ft. Myers), and it’s a 4 hour trip, easily. Now, if they were smart, they’d make it a circuit, from Miami up the coast to Orlando, then west to Tampa, down to Naples, then back across to Miami. And if they had a terminal near the Disney World – Universal nexus, it would be a major money maker.

      • CPAinNewYork

        If they were smart, they would cancel the whole idea, but it’s probably going to provide a lot of money to the political insiders.

    • WhutHeSaid

      It depends on the traffic. If you take the Florida Turnpike you can do it in just a hair over 3 hours with light traffic. Otherwise it will take between 3 and 4 hours.

      • Independent1

        Just for info: Microsoft Streets and Trips projects the trip to take 3hrs 27mins for the 236 miles from downtown Miami to downtown Orlando; or to take 3hrs and 22mins from Miami to Celebration right outside Disney World (232 miles).

        • WhutHeSaid

          Do the math. The speed limit on I-95 and the Florida Turnpike is 70 mph. 236/70 = 3.37, but nobody travels 70 mph on Florida Interstate highways unless they are driving next to a police cruiser — and even then only sometimes. 236/75 = 3.15, and 236/80 = 2.95.

          I’ve driven this route a few times, and it really depends on the traffic, but 3 hours is really pushing it. If you travel on Interstate highways in Florida you will find that the average traffic speed without congestion is often 80-85 mph. If you go slower than that you will usually find yourself the target of road rage and aggressive driving.

          One final note: Drivers who need to cut in front of you to make a left-hand turn can make the trip in 2 hours provided they don’t run out left-hand turns or people to cut in front of along the way.

  • highpckts

    He was for it before he was against it and now he’s for it! Typical!!

    • Independent1

      I get the sense that someone has added a sweetener for Scott in this project which wasn’t present in the high-speed rail project he worked to shut down earlier.

      • highpckts

        Sweetner? Is that what they call it?

        • Independent1

          Sweetener: promise of big campaign donation or direct monetary kickback or promise of future lucrative job opportunity, or you name it or all of the above.

          • highpckts

            Sweetner = bribery!!

  • VulpineMac

    With the cost of fuel rising AND increasing highway congestion, the statement, “… you can inexpensively drive from downtown Miami to the Orlando airport in about the same time…” is effectively a lie. Sure, the price may be about the same for the two trips, but if you’re a Florida resident, then you have to park your car at the airport (long-term parking ain’t neccessarily cheap) and make the return drive–so the drive is almost certainly equivalent to a tank and a half of gas or nearly $100.

    Add to this the fact that the drive has to put up with heavy traffic almost full time around any of the cities due to both residents and tourists not-quite “sharing” the roads and each of those one-way drives is nerve-wracking as well.

    Passenger rail was originally killed off here in the States because of the automobile. Especially after WWII, the car was a relatively inexpensive vehicle that gave you freedom to go anywhere you wanted, any TIME you wanted. For some areas that lasted for all of about 20 years. For others, maybe 50 years. The point is that with the exception of the regions of our country that are relatively lightly populated it has become a hassle to simply drive into town to buy groceries, much less drive cross-country to visit friends or relatives.

    Oh sure, you CAN fly, but you still have to get to the airport with its typically confusing signage where you need a co-driver to watch the signs while you’re trying to avoid the rolling-wreck-just-waiting-to-happen traffic on your way in. Then you have to put up with long lines of check-in, security and then waiting in uncomfortable airport seats for your plane to arrive–then spend hours in an equally-uncomfortable, cramped airline seat until you reach your destination–at 4x the cost of driving the same distance or more.

    There’s a paradigm shift coming, whether you want it to or not. Driving is no longer the freedom it used to be. It’s no longer a nice, easy cruise into the city for work or play; its a frightening, insane mix of people too afraid to drive causing others to attempt idiotic maneuvers to get around them with often no more than a foot of space available on any given side of your vehicle working down the streets. Then you have to HOPE you can find parking in one of the expensive parking garages that in some cases are older than the buildings surrounding them.

    Passenger rail WILL see a resurgence. While I agree that we may never see it achieve the popularity it once held, it is still the most comfortable way to travel any distance on land and simply avoids all the crush of having to drive in or around any of the cities on the interstate highway system. Honestly, a train is almost ideal for any trip under 300 miles (taking almost the same amount of time overall when compared to flying to the same destination) and far more relaxing even on longer trips as the voyage itself is as much a part of your vacation as the destination. When is the last time YOU rode a train coast-to-coast?

    BUT… Sharing the rails with revenue freight is not the way to go. The Class I railroads make their money through moving cargo at a slow-but-steady speed and passenger trains can force those freight trains to stop more frequently which not only slows the overall rate of movement but also massively increases fuel costs getting those heavy loads moving again. The point? Passenger rail needs its own, independent infrastructure. Bullet trains like the Acela Express, the Paris-London Channel train and all the others run on dedicated rails that only get shared with freight during slower, overnight hours or with specially-built express cars made to travel at higher speeds. This also means there’s a high initial cost in building that dedicated infrastructure.

    Is Florida’s concept a boondoggle? NO. Many people are tired of driving and as I pointed out earlier, some are flat afraid to drive any more. The train offers a reasonably-fast, comfortable and stress-free means of traveling city-to-city and the airports are now the transportation hubs of most cities–where local light rail, public transportation and even taxis and rental cars are readily available. No more do you have to fight traffic or risk your second-largest life expense (after your home) just to get from point A to point B in another city. Yes, the initial setup may cost the taxpayers some money–but if it takes a few cars off the road maybe it’s worth the slight per-capita cost. If it makes your own travel easier maybe it’s worth the slight per-capita cost.

    The face of transportation IS changing. If you don’t like it, “Get a horse!”

    • iowasteve

      And which rail service do you have stock in?

      • VulpineMac

        Why do I have to have “stock” in a system whose benefits are so obvious? My “stock” will be in the dollars and time I save by not driving to the airport and taking a flight and the lack of stress I receive before, during and after the trip. If rail went the places I want to go, I would much rather travel by train than by car to those places and while I used to love flying, it has become so much of a hassle that I only fly when absolutely necessary today.

        For where I live, if I wanted to vacation in Florida, I’d probably take the Auto-Train to Orlando and set up a campsite; use my car (Jeep) for local travel and take the train to Miami for a day-trip or even Speed Weeks. Less hassle and more fun.

        • iowasteve

          ok so you don’t live in Florida apparently. – I’m also going to assume since you mentioned the auto-train you’re on the east coast though someplace. It doesn’t take a tank of gas to drive from Miami to Orlando. And why are they only going to Orlando? What’s wrong with other towns where there would be a high demand for passengers. Especially college towns like Pensacola/Tallahassee or Gainesville or Jacksonville? It would make more sense to just run around the state – I agree with the previous comment about Tampa, Ft. Myers, and Naples? Lots of seniors in Naples – or don’t they count as much anymore in Florida? You would think that Orlando would love to have access to College Students – but apparently the state doesn’t see it that way. The only way to make this thing work and possibly make any money is to cover the areas where the most riders would be located – especially if your going to make a stop in Orlando. What’s the reason that only one train is scheduled for the trips? Come on, if you’re going to do something do it right or not at all. And if the whole point is only Miami to Orlando – then why stop anyplace else? It would take far less time to do a direct back and forth run between the two cities. And it would save money on the tickets then too. With the current plans – I don’t see it making a dime – but instead costing a lot of money. Might as well pay Amtrack to cover more of the state – at least they already have a working model in place that actually DOES make them money.

          • VulpineMac

            True, I don’t live in Florida, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have family there. I have family on both my and my wife’s side in different parts of the state.

            However, with any project with this kind of scope, you have to start relatively small. Apparently traffic between Orlando and Miami is quite heavy–enough to warrant some kind of public transport system that can save time and stress. And as the article points out, the train DOES make three stops along the way, servicing three additional communities. Once the system is completed and demonstrates its usefulness and ability to generate income, it can then be more readily expanded to gulf coast communities such as naples and Tallahassee. BUT, just like the current plans, they’re still sharing trackage with revenue freight so either multi-track mainlines need to be established OR they’ll have to somehow generate their own rights-of-way.

            Now, what you may not know is that Amtrak up in the NEC (NorthEast Corridor) has NO grade-level crossings, meaning no cars or trucks crossing the tracks and allowing the passenger trains to run much faster. I don’t know what your Florida project has in mind but by building bridges over the rail lines (or having the rail line itself bridge over highways) would allow the trains to make the trip even faster and all-out eliminate the risk of car-train collisions we see constantly reported between both revenue and passenger trains at grade crossings. Every time such a collision occurs, the train MUST stop–often for hours as the wreckage is cleared and reports made. For passenger rail in particular these delays are costly.

            And while true that it doesn’t take a full tank of gas to go one-way, I was discussing the COST of the trip, not the actual fuel usage. On the other hand, Driving from the Miami airport to the Orlando airport comes out to roughly 233 miles which is more than half a tank of gas for almost ANY car which means that my estimate was low for a round trip driving–costs now jumping to the equivalent of two full tanks of gas. If you were able to travel at posted speed limits all the way, it takes three and one-third hours to drive the distance–but that doesn’t take the variable traffic into account which could slow you down by an hour or more.

            Simply put, the train makes more sense both as a tourist and as a resident in time, vehicle wear and fuel costs.

          • ralphkr

            I do agree, Vulpine, that rail makes a lot of sense in theory but it fails in actual practice. A prime example of this was commuter rail from Oceanside to San Ysidro, CA. I was camped fairly close to the tracks and noticed that the cars usually had only 4 or 5 passengers each. After I checked their schedules I could see why they were almost vacant. There was under 7 hours from when the first train arrived in San Diego (which has an excellent trolley system if where you are and where you wish to go are adjacent to the line) and when the last train left San Diego so it was impossible for commuters to use the train.

            Personally, I feel that since public bus lines are so heavily subsidized that they should not even bother charging fares. I have noticed that when fares go up, passengers go down, and the subsidy must be increased. I was camped on a peninsula in southwest Washington (marvelous 28 mile long beach) that only had one very heavily traveled 2 lane road so they did not charge fares to ride the bus in an effort to clear some traffic from the highway.

          • VulpineMac

            Based on what you’re telling me, it sounds almost like somebody simply wanted it to fail as an example of how it simply cannot work in today’s world. The Philadelphia commuter rail system emphasizes a train roughly every 15 minutes during the morning and afternoon rushes (say about 7-9am and 4-6pm) with hourly runs mostly during the rest of the day with the last run really around 11pm and the first run before 6am. Scheduling alone plays almost the most critical role in the success or failure of such a system. I’m sure your bus system is a lot more frequent than your rail.

            And that’s the point. The Florida system is running 13 trips each way which would mean a new train leaving every hour, plus or minus, during the day. While I don’t know the proposed schedule, I would expect the first trains start from either end somewhere around 6am and the last train probably around 8pm. It also sounds like they’re getting priority either by running on previously-abandoned roadbed or possibly double-tracked line so that no train has to sit in a siding for any length of time. Based on what I see in Google Earth around West Palm Beach, it’s double-tracked with sidings along at least part of its length. The only issue I see is that there’s a moderately high risk of car/train collisions as there are several grade crossings in WPB with only one noticeable overpass by an expressway. That will force the train to run slower through the urban areas. I also note that they appear to have stations about 10 miles apart through there.

            The point is that it CAN work, if it is allowed to work as designed. When politics get involved–or rather special interests THROUGH politics–even the best system can be made to fail. The Northeast Corridor is one of the few areas where passenger rail is successful, with the trains frequently loaded to capacity, because the pricing, the speed and the scheduling all fits to make train travel cheaper and more convenient than any other form of travel through that 250-mile stretch. As an example, when taking a fall “excursion” train from Philadelphia pulled by a conventional diesel-electric locomotive, it took about 20 minutes to ride a distance that had taken me almost an hour to drive long before rush hour could come into play. The ride was smooth, with no rocking motion or any real sense you were traveling at all except for the view out the windows. This is what passenger rail CAN be. The train was able to hold a steady 70mph and simply had no need to slow down except to pass through one station area and even then only to meet safety rules as passengers were waiting on the pads for regularly scheduled trains.

            Today’s average person has no idea of the capabilities passenger rail can offer. Sure, you can drive across the country in three or four days–and be exhausted when you arrive. You can fly it in about 8 hours–and be exhausted when you arrive. Or you can ride the train in relative comfort; eat REAL food–high-class cuisine, not “airline meals”–without feeling rushed and get a chance to really see the country as you pass–which as a driver you simply cannot do safely. Sure, some parts will be boring, but you never know what you’ll see next as a passenger in a train.

          • ralphkr

            Well, Vulpine, you have touched upon the very reason that passenger rail doesn’t work in the USA: Politics. Either towns along the way fight to keep rail out of their back yard OR demand that the train stops at their burg. In the past I have used the San Diego Trolley system (every 15 minutes) and the commuter train system which had so many stops that it had two stops in San Diego itself so it was slow. I did notice that the light weight double deck cars such as in the photo with this article had a much better ride vs the traditional heavy AMTRACK cars although that may have been due to the upgraded roadbed.

            As far as cost is concerned, well, that has changed significantly over the decades. Shortly after WW2 (when passenger trains were still king) we were supposed to travel from the Midwest to LA for a funeral and my father first checked on going by train and it would cost over $1,700 and take 5 days in addition to having to drive 400 miles to the nearest transcontinental station (or take local trains for 2 days to get to a transcontinental terminal). He then checked on flights and it would take 2 days by using a feeder planes from nearby to a transcontinental terminal and cost $1,400. We drove it in 5 days and remember that this was long before freeways and at a time when highways ALWAYS went through the center of every town (at least the speed limit was no longer 35 mph).

          • VulpineMac

            You just pointed out the one single advantage to driving longer distances rather than rail or air–the fuel costs per person go down when driving as a group. On the other hand, I’ll bet your father was VERY tired when you finally got back home, having driven ten days PLUS attending the funeral. Granted, the freeways are better today, but they are getting ever more crowded and some people are downright dangerous on the road. While I agree that travel prices on trains and planes are high, in both cases the would-be driver himself is more relaxed and on the train the kids have more room to move around and not have to be stuck in an uncomfortable seat for hours on end. To me, covering the distance with less discomfort and stress is worth the added cost.

          • iowasteve

            Yes, the train does make sense – I just think that they should plan the system to deal with those who would probably use it more. I think the majority of the passengers would be the Miami group at this time and with the current plan – it would be difficult to justify the cost unless it was going to service both coasts completely and include those areas where the most likely riders would be. If the service doesn’t make a profit in a hurry, it’s going to cost taxpayers a bundle and will be shut down and considered another disaster as so many previous ideas have gone thru. Both Miami and Ft. Lauderdale have large airports now. The idea though of having stops at other areas where passengers are located as well as other large airports would definitely help things out I would think – and quite a lot honestly. I guess the cost needs to outweigh the failure is what I’m trying to say.

          • VulpineMac

            Now, personally I could see a ‘big circle’ route with Orlando at the top and running both coasts with Miami at the bottom, with eventual spurs out the Keys and northward along both coasts. But something like that costs a lot of money and clearly planning that kind of expense is going to get a lot of resistance. On the other hand, if the existing route proves even marginally profitable, then plans to extend to the other cities will garner more support.

            As for your final statement, what too many want to expect is over-optimistic. Profits will come, but just as Tesla is now producing thousands of cars per year, they’re not making any real profit as any gains go right back into the company to improve and expand. On the other hand, each car IS selling for more than it cost to build per unit, so the cars themselves are making a profit. We have to expect the same kind of early results with Florida rail as passengers get more used to the idea of a train that actually travels from city to city instead of back and forth across a single city.

    • ralphkr

      Hey, Vulpine, on the west coast the passenger trains have to pull into a siding to let the freight trains go through non-stop and I have been told that is the way most RRs are run today since freight is the RR profit center while passenger is usually a loser or, at best, break even.

      Rail transport speedy? At one time I was at a campground east of San Diego and, from time to time, I would have to visit my mother who lived north of San Diego. It averaged 3:30 to 4 hours to cover the 55 miles (takes less than an hour on back roads in a car) taking bus to trolley to train to bus to town where my mother would meet me with her car (would take another 45 minutes if I took the bus close to her home and walked the last mile. The entire trip was extremely efficient, for public transportation, as I never had to wait more than 10 minutes at any transfer point.

      • VulpineMac

        You’re right, and I pointed that out in my response to IowaSteve. Today’s rail system in general is focused on revenue freight.

        However, I also pointed out that if a passenger rail system is given right of way OR that it is given its own dedicated tracks, that issue would be completely different. As it is, I believe California is in the process of designing and implementing a high-speed rail corridor to cover San Diego to San Francisco in the amount of time you say it takes to go that 55 miles. Now, personally I find it difficult to believe that the Red Line (or do they call it the Yellow Line?) takes that long to go that short distance since I believe it’s on dedicated rail, but I’m not as current on west coast rail as I am on the east coast systems.

        • ralphkr

          The light rail systems in San Diego County are: The Sprinter (Oceanside to Escondido 22 miles, 15 stops, every 30 minutes); The Coaster (38 miles, takes 1 hour, 8 stops, 20 daily trains); San Diego Trolley Blue, Orange, and Green Lines (Yes, the trolleys are red and run from every 7 minutes to every hour depending upon time of day). Unfortunately, only the San Diego trolleys are powered by electricity I did have to look the info up since I have not visited San Diego County in over 10 years (Sprinter did not exist at that time) .

          • VulpineMac

            So it sounds to me like the Sprinter in particular needs some rescheduling to make it more appealing. It almost sounds like it’s intended to be a tourist train rather than a commuter run.
            However, all of those are essentially “locals”, not intended to run between city centers like LA to San Diego. On the other hand, it may only be an anchor line for a San Diego to San Francisco or longer run as part of the projected high-speed route California is reportedly working on. It’s cheaper and easier to tie together existing routes than it is to build one from scratch–especially in areas where real estate is so pricey.

          • ralphkr

            I am afraid that the Sprinter is NOT a tourist train but rather intended as a diesel powered trolley train to enhance bus service since there are no tourist destinations on it and runs from a coastal town to inland town with a university one of its stops. The Coaster would be more of a tourist route as it runs along the Pacific coast with stops at a number of coastal towns and Old San Diego tourist trap terminating at the downtown San Diego Santa Fe RR Depot. At the Depot you transfer one of the trolley lines to Tijuana area or another to the MLB stadium and it conx with the LA basin MetroLiner in Oceanside. Amtrack also runs from San Diego to LA where you have to get on a bus to cross the gap in rails over the mountains to trains going north past Seattle. Even Amtrack is run like a local from LA to San Diego with numerous stops.

          • VulpineMac

            I accept the correction, but the point is that a high-speed rail route is in the planning stages at least, if not starting construction yet–and I expect it’s intended to upgrade the Amtrak route to allow Acela Express-type trains rated to run at 150mph or higher. As such, an Express would bypass the majority of the ‘local’ stops and just hit San Diego, LA, SF and perhaps Sacrimento. I also think they plan to make a true rail link over/through the mountains for true north-south connectivity. What I don’t know is the status of any of those plans.

          • ralphkr

            There currently is a very scenic RR route from San Diego to Seattle that runs along the coastline, more or less, until SF where it heads inland to Sacto & continues north through Portland to Seattle. There is an inland route that has break (currently covered by bus) between LA & Bakersfield that follows the central valley north. Until 1971 passenger trains did travel that route and, recently, Amtrak request permission from Union Pacific to run one train a night but UP refused. The proposed “high speed” Amtrak train would leave Bakersfield at midnight and arrive in LA at 7 AM. In other words, it would take 7 hours to travel 150 miles. I don’ t think there would have been much demand for the service since a bus takes 3 hours (steep grades plus stops) and a car or my motor home about 2:30.

          • VulpineMac

            Time for me to do some research, because Bakersfield is NOT on the high-speed route I remember; that’s more likely on the Las Vegas route which is part of a cross-country train IIRC.

            But you do emphasize my point. For passenger rail to work, it needs its own, non-revenue-freight trackage. A passenger train can’t wait for a heavy freight to make those grades at sometimes 15 miles per hour or less. Even with the old 80-ton steel cars you only had trains of 15 cars or so, meaning two or three 1500-horsepower diesel locomotives were only pulling 1200 tons plus passengers, unlike revenue freight today where they’re pulling upwards of 150 cars carrying 150 tons or so, totaling 22 THOUSAND tons in some cases. By weight alone a passenger train should be capable of higher speed with less than half the power at the front and this is evidenced by the fact that Amtrak’s passenger trains readily achieve 80 mph on lines shared with freight and exceed 120 mph on passenger-centric upgraded rail along the NEC.
            The problem is that dedicating routes to passenger-only traffic is expensive. The most costly method is to draw up all-new rights of way, buy the land and build. A possibly less expensive way may be to locate and repurpose now-abandoned routes that the Class Ones no longer use and rebuild them, only purchasing new land where needed to connect the lines to each other and only sharing trackage–if ever–on the actual approach into the cities. It’s still expensive, but potentially half the cost or lower than starting from scratch. A third method and in some ways even easier is to fully double-track many of the Class One lines and even triple-track more heavily used corridors, with the extra track giving priority to passenger trains first and ‘express freight’ second–meaning speed limits no less than 55mph except when under repair. Many routes across the country were formerly built as double, triple and even quadruple-tracked (look at older photos of Horseshoe Curve in Pennsylvania). It wouldn’t be that difficult NOR that expensive (comparatively speaking) to upgrade those existing roadbeds for passenger traffic again.

  • elw

    I feel sorry for the people who will be living near the tracks. The first year I lived in this area I rented an apartment near the commuter train tacks. It was loud and often interrupted my sleep when the engineers blew the whistle late at night. But when they added the second line of track – even before the trains were running on it, just the weight of the new track made my whole apartment shake every time a train past. I am for public transportation – but how about using the center of the commuter highways instead old track running through residential neighborhood that will eventually turn into slum for people who cannot afford to move to a better location.



    Fort Myers, Florida, resident agrees, but lordy how hard it is to get the local Florida blue-haired Republicans to vote otherwise. If Charles Manson was running for office in Florida as a Republican, the blue-hairs would vote for him.

    Hopefully Crist will dump this clown.

  • weary_jane

    Scot has already been in trouble with his healthcare business. Why should Floridians trust him with this?

  • joeg2028

    I vote in Florida, and all I can say is, “Once a thief, always a thief.” Why Mr. Take-the-Fifth 75 Times is in the governor’s mansion instead of federal prison, I’ll never understand. Actually, I do: low-information voters who were dazzled by the ads purchased with all those millions Rickie stole from Medicare. If it looks like a snake . . .

  • brevardmom

    Say hello to the new drug corridor! Is there going to be security checking bags? What a great way to mule drugs knowing you wont risk getting pulled over and no security checks.