U.S. Rep. Brian Mast questioned former All Aboard Florida head Michael Reininger during a federal subcommittee hearing Thursday to discuss the “challenges and opportunities” facing intercity passenger rail projects.
“Is All Aboard Florida or Brightline, whatever we want to call it, is that publicly funded or will it be publicly funded?” Mast asked Reininger, who served as All Aboard’s president for more than four years before leaving the post in March to take over as executive director at Florida East Coast Industries, Brightline’s parent company.
All Aboard has maintained the project will not be publicly funded — a statement that Reininger repeated on Thursday.
“It is completely an investment of private sector capital,” Reininger told Mast on Thursday.
All Aboard has proposed using tax-exempt private activity bonds to help fund a portion of the project, which will carry passengers between Miami and Orlando with stops in Ft. Lauderdale and West Palm Beach.
“Private activity bonds are 100 percent capital,” Reininger said. “It comes from the private sector. It doesn’t have any involvement from any funds that are distributed from the federal government.”
Mast also raised concerns about aging railroad bridges in his district, asking whether those spans will be replaced as part of the rail project.
Reininger said the company plans to make “a significant investment in the complete reconstruction and re-manufacture of the major component parts of those existing bridges.”
Brightline is expected to begin service later this summer. A grand opening is expected to be held in the fall.
Once operational, Brightline’s trains will shuttle passengers between West Palm Beach and Miami in about an hour. Ticket prices have not been announced.
Eventually, Brightline plans to expand service north to Orlando.
Construction on the West Palm Beach-to-Orlando leg has not yet begun. Brightline officials have said the project will take at least two years from the time work starts.
The remodeled restaurant, located at 2504 SE Federal Hwy, Stuart, officially re-opened on May 23, but the celebration was set for Friday.
“We are so excited to unveil our fresh new look in our Stuart TooJay’s Deli, Bakery, Restaurant,” said TooJay’s CEO Chris Artinian. “We value all of our Stuart guests and our 27 year relationship with the entire Stuart community serving Simply Great Food with Simply Great Experiences.”
Founded in 1981, TooJay’s has 27 restaurants throughout Florida including Palm Beach and Broward counties, the Treasure Coast, the West Coast of Florida, the Orlando area, The Villages, the Space Coast and Polk County.
U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper ruled that the lawsuits were moot because the U.S. Department of Transportation has withdrawn its 2014 approval granting Brightline permission to sell up to $1.75 billion in bonds to pay for the rail project.
In court documents filed in November, the U.S. Department of Transportation said it had withdrawn its original approval, and instead granted All Aboard provisional permission to move forward with a smaller bond sale.
The original sale would have help pay for the second phase of Brightline’s project, connecting West Palm Beach to Orlando. The new sale would be limited to the rail venture’s first phase between Miami and West Palm Beach, the court documents said.
In a statement released late Wednesday, All Aboard said Cooper’s decision was “another loss” for Treasure Coast leaders who have spent years fighting to block the rail project, which is planned to link Miami to Orlando with stops in Ft. Lauderdale and West Palm Beach.
“All Aboard Florida believes Judge Cooper properly dismissed the case, and we appreciate his thoughtful review and articulation of the facts and the law,” the company said. “This is another loss in a series of lawsuits that has cost Treasure Coast residents almost $6 million. We look forward to working with the Treasure Coast in a cooperative and more productive fashion as we advance this important infrastructure project.”
Despite the dismissal, Martin County officials also declared victory Wednesday. The county pointed to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s decision to withdraw its 2014 approval, saying the decision to dismiss the case “does not diminish the significant victory of the counties.”
“This is a success story and a hard-fought win for our community, and it confirms our thoughtful litigation strategy was successful,” County Attorney Sarah Woods said in a statement released just after 9 p.m.
Martin County said it was “assessing its next legal steps,” adding that officials are also monitoring any efforts by All Aboard to use tax-exempt bonds to pay for the West Palm to Orlando route.
In documents made public last year, All Aboard officials said they planned to consider a second, $1.15 billion bond sale to help pay for rail work between West Palm Beach and Orlando.
Martin and Indian River counties filed suit in 2015 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.
Citizens Against Rail Expansion in Florida, also known as CARE FL, said the lawsuits were a “resounding win” for Treasure Coast residents.
“AAF’s insatiable need for public subsidies continues and the decision in this matter doesn’t advance their quest,” the group said Wednesday.
Construction on the first phase of Brightline’s service, which includes three stations and track work between Miami and West Palm Beach, is nearly complete.
Brightline plans to launch the first leg of its passenger service this summer.
Two of the company’s trains have already arrived in West Palm Beach. Two more are expected to arrive on Thursday at the company’s rail repair facility near 15th Street in West Palm Beach.
Construction on the company’s West Palm Beach-to-Orlando leg has not yet begun. Brightline officials have said the project will take at least two years to complete.
Brightline has said it will start “pre-season” service between West Palm Beach and Ft. Lauderdale in late July. Service between West Palm Beach and Miami is expected to begin in August.
Ticket prices have not been released.
A grand opening of the rail project is planned for mid-September, the company said.
McDonald’s restaurants across Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast are treating moms to a FREE breakfast this Mother’s Day (May 14).
The promotion, which is available during morning breakfast hours at 84 participating McDonald’s restaurants in the Palm Beach-Treasure Coast area, includes a free breakfast sandwich or breakfast extra value meal with a choice of a small orange juice, coffee or soft drink.
To receive the free breakfast, mothers must be accompanied by a child. Limit one free offer per customer, per visit.
“We are delighted to offer complimentary breakfast to moms on their special day, so families can enjoy spending time together,” said Michele Heisner, a mother and local McDonald’s Owner/Operator. “Starting off the day with a balanced meal together is important in my family, and we’re pleased to offer it in our restaurants.”
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.
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.
UPDATE, 11:05 a.m.: A citizen’s group opposing All Aboard Florida’s Brightline service has released a statement following today’s meeting.
“We are disappointed that the subcommittee did not debate the bill today, but we respect the legislative process, and look forward to more dialogue about this important legislation in due course,” said Brent Hanlon, chairman of Citizens Against Rail Expansion, also known as CARE FL. “All Aboard Florida (AAF) is taking a victory lap today in its public statements, but its latest actions are nothing more than a special interest group flexing its political muscle in a desperate attempt to protect its profits which are reliant on taxpayer subsidies. AAF continues to put the communities of South Florida on the hook for millions in upgrades to enhance safety measures and make a grab for taxpayer subsidies. We will continue to advocate for legislation that puts public safety first and we know that our elected leaders want the same. This is nothing more than an ill-conceived rail project by a private company that wants to shift costs to the taxpayers.”
A companion bill (SB 386) filed in the Senate cleared its first hurdle earlier this month, winning support from the Senate’s Committee on Transportation.
It would require high-speed rail companies such as All Aboard Florida to install safety features and pay for fencing along sections of its tracks where pedestrians could be at risk.
The bill also would establish minimum safety standards for high-speed rail, including the installation of Positive Train Control and Remote Health Monitoring safety technology. The features are designed to help stop a train if the engineer falls ill or a crossing gate malfunctions.
In a statement released this morning, Brightline officials said the bill is deigned to target its passenger train service, which is set to begin operating between West Palm Beach and Miami this summer.
““The fact that the bill was pulled from the committee agenda today means the overwhelming input from groups such as the Florida Chamber and Florida TaxWatch, elected officials from key cities and newspaper editorial boards is making an impact,” said Rusty Roberts, Vice President of Government Affairs for Brightline. “We have been saying this bill is not about safety but an attack against private property rights and is targeting our company. Legislators are comprehending these facts, and we are appreciative.”
UPDATE, 3:45 p.m.: All Aboard Florida’s Brightline rail service unveiled the first train in its growing fleet on Wednesday, marking a new phase for the company as officials shift their attention from construction to customer service.
For more than three hours, Brightline’s top executives demonstrated dozens of features that they say will help convince South Florida residents and tourists to ditch their car and instead ride the train. The demonstrations were part of a private tour for members of the media.
Among the innovations: Plugs and USB jacks at every seat, free onboard WiFi and “Super wide” aisles that span 32-inches, wider than any other train. The extra room will allow passengers in wheelchairs and those with strollers to reach their seat with ease, the company said.
The train’s bathrooms are large and “touchless,” a feature that allows passengers to flush with a wave of their hand. The sinks include a Dyson faucet that both dispenses water and dries hands from the same fixture, helping to keep water from dripping on the floor.
The seats, which measure 21 inches and 19 inches wide depending on a passenger’s class of ticket, recline in place. The bottom cushion slides down and back, not the back of the chair — a feature that allows passengers to recline without invading the space of the person behind them.
Each car features a variety of seating options, including groups of four chairs centered around a table with built in charging stations.
The company is also one of the only in the industry to offer “level boarding.” Each train feature custom “gap fillers” to bridge the space between the passenger car and the platform, making it easier for riders board and disembark.
The mechanism will be especially helpful to people pushing strollers, pulling luggage or riding on wheelchairs, the company has said.
UPDATE, 2 p.m.: All Aboard Florida’s Brightline unveiled its first passenger train on Wednesday, marking new milestone for the private rail venture.
The company’s “Bright Blue” train was unveiled at a private event for media Wednesday morning.
Brightline plans to begin testing the train on a 9-mile stretch of track near its West Palm Beach repair facility next week.
Brightline President Michael Reininger said the company would soon be announcing its ticket prices, which will including daily, monthly and annual passes.
The event begins at 10:30 a.m. The Palm Beach Post will be streaming live video from the reveal on its Facebook page. For updates throughout the event follow reporters @JenSorentrue and @KristinaWebb on Twitter.
This post will also be updated throughout the morning.
The 489-foot-long train has been housed under a covered structure at the repair yard while crews work to finish construction on Brightline’s first phase, which spans from Miami to West Palm Beach.
Track work for the second phase of the project, which runs between West Palm Beach and Orlando, has not yet begun. Treasure Coast leaders are challenging that stretch of the project, and have filed a federal lawsuit to block bonds that the company had planned to use to pay for the construction.