FL: All Aboard Florida Nears Construction in Palm Beach County

Aug. 26--All Aboard Florida is prepping for construction on its express passenger train service to Orlando, assembling new steel track at a staging area in Boca Raton and finishing designs for railroad crossings that will allow for quiet zones.

The new track is the first sign from the Coral Gables-based company that work is imminent on the initial phase of the $2.5 billion project, which includes laying a second line in the 66.5-mile Florida East Coast Railway corridor between Miami and West Palm Beach.

All Aboard Florida sold $405 million in high-risk bonds in June to private investors who were promised construction would begin "promptly" after a successful sale so trains can start running in late 2016. The second phase, from West Palm Beach to Orlando, is scheduled to open in 2017.

Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie said Tuesday that she doesn't expect actual assembly of the second line to begin for at least another month, but that All Aboard Florida is probably storing rail in her city because of a large right-of-way area along the tracks north of Yamato Road.

"Their plans for our crossings are only 90 percent complete, so we don't anticipate construction will commence any time in the next month or two," said Haynie, who is also chairwoman of the Palm Beach County Metropolitan Planning Organization. "They still have a little ways to go."

All Aboard Florida predicted a quicker construction commencement, saying Tuesday it will begin "almost immediately."

"This is an exciting time for All Aboard Florida as the vision begins to translate into reality by developing this much-needed transportation alternative for our region and state," said Michael Reininger, All Aboard Florida president and chief development officer. "The train is coming."

The Palm Beach County and Broward metropolitan planning organizations set aside $10.8 million to cover safety upgrades at crossings that will allow trains to silence their horns at intersections. All Aboard Florida will invest another $60 million for improvements.

Haynie said those upgrades will largely include raised medians at crossings throughout Palm Beach County, with some areas also receiving four-quadrant gates. The raised medians prevent vehicles from maneuvering around gates when they are closed.

Without quiet zones, which will also cover freight trains, federal law requires trains to sound their horn four times as they approach an intersection.

Last month, the Florida Department of Transportation announced All Aboard had agreed to pay for safety upgrades that will allow for quiet zones at crossings between 30th Street in West Palm Beach and Cocoa, where trains are expected to travel at speeds of 110 mph.

While quiet zones were welcomed by many residents and businesses along the FEC tracks, not everyone is appeased.

Delray Beach resident Alan Schlossberg, who opposes All Aboard Florida, said train horns are a necessary safety measure.

"They're not great to hear, but safety is the biggest issue," said Schlossberg, who is trying to rally people to fight the passenger train. "It's still a battle. There are a lot of people who still don't understand what is going on."

By 2016, All Aboard Florida expects 60 trains per day to run on the FEC tracks. That includes 32 passenger trains and 28 freight trains.

The trains will stop only in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and Orlando.

Elliot Cohen, a West Palm Beach spokesman, said no rail construction has begun in the city, and that the first phase of the station construction -- demolition of vacant buildings at the downtown site -- has not been scheduled or permitted.

Much of the opposition to the project has come from northern Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast where traffic congestion concerns are coupled with warnings from the marine industry about boat backups from more drawbridge closings.

An environmental impact statement addressing areas north of West Palm Beach has yet to be released by the Federal Railroad Administration. All Aboard Florida is also waiting to learn whether it is approved for a $1.6 billion federal loan to build the route from West Palm Beach to Orlando.

Copyright 2014 - The Palm Beach Post, Fla.

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