All Aboard Florida

All Aboard! Derailment fuels train wars

A Treasure Coast derailment in February that was kept hidden from state lawmakers is fueling the battle over All Aboard Florida‘s “Brightline” passenger train.

Citizens Against Rail Expansion in Florida (CARE FL) issued a press release yesterday regarding the derailment, which happened during a test run in February and resulted in more than $400,000 in damage.

The passenger line will connect Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, with service to Orlando eventually.

According to the press release, the derailment was confirmed by the Federal Railroad Administration. The derailment came days before All Aboard Florida officials testified before a state committee.

“Soon after this incident, AAF officials attended not one but two state legislative hearings about rail safety and never once disclosed facts about the derailment, while they sought to table the safety legislation under consideration,” Brent Hanlon, Chairman of CARE FL, said in the release.

Here’s more from CARE FL’s release:

Since CARE FL’s inception it has served as a watchdog in the Treasure Coast region, shining a light on AAF’s less-than-transparent approach to building this ill-conceived and dangerous rail project.

A May 30, 2017 letter from CARE FL’s legal team notified the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and the FRA about the incident, inquiring whether AAF filed the proper notifications within the appropriate time frame, and requesting that DOT/FRA publicly address whether the derailment occurred, so that our community would know the facts.

“It is unfortunate that Martin County is forced to spend taxpayer money to make sure our safety concerns are addressed at the state and federal levels. A simple confirmation of a derailment took three months to get from DOT, but six months after the derailment itself. We would have never known about this significant public safety issue had we not demanded to know the facts,” said Ruth Holmes, Senior Assistant Martin County Attorney.

According to the FRA’s response letter dated August 21, 2017, “a Brightline locomotive derailed its trailing truck while negotiating a switch at four miles per hour within the Brightline yard facility.” The letter also states that Brightline and FEC “promptly” notified FRA officials of the February 11, 2017 incident.

Hanlon commented, “All you have to do is look at numerous opportunities they had to share this important and relevant information.”

February 11, 2017 – date of derailment according to FRA letter
February 22, 2017 – Florida House Workshop on High Speed Passenger Rail. Myles Tobin, General Counsel of AAF testifies but fails to mention the derailment of train.
March 2017 – CARE FL receives information from knowledgeable rail source that derailment occurred. CARE FL searches for but is unable to find a derailment report. FRA safety staff is unaware of the incident.
March 12, 2017 – Florida Senate Transportation Committee hearing on High Speed Passenger Rail Safety legislation. AAF Vice President Rusty Roberts testifies and, again, fails to mention derailment.
April 4, 2017 – Michael Reininger, then President of Brightline, authors opinion editorial, “All Aboard Florida goes extra mile to address rail safety,” touting AAF going the extra mile to address rail safety. Again, no discussion of the incident.

CARE FL, Martin County and Indian River County have repeatedly expressed their public safety concerns and have worked diligently to address ways to keep the residents of the Treasure Coast community out of harm’s way.

“The disconnect between the derailment and AAF’s failure to make it public is disturbing,” said Dylan Reingold, Indian River County Attorney. “The safety and well- being of our communities require greater transparency.”

The FRA also pledged to “continue to provide oversight of this railroad, as it has from its inception, to ensure that the operation meets or exceeds the safety requirements set by Federal regulations.”

We will hold the FRA to that commitment.

Trump looped into passenger rail dispute

unnamed(4) Critics of the return to passenger rail service along Florida’s East Coast tracks are invoking President Donald Trump in an attempt to bolster support.

In a July 24 letter to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and Acting Assistant Secretary Lana Hurdle, the well-heeled residents’ group, “Concerned Citizens Against Rail Expansion,” contends that the Brightline private commuter rail service could have a negative impact on the safety of the part-time Florida man who now occupies the White House.

“From a safety perspective, the U.S. Secret Service and others responsible for the safety of the President should be asked to consider the safety implications that could result from speeding up freight trains (carrying dangerous substances including LNG) interspersed with fast moving AAF passenger trains on the same tracks,” the 6-page letter asserts. “These security and policy considerations should be fully examined before a RRIF loan decision is made.”

CARE last year asked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to look into the potential impacts that could arise related to Florida Power & Light’s nuclear power plant on Hutchinson Island by adding passenger trains to existing freight traffic on the rails that run along the western bank of the Intracoastal Waterway.

Trump’s Mar-a-Lago is located within two miles of  existing and operational FEC tracks, which will be used by the colorful trains developed under Florida East Coast Industries for its All Aboard Florida system.

In the recent missive, the group asserted that rail traffic could have an up or down impact on nearby property values.

“If the loan is made, some — including the proponents of the project — will argue that the AAF project benefits the neighbors of the three proposed rail stations in Phase I,” the letter states. “This includes the President’s Mar-a-Lago Resort, which is located near the West Palm Beach Station. Therefore, granting the loan arguably impacts the President’s property. Critics may argue the loan creates an improper benefit to a private business of the President’s. An alternative argument that we believe is more accurate is that the AAF project creates safety risks to President Trump and reduces the value of nearby properties such as Mar-a-Lago.”

Posted by Jim Turner.