FL: Jacksonville Next Stop for All Aboard Florida?

June 25--Court documents filed last week by All Aboard Florida and a newly formed related company point to the passenger rail's possible extension of its service on the Florida East Coast Railway tracks north to Jacksonville.

The new company, AAF Jacksonville Segment, LLC, which was registered May 29 in Delaware, penned a June 11 agreement with All Aboard Florida that gives it the easement rights to shuttle passengers on the lines from Cocoa to Jacksonville. The agreement was filed June 18 in St. Johns County.

Attention on All Aboard Florida's express passenger service has so far focused on its 235-mile Miami to Orlando segment, which will include stations in Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, but has seen opposition from some residents who are concerned about the impact of an additional 32 trains per day.

Richard Radcliffe, executive director of the Palm Beach County League of Cities, said he's heard no official public discussion about extending All Aboard Florida express rail service to Jacksonville.

But Kim DeLaney, strategic development coordinator of the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council, said it was mentioned in 2012 as a future option when All Aboard Florida first began to advertise the $2.5 billion Miami to Orlando project. Also, company officials, as recently as October, were gently lobbied during a Florida Senate Committee on Commerce and Tourism to extend the passenger service to Jacksonville.

"For some reason my presentation doesn't include Jacksonville. Where do I get an updated version or is that phase 2?" asked an enthusiastic Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, during the Oct. 7 meeting.

Rusty Roberts, vice president for All Aboard Florida's parent company, Florida East Coast Industries, told the committee that Jacksonville and Tampa are possible connections once the Miami to Orlando route, which he called the "moneymaker system," is successful.

"We're happy to spend the money if we can afford it, we just ask government to kind of get out of the way," Roberts said. "I would say to those cities just wait and be patient and we'll get there."

All Aboard Florida wouldn't answer questions on the record about its plans for Jacksonville service or whether the new filings mean it's moving forward with a connection to the city.

It released a statement saying "The documents filed clarify All Aboard Florida's ownership rights to provide passenger rail service in the FEC corridor."

A Jacksonville link would take All Aboard Florida on about a 150 mile route through Duval, St. Johns, Volusia and Brevard counties.

Passenger rail experts have said they're hopeful All Aboard Florida's Miami to Orlando business is a success, but are not optimistic.

"In that corridor, you already have excellent air service between those cities and the driving times are pretty good," said Joshua Schank, president and CEO for the non-profit Eno Center for Transportation in Washington. "I don't mean to sound skeptical. It's more that as a private venture most public transportation has failed."

Some investors disagree. Last week, All Aboard Florida sold a $405 million bond proposal with a 12 percent interest rate to help pay for the Miami to West Palm Beach segment of its service. Construction on that part of the rail, including the three stations, is expected to cost $749 million. Improving and building the system from West Palm Beach to Orlando will cost another $1.4 billion, according to a prospectus for the bond deal.

All Aboard Florida is asking for a nearly $1.6 billion loan from the Federal Railroad Administration.

It's not known what residents north of Cocoa think of a passenger rail service running on the FEC tracks, which cut through or are near Titusville, Ormond Beach, New Smyrna Beach, Daytona Beach and St. Augustine.

But the Jacksonville Transportation Authority is in favor of a connection.

"JTA has been monitoring All Aboard Florida, and we are hopeful that the Miami to Orlando project is successful and generates support for future extensions to cities like Jacksonville," said John Finotti, spokesman for the authority.

Copyright 2014 - The Palm Beach Post, Fla.

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