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All Aboard Florida Opposition Says Fight Is Not Over to Block Rail Service

All indications point to All Aboard Florida being a go, even with opposition from concerned citizens growing. The private rail service that plans on running a passenger train from Miami to Orlando with stops in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach announced last month that it had hired Fort Lauderdale-based Moss & Associates as the general contractor for its West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale stations.

But anti-All Aboard Florida groups, such as Citizens Against Rail Expansion (CARE Florida), continue to raise concerns over the construction of the stations and the increase in noise and traffic that the trains are apparently going to bring as they zip through the state throughout the day. The group plans to meet Wednesday to talk over data to push forward its efforts to stop All Aboard Florida's routes running through West Palm Beach and the Treasure Coast.

Meanwhile, last week, the Space Coast Transportation Planning Organization unanimously voted to have a study to review stops along Brevard County. The study will be financed and conducted by the Canaveral Port Authority, with All Aboard's cooperation.

Last year, Gov. Rick Scott announced that the state would commit $213.5 million toward construction of a public railway station in Orlando. Meanwhile, West Palm Beach's 60,000-square-foot station is expected to cost $29 million. Plans for that station calls for an 800-foot train platform to seat 180 travelers, and elevated lounge. There are also plans to build an area that makes dropping off and picking up less of a hassle for commuters.

But Citizens Against Rail Expansion is not satisfied with that.

"They started off with 20 trains a day, and that has gone up to 32 trains from West Palm to Orlando," Bertha Matics, Care Florida's Palm Beach Gardens spokesperson, tells New Times. "We have a lot of communities that run along those tracks. Can you imagine 32 trains running from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. all day, blocking our traffic and bringing all that noise into our communities?"

Last April, Congressman Patrick Murphy sent a letter to Scott about looking into installing "quiet zones" along the route to eliminate the need for the 11-mph trains to blare their horns every time they pass through.

But installing quiet zones can be costly, having local governments pony up $150,000 to $250,000 per rail crossing.

"It's going to hinder our quality of life," Matics says. She adds that traffic in already-congested areas, such as Indian Town Road, will be made even worse once All Aboard starts running its trains.

"That's a potential problem for not only commuters trying to get to and from work but also emergency vehicles and paramedics who need to get through and over the tracks," Matics adds.

The company that owns All Aboard Florida, Florida East Coast Industries, has said it plans on running 32 trains a day up and down the state's coastline starting in early 2016. Late last year, the company had an environmental impact statement conducted by the Federal Railroad Administration. The FRA says it found no significant impact on the environmental and related impacts of constructing and operating the rail service. (Changes are made and another Environmental Impact Statement is pending. The draft EIS is here.)

At the time the statement was released, CARE Florida released a statement saying that the environmental impact statement was conducted only so that All Aboard Florida could lock up its $1.6 billion federal loan to subsidize the project. CARE argued then, as it does now, that All Aboard will look to operate "at the expense and financial pain of federal taxpayers."

For his part, Murphy has spoken about his and CARE's concerns over the impact the trains will have on the safety, economy, and livability of the communities All Aboard plans to run through. Murphy, who was once all for All Aboard, changed his tune due mostly to the concerns brought up be CARE Florida.

"While AAF may boost tourism and business in Florida's biggest cities, it also threatens to delay emergency vehicles, create traffic jams, raise noise pollution, and block waterways along hundreds of miles of tracks," Murphy wrote in his letter to Rick Scott.

Murphy, along with Congresswoman Lois Frankel, also asked the U.S. transportation secretary to look into the concerns before considering All Aboard Florida's $1.5 billion federal loan.

On Wednesday, CARE Florida is holding a meeting in Stuart to discuss what it's calling the latest facts and figures on All Aboard and will include a presentation by the group's attorney, Stephen Ryan.

"We have a very powerful coalition of local citizens and community leaders, including from Palm Beach, that will be discussing the real, legitimate concerns they have over All Aboard Florida and its expansion."

As for All Aboard's approvals to start passenger rail service by the end of 2016, Ryan says the fight is far from over.

"All Aboard is really good at making people feel that this issue has been decided," he says. "But it hasn't. We're concerned the state government failed to file a comment. But we're not done."

The Canaveral Port Authority is expected to vote on the train station study March 18.

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Chris Joseph
Contact: Chris Joseph

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