Train in Vain
Article 10 of the Constitution of the State of Florida deals with all the legislative initiatives that don't fit anywhere else. It's the "Miscellaneous" section, and it's where lawmakers put regulations about the militia, lotteries, marine net fishing, and the census.
The newest addition to this slush pile arrived November 7, 2000 -- Article 10, Section 19, an amendment that calls on state officials to build a "high-speed ground transportation system consisting of a monorail, fixed guideway, or magnetic levitation system, capable of speeds in excess of 120 miles per hour." In other words, a bullet train. And because state officials are sworn to uphold the constitution, this is no chimerical choo-choo we're talking about.
Just think of it -- whizzing from Miami to Orlando at 120-plus, enjoying a cocktail while the South Florida megalopolis gives way to the cane fields that ring Lake Okeechobee, and ordering another round as the cane yields to the vast citrus groves of Central Florida. No traffic, no road rage, no worries.
Unfortunately Article 10, Section 19 is a touch short on details. For example, how much will the train cost, and how will the state pay for it? Where will the tracks run? How much will a ticket cost? Are there enough people who need to get from Miami to Orlando and points in between to make it worthwhile? What about environmental impacts? What will be served for lunch? How big will the overhead compartments be?
The lack of specificity has made politicians nervous. Prominent Republicans, including House Speaker Tom Feeney and Senate Transportation Committee chair Jim Sebesta, are already floating the idea of taking the bullet train out of the constitution in 2002. They'll likely have the governor on their side -- after all, Jeb Bush disarmed the last bullet train within days of taking office.
So New Times set out to calm everyone's nerves by finding the one man in Florida who has some answers: Charles Croffard Dockery, the countrified, 67-year-old self-made millionaire with a kind face and a steely handshake who goes by the nickname "Doc." Dockery spent $2.7 million of his own money convincing Floridians that Florida needs a bullet train. He pressed the flesh, called in political favors, and stood by the roadside waving signs.
Ever since the bullet train became constitutionally enshrined, however, there's been an eerie silence from Dockery. He's issued no press release, made no public appearance. No one comes or goes from the gated entry of his 200-acre Lakeland ranch, as each passing hour brings us closer to November 1, 2003, when the constitution dictates that bullet train construction must begin.
For 13 days in December, New Times kept a vigil at Dockery's gate, leaving only for short periods to buy refrigerated sandwiches and bottles of Yoo-Hoo at a Farm Stores one-quarter mile east of the encampment. Most of the sandwiches were turkey, the rest ham.
On day 14 the Farm Stores ran out of turkey sandwiches and was perilously low on ham. Unable to face the prospect of heat-lamped pizza slices, New Times reluctantly left Dockery's gate for the return trip to Fort Lauderdale. On U.S. Highway 98 toward Barstow, however, New Times noticed a falafel stand on the side of the road. We stopped and placed a double order, with extra tahini sauce. The raven-haired, middle-aged woman running the stand worked diligently to fill the order but didn't seem to be comfortable operating the fryer. Her apron clashed with her dark blue business suit, smartly accessorized as it was with an elephant-shape gold brooch on the lapel. She wore blood-red lipstick, large smears of rouge on each cheek, and sky blue eye shadow.
"Did you say extra tahini?" she asked.
She placed the falafel on a paper tray on the counter, then reached down and produced a large, black, three-ring binder. "The tahini's inside," she said.
"Precisely," she snapped. "$2."
New Times paid, picked up the falafel and the binder, and walked back to our car. Opening the binder, however, New Times found no tahini. Instead we found printed e-mails, proposals, correspondence, photos, blueprints, and other clearly purloined documents detailing Dockery's bullet-train machinations. We glanced up at the falafel woman. She returned our stare with the smile of a dead fish. Shaken, we snapped a quick photo of her, then headed for home.
Published here, for the first time anywhere, are excerpts from Dockery's plan.
Re: Amendment One
Date: May 6, 2000
Kind thanks for being understanding on this train thing. I know I was raving a tad last night when I laid it out for you, but dang it to Hades, I think Florida needs a train. Before we can get one, we got to get it on the ballot, and that's gonna cost money, son. Big money. Money that's gonna come out of your inheritance. My consultant says $2 million or better. Now with that kind of scratch, I could buy me a thousand-acre spread and a coon dog to hunt it. But I already got them things, and Florida don't have a train, and that ain't right.
Re: Re: Amendment One
Date: May 8, 2000
I talked with Dr. Gerson last night, and he says feel free to stop in and see him anytime. You know, sometimes it helps just to talk to someone. He helped me a lot, and I think he can help you too. Go see him, and let's put this ballot initiative behind us.
Ella sends her love.
Re: Re: Re:Amendment One
Date: May 10, 2000
Did I ever tell you the story about the time I was ten years old and sitting under the magnolia tree at my cousin's house? I'd just finished plucking a rooster, and Aunt Ellie was screamin' at me to get on down to the store and get her some chew, but it was hot as the hinges of hell, and that chicken scratched the daylights out of me. I didn't feel like doing nothing. So I sat under that tree, and the heat got the better of me, and I was sleeping before I knew it. I dreamed about planes. Big shiny ones. But they wasn't really planes in the sky, more like they was on tracks flying close to the ground. Had rocket motors on them that shot cottony gauze out the back. Long story short, I woke up all sweaty, ran into the house, and told Aunt Ellie that if I ever had money I'd build one of them plane trains. Well, I must a been jabberin', because she backhanded me for not going to the store for chew like she told me. Didn't bother me none, though. I just thought about that beautiful flying machine.
Dreams are important, boy. And I ain't crazy.
Re: Re: Re: Re: Amendment One
Date: May 13, 2000
I spoke with Mr. Liebman a couple days ago -- you know, the attorney who helped me straighten things out. He says maybe it would be best if I saw a judge about this train thing. I hope it doesn't come to this Pops, but Florida is pretty good about committing people if they're demonstrably dangerous to themselves or others. I'm sure you've heard of the Baker Act. Now I'm not saying you're dangerous yet, but train obsession can be a sign of something deeper, according to a psychology textbook I dug out of the closet. I speak from experience when I say that it's easier to take care of these things when they're little.
Talk to me, Pops.
Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Amendment One
Date: May 18, 2000
Fine, boy. I soldier on without your support. I AIN'T gonna forget this in my will. The voters are gonna go for it, you mark my words.
Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Amendment One
Date: May 26, 2000
Please be advised that I have filed commitment papers at the Polk County Courthouse.
cc: Alan Liebman, Esq.
Comes now the natural son, Carl Dockery, in this emergency petition to find that Charles Croffard Dockery suffers from psychological disorders that render him incapacitated in regard to making sound financial decisions for himself and possibly presenting a threat and/or danger to himself or others, as provided by Florida Statute 744.3201:
1. On or about May 6, 2000, Charles Croffard Dockery indicated to his natural son, Carl Dockery, his interest in funding a "ballot initiative" that would place an Amendment to the Constitution of the State of Florida up for a popular vote November 7, 2000. The ballot initiative would ask Florida voters to approve a "bullet train," the tentative course of which would originate in or near Miami and terminate in or near Orlando.
2. Charles Croffard Dockery offered his natural son, Carl Dockery, no explanation as to how a "bullet train" would be financed and/or paid for, tacitly assuming that "taxpayers would foot the bill."
3. Charles Croffard Dockery indicated to his natural son, Carl Dockery, that the former was willing to spend "as much as it takes" to get the ballot initiative approved by the Florida Supreme Court and included in the November 7 general election. He also indicated a willingness to spend large sums of money on marketing and advertising the ballot initiative.
4. Charles Croffard Dockery is a man of considerable wealth, having sold a profitable insurance business in 1984 in what he terms a "multimillion-dollar deal."
5. On or about May 13, 2000, Carl Dockery communicated his unease with his father's decision to spend a large sum of money in what could be a futile attempt to get a "ballot initiative" passed.
Bullet Train Marketing Plan
Objective: Anthropomorphize bullet train.
Strategy: This was attempted, to a degree, by the marketers of the Florida Overland Express, nicknamed "FOX," without success. One possible reason for the failure is the negative emotions associated with the word "fox", such as "sly as a...," and "crazy as a...." More importantly, our research indicates "fox" is '70s street "lingo" for an attractive human female. The train, however, had a distinctly phallic appearance. The incongruity of the name and appearance may have sent an unintentional homoerotic message that the public found unsettling. We propose instead a lovable, unthreatening mascot (see illustration) similar to that produced by Sanrio in Japan to depict the Shinkansen. Focus group tested names include "Sunny," "Speedy," "Snappy," and "Dingle."
Objective: Demonstrate that the bullet train will appeal to people other than tourists.
Strategy: Develop an ad campaign depicting a typical "family breadwinner" commuting from her home in Miami to her job operating a mechanical shark at Universal Studios in Orlando. Tag line: "Florida has just become one great, big job market," or "If you took the bullet train, you'd be there by now."
Objective: Popularize image of C.C. "Doc" Dockery as father of the bullet train.
Strategy: Multimedia campaign aimed at making "C.C. Doc' Dockery" a pop-business household name, aacute; la Dave Thomas. Possible elements: a biography along the lines of Old Man Thunder: Father of the Bullet Train, the story of Shinji Sogo, the force behind the Japanese Shinkansen (Joe Eszterhas has expressed interest in the project); made-for-TV movie adapted from above; TV spots featuring Doc in hunting and fishing garb taking the train to favorite hunting and fishing locales; radio spots with friends and family fondly recalling Doc's early obsession with trains; proposal to state Department of Education establishing "Doc" day in schools statewide.
Objective: Clearly explain how the bullet train will be financed.
Strategy: Doc will purchase television time in 30-minute chunks, during which he will pose with a pointer and flip charts to explain financing package, aacute; la Ross Perot. Charts will address major, non-tax revenue streams including:
- $70 million in state highway funds.
- "Tunnel of advertising," from Eller Media billboards. Revenue potential: $13.2 million.
- Projected ridership revenue: $153 million (more than Tri-Rail and MetroRail combined!)
- Train "wrap" ads. Revenue potential: $1.5 million.
- Onboard beverage sales: $900,000.
- Gift shop sales (T-shirts, mascots, "Doc" poseable action figures): $1.1 million.
TOTAL ANNUAL NON-TAX REVENUE: $239.7 million.
December 6, 2000
Charles Croffard "Doc" Dockery
2310 AZ Park Road
Lakeland, Florida 33801
Dear Mr. Dockery:
We have completed the requested feasibility study of the Florida bullet train vis--vis your preliminary design parameters. As you know, Bombardier is a leader in the design and manufacture of high-speed trains. However, our engineering and legal departments have noted several potential problem areas:
Large number of stops: The line as proposed includes 13 stops, many at tourist destinations. The efficiency and convenience of high-speed rail is directly proportional to the number of stops. Our engineers have calculated that, to travel from Miami to Orlando in two hours or less with 13 stops, the train would have to maintain an average speed of 521 miles per hour. Stopping and starting, passengers would be subjected to g forces approximate to those one would experience standing on the sun.
Lake Okeechobee "fly-over": Our engineers agree that a rocket-powered "launch" over Lake Okeechobee would be a memorable experience for passengers; however, they have concluded that it is not yet practical. While United States government-surplus Saturn boosters are readily available, as you have noted, mounting such a booster on a train would usurp 83 percent of all usable passenger space. Additionally, varying atmospheric conditions would make "re-entry" on the opposite side of the lake a difficult and dangerous proposition and one that could not likely be accomplished with an acceptable degree of consistency.
Nuclear-powered cold-fusion main engines: Nuclear power is certainly in the realm of possibility and is in fact on the drawing board for one of our newest and fastest trains. However, cold-fusion remains something of an engineering Holy Grail. Coupling the two is not yet possible, but we thank you for theoretical explanation of how this can be done. We have taken it under advisement.
Stop at C.C. "Doc" Dockery's ranch: Our legal department has concluded that this option could be accomplished, however the State of Florida would have to exercise its power of eminent domain, making it unlikely that you could continue to occupy the property.
In summary, Mr. Dockery, Bombardier believes that these issues individually are small technological problems that could easily be surmounted. Collectively, however, they paint an unrealistic picture of high-speed rail. Please feel free to contact us again should your plans become less ridiculous.
Vice President of Engineering
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss New Times Broward-Palm Beach's biggest stories.