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Everybody Get It Now? Finally the Miami-to-Orlando Train-Boondoggle Is Fully Exposed

August 1, 2019 - 9:00am
Susan Mehiel
Susan Mehiel

For five years, every financial and business plan from All Aboard Florida (Virgin Trains) has centered on their higher speed rail service taking only 3.15 hours from Miami to Orlando to compete with cars and planes.  That time frame allowed for only four stops: in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Palm Beach and the Orlando airport, requiring speeds of 110 mph and 125 mph on Phase 2.

Now, it seems, Virgin Trains is prepared to throw that business model and the Tri Rail commuter service under the proverbial bus.  With their passenger numbers trending to miss 2019 projections by over 50 percent, revenue falling monthly and losses piling up, it appears Virgin management is pivoting to an upscale commuter service and a larger real estate play.

In June, they announced more stops are being considered in Boca Raton, Aventura and PortMiami on the Phase One route from Miami to West Palm.  The company announced it’s in talks with Hollywood, and Palm Beach Gardens recently raised its hand.  Virgin Trains has “promised” Martin County the system will open one stop on the Treasure Coast, most likely in Fort Pierce or Stuart.

November 2018: First Virgin Train in West Palm Beach boards
November 2018: First Virgin Train in West Palm Beach boards
Virgin Trains sold their original four-stop model in their Private Activity Bond proposals and a failed IPO prospectus.  They projected the 3.15 hour schedule would attract 6.6 million riders annually and Rusty Roberts, VP of government affairs, recently stated 70 percent of those riders would likely be non-resident visitors traveling between Orlando and Miami.

As we noted back in 2014, All Aboard Florida failed even to mention Tri Rail as a competitor for their short distance trips in the federally required environmental impact statement.  We also pointed out Amtrak’s Acela, with twice the track miles and four times the stops, only garnered 3.4 million riders between Boston and Washington, DC in 2017.

So, now it appears Virgin Trains management, in an effort to placate bond buyers, are looking for two new funding streams -- more riders and flipping real estate.  In exchange for “better connectivity”, Virgin Trains wants Boca’s free property, a change in zoning regulations and tax dollars to help build and maintain the station.  On the property they plan a station and a parking garage and on additional space, they will throw up "stack and pack" Transit Oriented Development.  They will quickly flip the residential and commercial space and move on.

And where is Tri Rail in all of this?  It is impossible to believe more Virgin stops in Tri Rail’s markets won’t impact that system’s ticket sales and income.  Last year, Tri Rail required $4.7 million from local taxpayers, $55-plus million from the state and $31-plus million in federal funding.  One might wager a bet taxpayers will have to pay more to subsidize Tri Rail as they lose real estate tax revenue.

While every Florida taxpayer supports Tri Rail, the Treasure and Space Coast taxpayers will also see their taxes rise as Virgin Trains requires they pay double and triple the costs for maintaining the new safety upgrades at 150 crossings on Phase 2.  With 22 deaths in 18 months involving Virgin’s trains, their only gain is the fear of exponentially more deaths when the trains go 30 mph faster.

Who’s kidding whom here?  The All Aboard Florida business model has been unsustainable from the start and the only people profiting are the land developers and corporate executives.  When it all goes under, will it be “too big to fail” and subsidized by all Floridians?  How much do Florida voters want to pay for trains carrying nonresidents to the airports? 

One thing is for certain: Grupo Mexico, owner of the Florida East Coast freight system, increases capacity with every mile of track laid for Virgin Trains.  Now does it make sense?

Susan Mehiel is the coordinator and communications director for Florida Alliance for Safe Trains.

Comments

Instead of duplicating and bankrupting each other, both train lines should stake out territories with complementary service. Keep Tri-Rail for local commuters, but redirect Virgin into dedicated tourist areas — especially thru natural ecotourist routes. Running Virgin thru the Everglades, Big Cypress, thru nature preserves that’ll never be developed on the way to Disney and Kennedy Space Port, etc. That’ll showcase our natural, relaxing tourist areas in between the hustle and bustle destinations. It could eventually extend all the way to St. Augustine, Amelia Island, the Panhandle sugary beaches .. ALL ABOUT FLORIDA.

Who are the dems in charge that signed off on this project. Don’t republicans control every thing in Florida ??

I have been quite skeptical of this entire initiative since it was first announced during 2011. While I have now taken three round trips to date on the system (I reside in the Chicago area), and have found their station and on-board service to be exemplary, I am not surprised that their ridership and revenue are well below projections. There are monthly (unaudited) revenue and ridership reports publicly released. June '19 is available and is the first such report that is comparative with same for '18. That is because the existing Miami-West Palm route was operated during each period. What I find disturbing is that revenue and ridership is roundly "flat". Addition of the station stops proposed between Miami and Boca will only disrupt their model of virtually non-stop Miami-Orlando Airport service. The several opposing Treasure Coast counties do have a point with their "public nuisance without public benefit" line, and the operators are wise to consider a station within each county. Will AAF/Brightline/Virgin Trains be built out as planned? Likely. Will it prove to be a private sector financial success? Unlikely. Will the holders of the $1.2B Private Activity Bonds be invited to "dine at the Tallytrough"(a State bailout)? That appears an all too likely outcome.

Ok so it’s brightlines fault for someone walking in front of there train on PRIVATE property with no trespassing signs... that’s like running in the middle of the interstate and saying it’s your fault getting hit. Unreal. Oh and virgin trains is copying the exact model of Amtrak’s very popular Acela train which is profitable.

So we get the misery of a high speed rail line through our Brevard county backyards, but no station to access the service?!

Scott blocked the best option by Obama which did not cost Florida taxpayers instead pushed a scheme he made money off the public misusing his office for self gain. He should be in jail for robbing Medicare and never been in public office as he does not understand ybeing a Public Servant any more than Trump does.

Scott was smart enough and had enough backbone to kill the federal government bait dangled in front of the Florida citizenry with this typical government boondoggle which had absolutely no bottom to it and would have resulted in Florida taxpayers support indefinitely. South Florida is not the northeast corridor which is the only bright spot in Amtraks entire system. Just like the never ending subsidies for Tri-rail, this would have resulted in the same except on a much bigger scale. The only proponents of this rail are the contractors, short-sighted politicians, and freeloader citizens who pay no taxes.

Um bah gaa?

This and "The Green New Deal" prime examples of leftists GOING OFF THE RAILS ON A CRAZY TRAIN !!! #keepamericagreat

This project is a nightmare on many levels - I pray for the victims of 110mph trains screaming through the many coastal communities up the coast of Florida. Just this week, a young guy walking his dog across the tracks was killed by a speeding train. What gives them the right to put us as risk like this? It's foreign conglomerate showing their 3rd world lack of concern for the impact they will impose on the people.

Ok so it’s brightlines fault for someone walking in front of there train on PRIVATE property with no trespassing signs... that’s like running in the middle of the interstate and saying it’s your fault getting hit. Unreal. Oh and virgin trains is copying the exact model of Amtrak’s very popular Acela train which is profitable.

Yeah that's right, his death doesn't matter because you claim (without any proof) that there was a sign. I've got a sign for you if you can guess what it might be.

Do you need a sign to tell you not to run in the middle of the interstate to?

Trying to position themselves as 'Virgin's Folly'? More stops means you are on the 'local', not the 'express'. And I doubt all the rosy predictions will come to fruition either. What do you think these vacationers are going to do after a 4-5 hour train ride from South Florida to see the 'Mouse'? Rent a car which they should have done at the start of their trip and saved both time and money in the process. As a once Northeasterner who knows the pitfalls associated with mismanaged rail travel, just look at the boondoggle called AmTrack that has been soaking the taxpayers for decades. Sad, very sad.

Tol ja so!!!!! Stay away from THAT "bottomless money-pit"!!!!!!!

HST are a liberal Dem 'idea' that has proven worthless decade after decade. The Dems are full of ideas that 'save the planet' but are based on fairy tale projections that wind up doing more harm than good. Gov. Desantis will soon put the nix on this Grupo Mexico scheme.

Like everything else in Florida. Carpetbaggers looking to make a killing on the backs of Florida retirees, snowbirds, and tourists. Check out the absurd 'resort development' Allegiant Airlines is attempting to pull off in Charlotte County.

Leave it to repubs in Florida including Scott who is invested in it to use 1930s train tech killing people, disputing traffic, life with the wheel noise at ground level should be illegal.........……..We need a HST that weighs 10% or this fiasco on an elevated track that doesn't interrupt everyone and makes a gentle whisper going by...…..It's time to put Tampa to Orlando out to bid for new tech that can go up the east coast and stop the corporate welfare of Virgin Trains.

Classic Democrat wild spending scheme

Before Scott vetoed the Tampa/Orlando HST there was no public money he demanded and when they said fine, Scott stopped it anyway...……….. Later Scott was found of investing in Brightline, now Virgin whih is claiming the route with no bidding it out. …......…..Can you say Repub corruption?.........…. I know, it's Obama's fault!! s

huh?

If I am not mistaken, Brightline is less than 10 years old. Democrats have not been in charge of Florida for decades.

Yet democrats have indeed been the driving force of this boondoggle.

You got that right!

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