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.

 

 

All Aboard, federal officials move to end lawsuit over tax-exempt rail bonds

The U.S. Department of Transportation has withdrawn its 2014 approval granting All Aboard Florida’s Brightline permission to sell up to $1.75 billion in tax-exempt bonds to pay for the rail project, a move federal officials now argue makes a lawsuit filed by opponents of the train service moot.

(Provided)
(Provided)

In court documents filed Monday, the U.S. Department of Transportation said it withdrew its original approval this month, and instead granted All Aboard provisional permission to move forward with a smaller bond sale.

The original sale would have paid for the second phase of Brightline’s project, connecting West Palm Beach to Orlando. The new sale will be limited to the rail venture’s first phase between Miami and West Palm Beach.

Martin and Indian River counties filed suit last year over the original bond sale, arguing that federal officials violated the National Environmental Policy Act when they approved the tax-exempt bonds before an environmental study of the rail project’s second phase was complete.

The U.S. Department of Transportation on Monday asked a federal judge to dismiss the case, saying the financing shift has resolved the dispute since the second phase of the project will no longer be included in the bond sale.

A rendering of All Aboard's Florida's West Palm Beach station sits on the top floor of the building, overlooking downtown, after "topping off" ceremonies, signaling construction of the building has hit a new milestone and reached its top elevation, Friday, September 30, 2016. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)
A rendering of All Aboard’s Florida’s West Palm Beach station sits on the top floor of the building, overlooking downtown, after “topping off” ceremonies, signaling construction of the building has hit a new milestone and reached its top elevation, Friday, September 30, 2016. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

Court documents show All Aboard filed an application with the U.S. Department of Transportation in September requesting permission to move forward with the smaller, $600 million bond sale.

All Aboard’s president Michael Reininger pointed to improving economic conditions, adding that a smaller “targeted” sale would be easier to market.

“Since December 2015, we have been monitoring the status of the markets and evaluating potential options for an offering of (tax-exempt bonds),” Reininger wrote in Sept. 30 letter to federal transportation officials. “We are pleased to report that market conditions relative to bond financing began to improve earlier this year and have continued to improve, to the point that we now believe we can conclude an initial offering of (tax-exempt bonds) on favorable terms in the near future.”

In the letter, Reininger said the company planned to consider a second, $1.15 billion bond sale to help pay for rail work between West Palm Beach and Orlando.

“Within the next several weeks, we will separately discuss a new request for an allocation of up to $1.15 billion in (private activity bond) authority for Phase II,” Reininger wrote to federal transportation officials.

In a statement released Tuesday, a citizens group opposing the project said the financing shift was “visible proof” that efforts to block the rail project are working.

“They have no obvious way to fund Phase 2,” Citizens Against Rail Expansion in Florida said. “…They aim to repackage their offer, but pouring bad wine into new bottles doesn’t make it taste any better. It remains to be seen whether the investor community will back even this more limited financing activity. ”

Construction on the first phase of Brightline’s service, which includes three stations and track work between Miami and West Palm Beach, is 70 percent complete, company officials have said.

Brightline’s first train is expected to arrive in south Florida by the end of the year.

Anti-rail group to hold town hall meetings about All Aboard’s Brightline

The citizen’s group opposing All Aboard’s Brightline passenger train service will hold two town hall meetings this week to discuss the project.

Construction continues on the All Aboard Florida train station on the Florida East Coast Railway in downtown West Palm Beach on September 6, 2016.  (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)
Construction continues on the All Aboard Florida train station on the Florida East Coast Railway in downtown West Palm Beach on September 6, 2016. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)

Citizens Against Rail Expansion in Florida, also known as C.A.R.E. FL, said the meetings are designed to provide residents with an update on efforts to block the rail project.

Construction on the first phase of Brightline’s service, which includes three stations and track work between Miami and West Palm Beach, is well underway.

Brightline plans to eventually run 32 trains a day between Miami and Orlando with stops in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach.

The second phase of the track work, which runs between West Palm Beach and Orlando, has not yet begun.

CARE FL’s  meetings will be held in Stuart and Jupiter. Speakers include: Attorney Stephen Ryan; Brent Hanlon, CARE FL Steering Committee Chairman; and Robert Crandall, former president and CEO of American Airlines.

Stuart Town Hall Meeting

Tuesday, November 15, 2016 at 7p.m.

The Lyric Theater, 59 S.W. Flagler Ave., Stuart

Jupiter Town Hall Meeting

Wednesday, November 16, 2016 at 7 p.m.

Jupiter Community Center, 200 Military Trail, Jupiter

DirecTV customers cry foul after Fox News outage

directv_atq
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Some DirecTV customers are crying foul after Fox News was blacked out for several mornings this week because of “technical difficulties.”

Port St. Lucie resident Christine Fischer said for the last week an error message has popped up on her screen when she tried to watch the Fox News channel in the morning. The outage has not impacted any other stations, she added.

“I think they are somehow blocking us,” Fischer said. “I can understand if DirecTV is going out on all stations.  I went through my TV and hit every channel, and it is just Fox. I am sorry, there is something going on.”

Fischer is not alone. Customers across the country have taken to social media to raise questions about the outage.

In responses posted on its Twitter account, DirecTV said it was working to resolve the issue and noted that it is also experiencing problems with CNN. The company directed customers to watch those networks online at and

“We’re experiencing technical difficulties impacting 8 HD channels, including CNN HD and FOX News HD, for our satellite customers. These and most of the other channels are available in SD and via our streaming apps. Customers can learn how to unhide SD channels at http://soc.att.com/2f1HYN5. We apologize for the inconvenience. We’re working to address the issues and will update accordingly,” Kelly Layne Starling, Senior Public Relations Manager for AT&T in South Florida and the Virgin Islands, said in an emailed statement.

Fischer said she has been a DirecTV customer for about 9 years and has never received the “technical difficulties” error message before.  She tried to call DirecTV several times this morning but was not able to get the problem addressed.

 

Water managers issue permit for All Aboard rail project

South Florida water managers on Friday announced they have approved a key environmental permit for sections of All Aboard Florida’s Brightline rail project through parts of Palm Beach, Martin and St. Lucie counties. 2_rails__de__chemin_de__fer1_

The South Florida Water Management District said it has issued a permit approving how the company will handle stormwater runoff around its rail line. But the approval does not include 77 intersections where the rail line crosses over roadways.

All Aboard Florida has maintained that the intersections are exempt from permit review. Water managers, however, say the “viability of the company’s assertion cannot be determined.”

The approval addresses only stormwater management systems in Palm Beach, Martin and St. Lucie counties, not the construction or operation of the railway line, district official said in a news release announcing the decision.

The approval has drawn criticism from Martin County officials, who have been fighting to block the rail line.

On Friday, Martin County said in a news release that it is “disappointed with this decision, and strongly believes the district should not issue the permit.”

“We will look carefully at this permit,” County Attorney Michael Durham said. “However, our assessment is that the AAF application remained incomplete and does not contain all the information required by Florida Statues. It fails to provide reasonable assurances that harmful and negative environmental impacts would not occur.”

The permit approval comes just days after Martin officials declared a “major victory” in their battle to stop the project.

A judge ruled last week that a lawsuit challenging federal transportation officials’ decision to allow All Aboard Florida to sell $1.75 billion in tax-exempt bonds to help pay for the rail line will continue.

U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper denied motions to dismiss the case, saying the bonds are key to All Aboard Florida’s ability to complete the second phase of the rail line, which will run between West Palm Beach and Orlando on the Florida East Coast Railway tracks. The first phase of the project, between Miami and West Palm Beach, is already under construction.

Martin and Indian River counties filed federal lawsuits last year against the U.S. Department of Transportation challenging whether All Aboard Florida is eligible for the private activity bonds. All Aboard Florida is an intervenor in the suit.

AllAboard’s Brightline service plans to run 32 trains a day along the Florida East Coast Railway tracks with stops in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and Orlando. The company plans to launch service between Miami and West Palm Beach in mid-2017.

 

 

Sleep Number adds store, but its new bed is online-only

Sleep Number is opening its fourth store in the region Friday. This one, in Jensen Beach, follows three other stores in Palm Beach County.

Sleep Number's newest bed is available online. (Provided)
Sleep Number’s newest bed is available online. (Provided)

But when the company rolls out its next big product, the “it Bed” in the fall, you won’t find it any of the regional stores, or in any other Sleep Number’s 500 locations.

» RELATED: Is there an item you only buy at a store vs online? A mattress?

It will only be sold online.

The company bills the it Bed as high-tech assisted sleep. It will, among other features, track your heart and breathing rates hundreds of times as you sleep. The goal is to better help know how to adjust the adjustable bed.

And if you think adjustable beds and other ways of dealing with issues like snoring are for older people, guess again.

“Snoring is a big issue for many people,” said Pete Bils, Sleep Number’s vice president for sleep research. “It affects not just by age, but also by weight and lifestyle.”