Judge signs off on environmental permit for Brightline rail project

An administrative law judge has signed off on an environmental permit that All Aboard Florida’s Brightline needs to build its passenger railroad between Miami and Orlando.

Brightline’s first train rolling through West Palm Beach on Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017.

In a 23-page ruling, Administrative Law Judge Bram Canter upheld the St. Johns River Water Management District’s August decision to approve a permit for the project.

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The Indian River Farms Water Control District had argued new bridges planned as part of the rail project could cause flooding. In its challenge, the district argued the bridges will be too low to allow clearance during a 100-year storm event, which would cause water flow to be obstructed in the area.

“This ruling is further demonstration that Brightline is adhering to all regulations for the construction of its system,” said Myles Tobin, General Counsel for Brightline. “As Treasure Coast taxpayers continue to spend millions on legal challenges fighting Brightline, we continue to invest more than $1.3 billion to connect the state’s most populated centers, creating jobs and spurring economic opportunities. We are planning for Phase 2 while preparing to launch the South Florida service in several months.”

Brightline plans to run as many as 32 trains a day between Miami and Orlando on the Florida East Coast Railway tracks. The company’s trains are expected to reach speeds of up to 79 mph between Miami and West Palm Beach; 110 mph between West Palm Beach and Cocoa Beach; and 125 mph between Cocoa and Orlando.

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Freight trains on the FEC line currently operate at speeds of between 35 and 40 mph, although the trains are capable of moving up to 60 mph, officials have said.

Brightline’s first two trains – named BrightBlue and BrightPink for the color of the passenger cars — arrived in West Palm Beach this year.

Three more trains are expected to arrive in South Florida by May, Brightline officials said. The third train to arrive will be called BrightGreen.

Brightline announced this month that it plans to launch passenger service between West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale in late July. Service between Fort Lauderdale and Miami is scheduled to start in late August, the company said.

Eventually, Brightline plans to expand service north to Orlando. Track work for the second phase of the project, which runs between West Palm Beach and Orlando, has not yet begun.