Private Ownership Doesn’t Spare Florida Higher Speed Rail From NIMBYs

Mar 21st, 2014 | Posted by

After Florida Governor Rick Scott controversially killed the state’s plans for true high speed trains in 2011, the private sector jumped in to fill the gap. Since Florida is an excellent place to build bullet trains, as is California, it was an obvious place for companies to try and provide new service.

All Aboard Florida is proposed to connect Orlando to Miami via West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale with 32 daily trains traveling at speeds up to 100 miles per hour. It’s considered “higher speed rail” and while it’s less useful to the state than the plan that Governor Scott canceled, it would still be a good thing to build.

But in a development that should surprise nobody, it doesn’t matter what the speeds are or who builds and operates it – there’s always NIMBYs out to destroy a rail project:

The mighty Florida East Coast Industries’ Railroad finds itself up against small grass roots groups trying to stop an already approved project.

“Do you think you guys can stop this?” we asked.

“Absolutely. You can stop anything,” said Alex Larson, opposed to the project….

“A high speed train carrying a few thousand passengers a day will go through the middle of a region where hundreds of thousands of people live and work and depend on vehicles to do so,” Scott said.

Today railroad officials told the council the trains will only disrupt traffic for a few minutes at a time. The time of a stoplight. And the FEC says its their investment paid for with private funds. Local leaders said that’s not true.

“Yes its very private and we cant disclose our financing. Are you kidding me?” said Alex Larson, who is opposed to the rail project. “That was just revealed today we will be closing down 2 streets in West Palm Beach. Datura and Evernia, and I am like are you kidding me?”

It’s the same sad story as we’ve seen in California as well. Residents who believe that their cities should be oriented around the automobile react with furious anger at the very notion of passenger rail service, convinced it will turn their neighborhoods into some kind of ruined wasteland. They scream and shout and rage against anyone who dares defend the proposed rail line, and refuse to listen to reason, evidence, or common sense.

I have no way of knowing whether this opposition is widespread or not, or whether it will have any impact on the All Aboard Florida plan. I hope it won’t, and that the project will continue ahead as planned.

But what this shows is that no matter where you propose putting a passenger rail line, there will always be NIMBYs there to do everything in their power to try and stop it. Those who claim that the California HSR project would have not faced lawsuits and attacks from NIMBYs if it had just chosen some other route are deluding themselves and are willfully blind to the evidence that is all around them.

Ultimately, laws need to be changed to remove NIMBYs’ ability to slow or stop passenger rail projects. There’s no good reason why we should be wasting time or money on appeasing these people.

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  1. Ian Bartlett
    Mar 21st, 2014 at 23:58

    We have experienced the same in the UK with deliberate misinformation, myths and complete lies spread by campaigners who are quite prepared to look like village idiots rather than discuss facts.

    These people cost the taxpayer a fortune and delay essential projects, purely to support their own blinkered views; never mind future prosperity, never mind future congestion: they don’t want it because they’re alright.

    Yes, laws need to be changed to stop this. We live in a global economy and other countries with less small-mindedness are building away while we stand still.

  2. Jerry
    Mar 22nd, 2014 at 00:03

    Yes. Why close down Datura Street for a new All Aboard Florida station for West Palm Beach FEC rail station? When just 3 blocks away you have the beautiful Amtrak Station which also serves Tri-Rail.

    Brian_FL Reply:

    Because it is not on the route to downtowns in Miami or Ft Lauderdale. AAF is all about development and making money off of it. Also because FECI and AAF would have control of their trains on their own track as well. If they chose the Tri-Rail route they would be a tenant on a government run railroad. FECI is a very private company and my impression is that they want to have total control over their project. Tri-Rail has plans to run a new service on the FEC between Miami and Jupiter that would compliment AAF. Even with those future plans, Tri-Rail is attempting to limit AAF to 32 trains a day for the length (up to 99 years I have read) of any agreement they sign with FECR. How does that allow for AAF to expand in the future to Jacksonville or Tampa? I can completely understand why AAF has made the decisions they have regarding routes and stations.

    Eric Reply:

    The street closure seems to be needed because of the elevated station; the elevated station allows several (what look to be busier) streets to pass under it, and the ramp up over grade is at the Datura and Evernia streets.

  3. Jerry
    Mar 22nd, 2014 at 00:48

    off track –
    Whether it’s public or private investment, the McKinsey Global Institute reports that $4.7 Trillion Dollars will be necessary for rail infrastructure improvements worldwide between now and the year 2030. California HSR is trying to do its part.

    Keith Saggers Reply:


    Have you got a link or anymore details?

    Jerry Reply:

    The 100 page report on the necessity of a $57 Trillion infrastructure investment worldwide by 2030 is available in PDF format by Googling:

    McKinsey Global Institute rail infrastructure

    The report states that Rail infrastructure alone will require a worldwide investment of $4.7 Trillion dollars.

  4. Brian_FL
    Mar 22nd, 2014 at 05:12

    From what I can determine is that the opposition is centered around Port St Lucie-Stuart-Jupiter area and is primarily fueled by the boating interests who will have to deal with more frequent drawbridge closures at Stuart and in Jupiter. Those are valid concerns and I have heard that AAF has plans in place to mitigate them – having bridge tenders and upgrading certain equipment to allow for faster raising and lowering of bridges. The same goes for the Ft Lauderdale bridge.

    But the rest of the opposition is basic NIMBYism to anything new or different. It is interesting how these same residents don’t mind having US-1 at 6-8 lanes wide run right through their towns. How is that not a barrier? Oh right, I forgot, it’s a highway (taxpayer funded) so its given a pass.

    The draft EIS to be released later this spring will allow for input on the project impacts. I doubt that adding 32 trains a day with a typical delay to motorists of 2 minutes maximum or the issue of train noise will cause much change of plans. Remember, AAF already received a record of decision from the FRA on its Miami to WPB segment with a finding of no significant impact. The areas down in that segment are far more populous and many more who live next to the tracks.

    Observer Reply:

    I do not know the FT. Lauderdale area. But are the boating interest cruise ships and tourist type boats for excursions? If they are, I would think a passenger railroad would be an economic enhancement for them. That is it would help bring them more clientele and provide their clientele better and easier access to their businesses?

    Judge Moonbox Reply:

    I suspect that the proposed rail line wouldn’t bring in that much new business, as it only goes to Orlando. As for the marinas between the FEC and CSX/Amtrak/Tri-Rail lines, there probably are a fair number of marinas that would be hurt if the FEC drawbridges are closed more often.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Orlando has one of the busiest airports in the world with non stop flights to all sorts of obscure destinations all over the eastern US and Canada.

  5. Keith Saggers
    Mar 22nd, 2014 at 07:16

    Woody Reply:

    That’s some video! Wonder if they could use that high-pressure hose treatment on the Cascades route?

    aw Reply:

    I imagine that the homeowners living on top of the bluffs would be somewhat upset by that.

  6. Nick
    Mar 22nd, 2014 at 08:13

    I have family living on the Treasure Coast, and I know for many, what the big gripe is all about. FEC came to Vero Beach, FL and told the town they would need to install tens of millions of dollars worth of new crossing gates. The cities response was you’ll get it when your trains make station stops here, until then we can’t afford it (true). I have long been a rail advocate, but and I wasn’t the FEC to succeed but they are doing a lot of really dumb things that I disagree with, such as in Orlando, they won’t use Amtrak station, nor actually go into Orlando, they’ll only way out of town at the airport. There are a lot of things about this that don’t make sense to me.

  7. Darrell
    Mar 22nd, 2014 at 13:34

    A 24-year saga of NIMBYism in the Cheviot Hills area on the Westside of Los Angeles ended last year with final decisions by the California Public Utilities Commission and California Supreme Court. Grade crossings for the Expo Line light rail are now in place across Westwood Blvd. and Overland Ave. there (photos at ).

    Derek Reply:

    This is what happens when NIMBYs get what they ask for.

    Darrell Reply:

    They got delay but the final decision of route on the existing right-of-way with grade crossings was what they most opposed.

    Donk Reply:

    Darrell 1, NIMBYs 0. Great work Darrell!

  8. Emmanuel
    Mar 24th, 2014 at 01:35

    Here we go again with the myth of private investors jumping in.

    Ted Judah Reply:

    You mean, “here we go with the myth that the private sector wants to build a transit project on their own”?

    FECR does want to build a new rail connection, but it’s to try and get public carriers to use their route over CSX’s track. This is the equivalent of the “X-Train” proposal between Fullerton and Las Vegas. It’s meddling by the Class I’s (even if indirectly) to avoid having a high speed train that can compete with their freight business.

    There’s not a lot money to be made ferrying travellers between Orlando and Miami. More air passengers fly between Atlanta and each of those cities than each other. But what there is an opening for a “Southern Florida Unified Service”, not unlike what is supposed to happen here in California in 2017.

    Keith Saggers Reply:

    Each year there are more than 50 million trips taken by people traveling between the four major cities that will be served by All Aboard Florida, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and Orlando.
    Thousands of people move to Florida every day. The Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach metropolitan area, as defined by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, is the most populous in Florida and the eighth most populous in the U.S. More than 5.57 million people reside in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties. The Greater Orlando metropolitan area is the third aargest in the state and is home to more than 2.13 million people.

    Ted Judah Reply:

    Let’s try this again:

    There’s a pretty good argument to be made for merging Commuter rail systems and AAF into a single train service, but that is not what anyone is proposing. Then when you add in the large number of travellers between Atlanta and Orlando or Miami, you can see that spending big bucks on shuttling people between West Palm Beach and Tampa might not be a money maker.

    People who think “something is better than nothing” have to realize the rosy population growth favored by transit planners since the 1980s has evaporated in the last decade. To add capacity, you need to cut something else: in AAF’s case either Tri Rail or perhaps Amtrak service. (Not sure what Amtrak ridership is like in South Florida).

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    It’s not BART. People at Disney World who want to go to Calle Ocho don’t need to stop at every station.

    synonymouse Reply:

    But PalmdaleRail has to stop at every station.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    No it doesn’t.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Oh yeah. Mojave too.

    Palmdale real estate developers insist and they are running the show.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    But FEC wants to use FEC track….

  9. Reality Check
    Mar 24th, 2014 at 11:32

    Blue Line train manages to climb O’Hare airport station escalator!

    synonymouse Reply:

    A rude awakening. No camera on the operator? No deadman? I am sure Amalgamated would not like incontrovertible evidence. Needs more no-shows.

    Which is more dangerous: cell phoning or dozing off?

    joe Reply:


  10. Keith Saggers
    Mar 24th, 2014 at 14:26
  11. Howard
    Mar 24th, 2014 at 20:21

    Is anything happening with Xpress West? Is it dead or just asleep?

  12. joe
    Mar 24th, 2014 at 21:05

    They’re probably still trying to comply with US Content rules while assuring what they do buy is commercially viable.

    “XpressWest has adopted an Assemble and Manufacture in America Plan for all rolling stock purchases. Should XpressWest elect to not receive funds from the United States Government for the purpose of constructing the project, this Plan may be modified substantially or removed from the project’s requirements in total.”

    “Since the FRA has not yet indicated how the U.S. content on each vehicle/train could be determined from its perspective, XpressWest believes Rolling Stock Suppliers should consider using existing FTA guidelines for Buy America as a basis for calculations and proposals. ”

    “It should also be noted that XpressWest’s priority is to purchase rolling stock that can demonstrate a significant service, warranty, and safety history. New manufacturing approaches, based upon varying content, may compromise the dependability of the rolling stock. Should this occur, XpressWest will work with Rolling Stock Suppliers to determine an approach to procurement that does not detrimentally impact the integrity of the trains themselves.”

    jimsf Reply:

    they should use whatever ca uses.

  13. joe
    Mar 24th, 2014 at 21:13
    TAMPA — Tampa, Orlando and Miami won’t get high-speed rail in the foreseeable future, but Gov. Rick Scott will use election-year funding initiatives for a 1.3 mile people mover at Tampa International Airport and for a local and long-distance passenger rail terminal at Orlando’s airport.

    Scott on Wednesday designated $194 million in state funds toward the $1 billion first phase of Tampa International’s master plan improvements outlined last year.

    Those include main terminal redevelopment, a new rental-car facility, and an automated tram linking the main terminal, remote parking garage and the rental car area.

    Reality Check Reply:

    Report Says Downtown San Jose Missing a Key Element: People

    KQED Radio 88.5 FM
    Forum Tuesday, March 25, 2014 @ 9:00 AM

    The city of San Jose has been investing in its downtown for decades, but according to a recent report, the city has been unable to attract one important element: people. The urban planning group SPUR has released a plan with suggestions for how the city can bring in more jobs, activities and pedestrians. We take up the report and the potential for making the downtown of the Bay Area’s largest city a destination in its own right.

    Host: Dave Iverson
    Egon Terplan, regional planning director of SPUR
    Joe Horwedel, SJ deputy city manager & former director of planning, building and code enforcement
    Kim Walesh, SJ director of economic development and chief strategist

    joe Reply:

    The San Jose downtown that may be, from the new urbanists at SPUR

    The report articulates downtown’s main challenge: “Too many people simply do not find enough cause to go downtown — or they think that the barriers to getting there are too high.”

    Other challenges: Downtown SJ is a small job center in a region rife with competition for jobs and investment, and while the district is the South Bay’s public transit hub, those options aren’t competitive with driving.

    swing hanger Reply:

    Purely anecdotal, but my recent experience with beautiful downtown SJ and its public transportation- took the light rail from Mountain View, just before the stop in the downtown park, witnessed an altercation on the train that escalated to assault and battery, train had to go out of service, stuck waiting at the station with a nice view of the considerable homeless population in that area. Interesting experience and not too shocking for me as I grew up riding the RTD in Los Angeles, but I can imagine foreign tourists and out of town visitors wouldn’t be so sanguine.

    Reedman Reply:

    Tough problem. The only large company in downtown San Jose is Adobe — most everyone else is civil servants and college students. A Google/Facebook/LinkedIn/Ebay headquarters would make a big difference.

    Joe Reply:

    People are people. Civil employees or students, they help.
    A large IT employer bad bad thing.

    The activity around the Google complex is pathetic. The non-Google commercial development around their complex is minimal for the number of people commuting tithe campus. Everyone works, eats and plays within the company facilities.

    If Facebook had closen San Jose, they would’ve established within company eating cleaning another support activities.

    yes having some corporate headquarters in the area would be good but I’m not convinced that these it employers help neighborhoods.

    Joe Reply:

    I meant to type a large corporate IT employer may be a bad thing – may

    jimsf Reply:

    Just build homes at an affordable price and people will flock there.

    synonymouse Reply:

    They’re practically free in Cleveland.

  14. Brian_FL
    Mar 25th, 2014 at 13:56

    O/T On the FRA website they posted a request from CHSRA dated Feb 28, 2014 to waive the Buy America rules for the purchase of two HSR train sets to be delivered in early 2019 for testing. It makes sense as there currently are no existing manufacturing facilities in the USA to build HSR train sets.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Testing on what trackage with what wire? Pueblo?

    Brian_FL Reply:

    The waiver request letter says low and medium speed testing will take place first (at the AAR facility in CO??). Then high speed testing will take place on the IOS (see page 9).

    synonymouse Reply:

    No wire on the boonies IOS – the bangers would cut it down overnite unless they kept it energized constantly. I guess they need to test them since California sits on a different planet from Earth and has “special needs”.

    Hey, let’s go full-Bechtel with the testtrack and try out different gauges like BART. Let’s perfect the wheel.

    jonathan Reply:

    Yes, California has special needs. California thinks it needs its very own, unique-in-the-world, standard for overhead catenary.

    Michael Reply:

    And the source for this is???

    jonathan Reply: (March 04, 2014)

    and various other sources, some cited by those two pages of Clem’s.

    Clem Reply:

    With two trains we’re going to have the equivalent of the Yamanashi Test Track, except without the research.

  15. synonymouse
    Mar 25th, 2014 at 14:04

    The real reason autos are in a slump:

    Joey Reply:

    Maybe that’s part of it, but a lot of it is just that people, particularly young people, just don’t care about driving or owning cars anymore.

    EJ Reply:

    MSRP on a new Nissan Versa is less than $12K. There are plenty of decent used cars that can be had for half that. Even people of fairly modest means can afford a car if they really want to – younger people today just have different priorities.

    synonymouse Reply:

    That does not fit with the young people I know.

    The girls and women all have cars and drive every day.

    The guys are a different story – a lot of them are really strapped for cash and/or have problems with the law – ergo no license, no registration, no insurance. Minimum wage, jail time, license pulled, etc. What is the percentage of the adult population in jail now?

    Ted Judah Reply:

    The underlying issue isn’t unique to cars: the economy is evolving to focus more on high end consumers that are fewer in number than more consumers earning a median income. But because no factory owners don’t want plants to sit idle. Hence industrial decline, and lower economic growth.

    Joey Reply:

    The shift is much less apparent in places where you actually need a car to get around, but if you look at overall statistics there’s a definite trend: fewer licenses, fewer VMT, fewer new cars.

  16. Reality Check
    Mar 25th, 2014 at 16:40

    High-Speed Rail Authority Appoints Executive Staff

    The California High-Speed Rail Authority today announced the appointments of James Andrew as Assistant Chief Counsel and Jason Kimbrough as Deputy Director of External Affairs.

    “The High-Speed Rail Authority is committed to building strong relationships with stakeholders, and ensuring that we have good leadership is especially important,” said Authority CEO Jeff Morales, “These appointments underscore our commitment to provide timely public information and work with stakeholders as we continue to move forward with this transformative project.”

    Andrew will help develop and implement the Authority’s legal strategy and assist with environmental and California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) legal issues. The compensation is $130,104. Kimbrough will manage stakeholder and small business outreach and legislative affairs. The compensation is $105,996.

  17. Reality Check
    Mar 25th, 2014 at 16:42

    Patterson bill to tighten high-speed rail spending falls in committee

    The Assembly Transportation Committee turned down a bill by Assembly Member Jim Patterson to prohibit spending federal grant money on a high-speed train project until the state’s High-Speed Rail Authority has approved matching funds.

  18. Reality Check
    Mar 25th, 2014 at 17:09

    Besieged rail firm planning another MBTA bid
    Korean maker accepts blame on car delays, prepares to bid on $1b subway contract

    SEOUL — Top executives at Hyundai Rotem say they accept responsibility for a 2½-year delay in delivering Massachusetts’ new MBTA commuter rail cars, but nonetheless plan to bid on a new multimillion dollar contract to build trains for the Red and Orange lines.

    In their most extensive comments about the controversial train project, the executives outlined in blunt terms a culture clash — language barriers, legal formalities, and surprisingly strict federal regulations — and revealed some of the underlying tensions that have led to delays on one of the largest ongoing state contracts, a $190 million purchase of 75 commuter rail cars.

    “From time to time I feel a little bit ‘What the hell am I doing here?’ kind of regret,” said Kevin J. Choi, the company’s director of marketing and project management for North and South America, during a lengthy interview at the Hyundai Motor Group headquarters, a gleaming high-rise overlooking Seoul.


    The commuter rail car contract has been controversial since 2008, when MBTA officials said Hyundai Rotem, the lowest bidder, would deliver good-quality trains on time even though the company had not yet opened an assembly plant in the United States.

    Hyundai Rotem has extensive experience in South Korea — it builds the trains for the massive subway system in Seoul, one of the world’s largest — but has less experience in the United States, which turned out to be more challenging than expected, according to Choi.

    “The mass transportation environment is totally different from here and in Boston,” Choi said. “It was a very difficult obstacle for us to overcome.”

    Choi said his company underestimated the difficulty of building trains to meet US standards and the demands of the MBTA. There was more bureaucracy, more of a language and cultural barrier, and more legal work than the Korean company executives initially expected.

    “Whenever we’re faced with a certain issue, you guys bring the lawyer first,” Choi said. “In Asian business practice, generally we try and make a resolution between two parties first. We had a bit of a struggle in that particular issue.”

    Another factor in the delay, Hyundai executives said, was that parts that connected the bed of the trains with the wheels had to be built in Philadelphia, so Hyundai Rotem had to hire local workers and train them.

    “We couldn’t find good welders,” said S.H. Jun, the chief project manager. “After making sure the truck is safe, we did qualification tests but it failed. We have to start again from the beginning; we have to train our welders again.”

    Hyundai Rotem executives also said they struggled at times with the orders given by MBTA officials, and consultants working on the project.

    As an illustration, they offered an anecdote involving the ability of female passengers to open the emergency windows in some cars — and a misunderstanding over what constitutes an “average” size American woman when it comes to hiring quality testers for the new cars. The first woman Hyundai Rotem recruited to test the window had no difficulty opening it, they said. But the T wanted to make sure that a more petite woman could also open the window — and that second woman could not get the window open, the company said.


    joe Reply:

    I don’t know, there isn’t a foreign car manufacturer that hasn’t had to accommodate the US market. Not expecting cultural differences is naive.

    Maybe they didn’t pay to acquire good welders. So many questions about the background but the company is learning and continuing to push into the US market. That’s good.


    Italy may cut its F-35 order in half: First The Netherlands cut its order for the jack-of-all-trades, way-over-budget fighter meant to replace the aging fighter fleet of the U.S. Air Force. Italy had already cute its original order from 131 to 90. The plane, seven years behind schedule, has already racked up $167 billion in cost overruns. Builder Lockheed Martin expects sales in Asia, notably to Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, will make up any losses in Europe. It was reported Monday that the Marine version of the $397 billion (so far) fighter could be delayed from its mid-2015 delivery date for a year because of software glitches.

  19. jimsf
    Mar 25th, 2014 at 17:33

    Rents too high or wages too low, or both

    The report found that the average person would need to make $18.92 an hour to afford a basic rental. On a national level, the report found that no person working a full-time minimum wage job can afford rent on a fair market level. This will add fuel to the fire over the minimum wage debate.

    Breaking it down by states and metropolitan areas, the average wage a renter would need to earn jumps higher. The most expensive state award goes to Hawaii. The average person would need to earn $31.54 to afford a two-bedroom rental. The seat of government, Washington DC, earns the distinction of coming in second. $28.25 is the average wage you would need to bring home to afford a regular rental.

    Rounding out the top five is California at $26.04, Maryland at $24.94 and New Jersey at $24.92. For metropolitan areas, the average wage stretches higher. San Francisco is the most expensive at $37.62. You better work for Google if you expect to live there.

    During the State of the Union, President Obama pushed for a minimum wage increase to $10.10. This report shows even that would not make a dent in the housing affordability crisis

    joe Reply:

    Real Estate Is Cheap Here [Philadelphia]
    Jon expands on the point here.

    As I said, I’m a good liberal who is happy to do whatever is politically possible to make the lives of local poor people easier. For some reason I don’t quite get, providing subsidized affordable housing is usually more popular than most poverty relief programs. If that’s the best we can do, so be it. But real estate really is cheap here. There’s a full range of housing stock variety, unit size, and neighborhood quality. Land really is close to free in parts of the city.

    Poverty is a problem, lack of cheap housing isn’t.

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