Bill could put brakes on rail plans

Posted at 1:33 PM, Mar 15, 2017
and last updated 2019-03-26 09:57:23-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla.-- A legislative proposal that would place regulations on passenger rail service could derail plans to link Orlando and Miami, a representative for All Aboard Florida's Brightline service warned as a Senate committee approved the measure Tuesday.

Also, the proposal could result in "many years of legal and administrative" challenges, Rusty Roberts, vice president of government affairs for All Aboard Florida, told members of the Transportation Committee.

However, Sen. Debbie Mayfield, a Vero Beach Republican sponsoring the legislation (SB 386), contended the proposal doesn't target any particular rail service.

"This is about setting a framework so other high-speed rail companies that come in, we have that framework set into place," said Mayfield of the measure, which would give the Florida Department of Transportation oversight where not preempted by federal law.

The measure also would require private passenger rail to cover the costs of installing and maintaining safety technology at crossings unless such contracts are agreed to by local governments.

During her presentation to the committee, Mayfield twice said "All Aboard Florida" before correcting herself to say "any high-speed rail company" while explaining that Florida East Coast Industries currently is contracted to pass on repair costs to local governments.

The committee vote came after Brightline announced plans Friday to begin operating a 30-minute route between West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale in late July. A wholly-owned subsidiary of Florida East Coast Industries, Brightline intends to expand the service to Miami in late August.

Brightline is eventually planned to travel between Miami and Orlando. However, the service, which could be two years away from expanding north through the Treasure Coast on a route to Orlando, faces lawsuits from Martin and Indian River counties.

Roberts said Mayfield's measure "unconstitutionally" targets his company and "unlawfully" interferes with private contracts.

"What this bill does is create a climate for many years of legal and administrative challenges, which has been the stated motive of rail opponents so far," Roberts said. "We believe, if passed, this bill will jeopardize Florida's opportunity to connect major metropolitan centers with an express intercity passenger system."

Roberts added that the regulations threaten the company's plans to expand to Orlando and could hinder future connections to Tampa and Jacksonville.

"This is the true goal of those who support this legislation, to keep this private enterprise from bringing a much-needed transportation option to our growing state," Roberts said.

Roberts said after the meeting "the South Florida segment should be OK. It's phase two that they're targeting."

The company plans to run at speeds up to 79 mph between Miami and West Palm Beach. When the northern route is opened, Brightline trains are expected to travel up to 110 mph from Jupiter to Cocoa and then at 125 mph to Orlando.

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