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.

"The binder?"

"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.

Route of Travel Bombardier Letter Marketing Plan Petition Memos

To: Carl
From: Dad
Re: Amendment One
Date: May 6, 2000

Hey boy:
  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.

KEEP NEW TIMES BROWARD-PALM BEACH FREE... Since we started New Times Broward-Palm Beach, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of South Florida, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Bob Whitby