Rail expert: Brightline passenger train likely to succeed

All Aboard Florida’s Brightline rail service “has a much greater likelihood of success” than other passenger train ventures because the company has found a niche market where it can make money without taxpayer support, according a report written by Robert Poole, the South Florida-based transportation director for the Reason Foundation.

The first Brightline train has arrived, housed in the company's rail repair facility off of Division Avenue in West Palm Beach on December 14, 2016. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)
The first Brightline train has arrived, housed in the company’s rail repair facility off of Division Avenue in West Palm Beach on December 14, 2016. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)

The report, which was published by the Tallahassee-based James Madison Institute, pointed to All Aboard’s three-part business model — ticket sales, real estate investments and food and beverage services.

Brightline plans to run 32 trains a day between Miami and Orlando with stops in West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale. The 325-mile trip is expected to take about 3 hours.

Poole said the fact that Brightline will run largely in the Florida East Coast Railway’s existing corridor have kept costs low for the private venture, when compared to other passenger rail projects.

And with minimal stops, the service will likely be an attractive alternative to driving or flying, Poole added.

“All Aboard Florida may in fact be a niche market where higher speed rail can make business sense without taxpayer support, Poole wrote.

RELATED: First Brightline train arrives in West Palm Beach

In addition to the train service, All Aboard is building commercial and residential developments around its three South Florida stations in West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami.

Poole compared the model to that of the the Hong Kong Mass Transit Railway Corporation.

“Though developed as a government corporation, it has been run as
a business and makes an annual profit,” Poole said of the Hong Kong system.

RELATED: Brightline opponents call financing plan shift a “scheme” to avoid lawsuit

All Aboard’s project has come under fire from Treasure Coast residents and officials, who fear the added trains will block police officers and firefighters from reaching the ill or injured. Boaters have also raised concerns that the company’s trains will increase draw bridge closures over the Loxahatchee River and impede navigation.

Martin and Indian River counties have filed a federal lawsuit in an attempt to block bonds All Aboard plans to use to pay for the rail venture.

Poole’s report addresses the opposition, saying opponents’ claims are “exaggerated and imbalanced.”

A freight train passes the All Aboard Florida's Brightline station under-construction in downtown West Palm Beach. The passenger rail service station will connect West Palm Beach with Miami and Orlando. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)
A freight train passes the All Aboard Florida’s Brightline station under-construction in downtown West Palm Beach. The passenger rail service station will connect West Palm Beach with Miami and Orlando. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

Poole notes that Florida East Coast Railway was running trains on the corridor long before there were homes in the area, and improvements at rail crossings “will mean higher average speeds and less gates-down time than today for a given train.” Planned “quiet zones” would limited noise from train horns, he added.

And if All Aboard’s project fails, Poole says its investors, not taxpayers who will be on the hook.

Poole’s 4-page report was published this week by the non-profit institute, which bills itself as a “free-market think tank.”

The institute was criticized this year after one of its top officials was caught on audio tape sounding off about a constitutional amendment involving solar energy.

The utility-backed Amendment 1, which was turned down by voters this fall, would have made existing laws and regulations governing solar energy part of the state constitution, potentially paving the way for barriers to rooftop solar, opponents said. Its opponents said the measure’s wording was misleading, leading some voters to think it would be a way to advance solar energy in Florida.

Before the vote, an audio tape emerged that included comments by Sal Nuzzo, vice president of policy at the James Madison Institute. On the tape, first reported by the Miami Herald, Nuzzo described how to use a “little bit of political jiu-jitsu” in promoting solar to win support for desired changes in policy.

Critics of Amendment 1 called Nuzzo’s comments an admission of a “secret scheme by the pro-utility coalition to mislead the public,” about Amendment 1.

The political committee behind the amendment, Consumers for Smart Solar, said that Nuzzo “misspoke” and erased almost all references to the James Madison Institute on its social media platforms.

Meanwhile, Brightline’s first passenger train arrived in West Palm Beach this month.

The train is being stored at the company’s rail repair facility on 15th Street in West Palm Beach. The 12-acre site is located just west of the Florida East Coast Railway tracks.

Brightline plans to start shuttling passengers between West Palm Beach and Miami in mid-2017. The bulk of the construction on the buildings and tracks that will mark its route is complete.

Track work for the second phase of the project, which runs between West Palm Beach and Orlando, has not yet begun.

 

 

Walmart cuts Christmas Eve hours

Walmart announced Tuesday that it will scale back its hours on Christmas Eve so employees can spend more time with their families.

FILE - In this May 9, 2013, file photo, a worker pushes shopping carts in front of a Wal-Mart store in La Habra, Calif. Wal-Mart will now let you pay with your phone at all 4,600 stores nationwide. With Walmart Pay, the cashier scans a QR code on the phone screen to complete the payment. The effort is part of Wal-Mart's overall strategy to making shopping easier and faster. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)
FILE – In this May 9, 2013, file photo, a worker pushes shopping carts in front of a Wal-Mart store in La Habra, Calif. Wal-Mart will now let you pay with your phone at all 4,600 stores nationwide. With Walmart Pay, the cashier scans a QR code on the phone screen to complete the payment. The effort is part of Wal-Mart’s overall strategy to making shopping easier and faster. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

The company said it plans to close its stores at 6 p.m. on Christmas Eve – two hours earlier than in previous years.

“Our associates work hard all year to make this Holiday season special for our customers, and we truly appreciate what they do every day,” Judith McKenna, executive vice president and chief operating officer for Walmart’s U.S. unit, said in a prepared statement released by the company. “We also know that getting home on Christmas Eve to spend time with families is important. That’s why this year we’ll be closing at 6 p.m. on Christmas Eve.”

Walmart employees more than 2 million associates worldwide.

Black Friday 2016: Walmart Thanksgiving ad released; check out the deals

Walmart has released its Thanksgiving/Black Friday sale  advertisement, and deals include 4K TVs, the popular Hatchimals toys and FitBits.

Walmart released an early copy of its ad through its app on Thursday, but the 32-page circular has been posted on several Black Friday websites, including BfAds.net and BestBlackFriday.com.

RELATED: Target’s Thanksgiving Day ad released; see the deals

Stores are set to open at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving. BfAds.net says many of Walmart’s deals will be available to purchase online or using retailer’s app at 12:01 a.m. Thanksgiving morning.

RELATED: Best Buy unveils Thanksgiving Day doorbusters

“Walmart is bringing back wristbands that guarantee specific doorbuster items to shoppers in line and they’re bring back interactive store maps for in-store shoppers,” BfAds.net said.

Shoppers stream into the new Super Walmart Center on Belevedere Road during the store's grand opening in 2004. Wal-mart's latest advance may be coming online.
Shoppers stream into the new Super Walmart Center on Belevedere Road during the store’s grand opening in 2004. Wal-mart’s latest advance may be coming online.

According to BfAds.net, highlights from this year’s ad include:

Phillips 55-inch Smart 4KTV for $298 (special buy)
Samsung 50-inch Smart 4KTV for $398 ($230 off)
Vizio 60-inch HDTV for $398 (special buy)
40-inch HDTV for $125 (special buy)
50-inch HDTV for $225 (special buy).
PlayStation 4 Slim Uncharted 4 500GB bundle for $249 ($50 off) plus a $30 gift card
Xbox One S White 500GB Battlefield bundle for $249 ($50 off)
90 video games starting at $8
Hatchimals for $48.88
Disney Princess Cinderella Royal Dreams Dollhouse with Furniture for $88 ($61 off)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles RC Mikey for $39 (a Walmart exclusive at a $10 off)
Razor Hovertrax 2.0 Hoverboard for $273 ($125 off)
DJI Drone Phantom Standard 3 for $369 ($130 off)
Promark 3D Virtual Reality HD Drone for $99 (a Walmart exclusive at a $49 off)
Samsung Chromebook 3 for $119 (special buy)
HP 15.6-inch Touch Laptop for $249 (special buy)
iPad Mini 2 32GB for $199 ($70 off)
Nest 3rd Generation Learning Thermostat for $199 ($50 off)
Nest Cam for $149 ($50 off)
Fitbit Charge 2 for $129 ($20 off)
Fitbit Alta for $99 ($30 off)
Fitbit Flex 2 for $69 ($30 off)

Walmart is also offering its app users access to select Black Friday Deals now, according to BfAds.net. These items will be ordered through the app and shipped to home. Specific offers include:

Hitachi 65-inch 4K Ultra HDTV for $599 ($400 off)
Xbox One S 500GB Minecraft Console with Bonus Controller for $279 ($20 off)
Acer 15.6-inch Core i5 Laptop for $299 ($150 off)
Cricut Explore One Special Edition Bluetooth Bundle for $169 (special buy)
1 Carat T.W. Diamond Sterling Silver Pendant and Earrings for $139 ($361 off)
RCA 11.5-inch 32GB Quad-Core 2 in 1 Tablet with Keyboard for $98 (special buy)
Bounce Pro 7-Foot Trampoline for $79 (special buy)
Lifetime 44-inch Portable Basketball Hoop for $69 (special buy)

 

Florida hotels, tourism industry brace for Tropical Storm Hermine

Although Tropical Storm Hermine is threatening to bring heavy rains and strong winds to the state’s Big Bend region as early as Thursday, hoteliers in the storm’s path say they are hopeful it won’t put a damper on the busy Labor Day travel weekend. Tropical Storm Hermine

Just days before the summer’s final holiday, hotel managers in Cedar Key in Levy County, which is located in the heart of the storm’s forecast track, said reservations remain strong.

Deana Lashley, the manager at the historic Island Hotel & Restaurant in Cedar Key, said rooms on Wednesday were filled with guests who want to watch the storm, which is expected make landfall late Thursday of early Friday morning.

The hotel and restaurant plan to remain open, regardless of the weather, Lashley said.

“I know everybody makes a big to do,” Lashley said. “We aren’t concerned honestly. We are going to get some wind and some water,  but that is about it.”

Lashley said the hotel expects to be filled with Labor Day visitors on Saturday and Sunday.

At the nearby Harbour Master Suites, which overlooks the Gulf of Mexico, manager Leslie Landress said she is also planning for a busy weekend.

“We are booked all weekend starting Friday,” Landress said. “All of those guests are still coming in on Friday.”

The majority of the hotel’s rooms were booked on Wednesday by members of the media who were in town to cover the storm. In a precautionary move, Landress said local officials plan to turn off the water in the area where the hotel is located. As a result, the hotel will close while the storm passes, she said.

“You can not stay opened if you don’t have water,” she said.

Meanwhile, it appeared the storm has not impacted tourism in Palm Beach County.

Nick Gold, the public relations and marketing manager for the Eau Palm Beach Resort and Spa in Manalapan, said the resort has seen an uptick in bookings leading up to the holiday weekend. The resort still has limited availability, he added.

“We are open and we are looking to have a very busy Labor Day weekend,” Gold said.