Florida company eyes next big rail project

We’ve discussed plenty of ill conceived transportation projects here, but there’s one in Florida which may be kicking off soon which might not seem quite as crazy. A Sunshine State company is seeking to re-start a passenger train line running from Orlando to Miami with stops in some of the major tourist and population centers along the way, running down the Atlantic coast. And they think they can have it running in less than two years.

In the most notable attempt to revive private intercity passenger-rail service in at least four decades, freight-rail company Florida East Coast Industries—owned by Fortress Investment Group LLC-managed funds—is planning to start construction in coming weeks on a $2.3 billion passenger-train line it is calling All Aboard Florida. The train would offer a roughly three-hour ride between Miami and Orlando, with stops in West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale.

Although the project faces a host of challenges—including an environmental review, some residents’ opposition and uncertain federal backing—FECI is betting that the clogged highways, frustrating airport waits and growing demand to live in cities will allow the company to fill seats. The company says the fares will be less expensive than flying—which run more than $150 one-way—and competitive with the costs of driving. It hopes to have its first trains running by 2016.

While not entirely sunshine and unicorns, this project looks significantly different than the now $64B California high speed rail boondoggle which Ed has covered so thoroughly. First of all, this isn’t some space age, light rail or magnetic field Buzz Lightyear project, but rather standard (albeit rather fast) passenger train service primarily on existing rail lines with some repairs and improvements. Also, it’s at least a mostly private endeavor. (I say “mostly” because they are still relying on a not yet approved $1.6 billion loan from the Federal Railroad Administration.)

Is this something enough people would use to make it profitable? Having just this week finished a twice delayed, 36 hour airplane adventure trying to get back to New York from Tennessee – in which they managed to lose my luggage until today – I find myself once again sort of yearning for more opportunities for rail as an option. Granted, it doesn’t work all over the country economically, but given how generally horrible air travel has become for the economy class flyer, I bet a lot of people would give it a look in high traffic areas. The Northeast corridor is one obvious choice, but the Florida coast might be another. And they claim they’ll be able to cut the cost of matching plane ticket by as much as $150 per one way trip.

What do you think? Is everything old actually new again, and would you want to see these sorts of conventional rail options? If they can make it profitable, I don’t see why they shouldn’t give it a whirl.

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Jazz Shaw 7:31 PM on October 02, 2022