Rick Scott's favorite private project to build a new passenger railway service between Miami and Orlando has lately turned into a public punching bag. Carl Hiaasen calls it a "future train wreck for taxpayers", while Michael Grunwald writes in Time Magazine that Scott's chief of staff's ties to the firm building the line are "pretty sketchy."
Perhaps in response to the building criticism, All Aboard Florida went on the charm offensive yesterday, inviting a group of bloggers to a pitch about why the Sunshine State needs a private train line to get from Miami to Orlando in three hours.
"We hope to show that a private-public partnership can succeed in rallying the community together behind a project of this kind," said Julie Edwards, the rail line's chief marketing officer.
The line would start in downtown Miami, and would connect with Metrorail and the Metromover. The Miami station, which will be close to the downtown Courthouse and Government Center, will take up 9.5 acres and will include retail spaces.
"We want to give the community more options," said Ali Soule, the project's public affairs manager. "We want to take more cars off the road and make downtown more pedestrian-friendly."
The trains would run on Florida East Coast Railway tracks, parts of which were built by Henry Flagler, and would take just under three hours to get to Orlando. There would be 16 southbound and 16 northbound trains each day with three stops: Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, and Orlando.
"We know there's a market to turn these three metropolitan areas into a mega city," Soule said.
Of course, some residents in between are none too thrilled with the plans. Residents between the West Palm Beach and Orlando stations won't have any stops on the line, but will have new trains whistling through their backyards.
In a video, the firm claimed the trains would add only minimal traffic to the surrounding neighborhoods because trains would pass through urban stops in about 46 seconds. As for noise, the firm says the trains are lightweight yielding less clamor on the tracks. The project will improve existing tracks to reduce sound.
The company provided a few new renderings of their planned Miami station and this route map for how the train will operate in town:
Edwards and Soule's own surveys suggest the trains would be more a boon to tourists than locals; while the project would boast new retail spaces and jobs, a ridership surveys shows most customers would be tourists.
According to Edwards, some of the train cars will be equipped for bicycles, but All Aboard Florida still is not sure how it will help commuters with the "last mile." That is, the railway service does not know what type of shuttle or car sharing resources it will offer for people trying to take the train to work.
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As for pricing, All Aboard Florida has not released the cost for a ticket on the train. It was hinted though, that with the 56 cent federal mile and cost of tolls, a ticket from Miami to West Palm Beach, could be somewhere between $30 to $40. Sum that up for the 235 miles from Miami to Orlando and prices might just be too steep for the average local.
The presentation didn't include any talking points about the project's politics, which are at the heart of much of the criticism. Scott, after all, turned down a ready-to-go federal stimulus plan to build a $2.4 billion high-speed line connecting Miami to Orlando, and then offered state assistance to a private firm with deep ties to his own chief of staff to build its project.
Either way, Soule says the project is ready to break ground soon and on schedule to finish in mid-to-late 2016.