For travelers, it will offer a somewhat faster alternative to driving. For commuters, it means more than a dozen additional trains on the tracks, potentially causing delays for drivers at crossings.And for the cities, it may mean a boon to development.
Florida East Coast Industries is taking steps to build a privately-funded, $1 billion passenger rail service between Miami and Orlando – dubbed All Aboard Florida — using existing tracks.
Sites have been chosen in Miami and Orlando while the hunt continues in downtown West Palm Beach. In Fort Lauderdale, the focus is on an area north of the bus terminal on Broward Boulevard, between Andrews Avenue and the tracks.
Construction is set to begin early next year, according to FECI officials.
Broward’s Metropolitan Planning Organization, which sets the county’s transportation priorities, has already dedicated $8 million for a “mobility hub” adjacent to the station. It will serve as a maintenance facility for the city’s proposed streetcar and will occupy two city blocks bounded by Andrews and Northeast First avenues and Northeast First and Fourth streets.
Officials point to Dallas’ Mockingbird Station, a complex of shops, restaurants and apartments next to the city’s light rail line, as example of what they hope to achieve here.
“What we’re looking to do is construct a development there that will also allow for the transfers between various modes of transportation such as buses and the streetcar and have synergy with what’s planned on the FEC,” said Greg Stuart, director of Broward’s MPO.
In West Palm Beach, no sites have been announced but officials say the station will be located downtown. The FEC runs a few blocks east of the tracks that carry Tri-Rail and Amtrak.
In Miami, project officials have said a station will be built on 9 acres north of theMiami-Dade CountyCourthouse that is the site of the old original passenger rail stop built by Henry Flagler.
A formal announcement about the station sites in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach could come at the end of this summer, said Stacey Rinaldi, a project spokeswoman.
U.S. Rep. John Mica, R-Winter Park, told theU.S. Army Corps of Engineers in June he expects the agency to fast-track permits for the project. “With the right-of-way already in place there is no reason to drag this out,” Mica wrote.
The trains would run on existing FEC tracks that run along the east coast from Miami to Cocoa. Forty miles of new track would link Cocoa to Orlando.
A second track will be added in places with only a single track, Rinaldi said. Some stretches with two tracks will get a third, she added.
Dozens of crossings will get upgrades.
Rinaldi said trains south of West Palm Beach will be able to travel a maximum of 79 mph. North, where the population is less dense, the trains will be able to go 110 mph.
“I can’t wait to read, work, sleep on my way to West Palm Beach from Miami instead of being entombed in an automobile, essentially operating heavy machinery,” said Craig Chester, who lives in Miami. “There is nothing like riding the rails in clean cars with an on-time schedule.”
Trains will be make the Miami-Orlando trip in 3 hours, faster than by car. From West Palm Beach, it would take about 1 hour and 45 minutes. Amtrak now provides twice daily service from Miami but can take longer than five hours to reach Orlando.
In July, Southwest Airlines said it was discontinuing its Fort Lauderdale-Orlando route in January, leaving Spirit and its two daily flights as the only carrier offering direct service between the two cities.
The All Aboard Florida schedule hasn’t been set but officials have said trains will leave hourly and offer premium amenities, including Wi-Fi internet service, gourmet meals, reserved business- and coach-service seating, and will be fully equipped with easy-on/easy-off baggage compartments.
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