All aboard response

Response to

I have seldom read such a poorly researched piece as Robert Mann’s response to Robert Romano’s article. Mr. Mann gets just about everything wrong regarding All Aboard Florida’s Virgin Trains, Governor Scott and Transit Oriented Development.

First, the project is being constructed on the existing Florida East Coast Rail (FECR) route and is currently divided into 2 Phases – with Phase One in operation from Miami to West Palm, operating up to 79 mph. On the Phase Two portion, 32 trains per day will cross 150 streets at grade going over 100 mph, ripping through four counties non-stop.

The Virgin Trains project is not 100% privately funded. Phase Two will require massive retrofitting of all grade crossings and taxpayers will pay for the road reconstruction. Taxpayers will also pay for crossing equipment maintenance in perpetuity and those costs will more than double with the addition of a second track and higher speeds.

The Private Activity Bonds Virgin Trains has sold are also a major tax subsidy. The US Treasury will not get the taxes normally collected on the $1.75 Billion in bonds sold to date. It’s a large subsidy to say nothing of a massive benefit to the corporation by way of much lower interest rates.

The real reason behind this project – double freight capacity for FECR (now owned by Grupo Mexico) to all of the major ports in Florida. Fortress Investment Group, the trains’ parent company, owns New Fortress Energy which plans to make the FECR route its “virtual LNG pipeline”. With plans to turn southeast Florida into a liquefied natural gas production zone, Fortress needed freight tracks, not true dedicated high speed rail, so Governor Scott nixed the state’s HSR plans and deferred to Fortress and All Aboard. Wonder why.

Transit Oriented Development is the offspring of Obama’s Sustainable Communities project. In 2010, his administration weaponized HUD, DOT and EPA with billions of dollars in grant ‘gifts’ to start Sustainable Communities by way of regionalism. In an effort to remove home rule, mega-regions lead by unelected, unaccountable boards would decide where we live, work, go and play.

TOD mandates smaller, stack and pack living units, walkable/bike-able streets, no cars, mass transit, and mixed use construction. We are supposed to accept a lesser lifestyle and smaller carbon footprint in order to save the planet. TOD is a progressive’s dream come true and, until someone can show us where Fortress real estate investments plan to shift profits to Virgin Trains, we’ll call it a ruse.

Virgin Trains is projecting 6.6 million riders annually – while Amtrak’s Acela has twice the track miles and 4 times the number of station stops and attracted only 3.4 million riders in 2017 – who’s kidding whom? Our financial experts say this project is sure to fail and when it does, FECR will walk away with double freight capacity, New Fortress Energy will have its virtual LNG pipeline and the taxpayers will end up holding the boondoggle bag of passenger rail. No passenger rail in the world truly makes a profit.

A recent study shows Florida has the deadliest passenger rail systems in the country and 18 people have already died on the Virgin tracks since testing started 20 months ago and before going 110 mph. Two independent studies recommended high speed rail run west of the coast along I-95 or the Turnpike but FECR needs freight tracks on their existing corridor. That’s what we call putting profits over lives!

Susan Mehiel
Florida Alliance for Safe Trains