Is All Aboard Florida A Match For Jacksonville?

November 19, 2014 75 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Quietly in late August, construction began on All Aboard Florida (AAF), a $2.5 billion passenger rail system that could eventually reach Jacksonville. The FEC eliminated passenger rail services between Jacksonville and Miami in 1968, during one of the most violet labor conflicts of the 20th century. While these days may be gone, what does appear to be back is Henry Morrison Flagler’s 19th century use of passenger rail along Florida’s East Coast as a means to enhance real estate development around railroad stations. Is it possible for Jacksonville to take advantage of the economic opportunity that could be headed its way?

What is All Aboard Florida?

AAF is a “higher-speed” intercity passenger rail service being developed by Florida East Coast Industries that will connect Miami to Orlando in just under three hours. Designed to serve both residents and tourist, AAF will operate on 195 miles of existing FEC tracks from Miami to Cocoa, with 40 miles of new track between Cocoa and Orlando. New stations will be built at Orlando International Airport and the downtowns of Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach.  

FEC believes that its passenger rail subsidiary will be popular with Floridians, business travelers, and tourists because it will serve as a cost and time efficient transportation alternative between Central and South Florida. Currently, close to 50 million trips are taken between Orlando and Miami annually. This trip takes 4 hours by car, 10 hours by train (Amtrak), and 45 minutes flying (high costs in air fare). Operating at speeds up to 125 mph and with limited stops, AAF anticipates it will be able to make this trip in 3 hours.

The project’s backers claim that AAF will promote the economy by improving mobility in the area and creating jobs. In addition, positives in the environment would include reducing carbon emissions and removing 3 million cars annually off Florida’s roadways. Featuring innovative technology, Wi-Fi and café bars, AAF’s ADA-compliant Siemens manufactured trains will connect these cities with hourly headways, which is something the Jacksonville Transportation Authority’s (JTA) proposed commuter rail service won’t provide, assuming it becomes a reality, one or two decades from now.

What Makes AAF Different from any other Rail System?

One major reason that AAF is a big deal is because, if things work out, it would be the first successful passenger rail system that is privately owned, operated, and maintained since the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad ceased the Rio Grande Zephyr operations between Denver and Ogden, UT in 1983.  The $1.5 billion project is being funded from debt and equity, rather than federal or state grants, ongoing subsidies, and taxpayer money. In an economic climate where passenger rail typically operates at a deficit, this is considered revolutionary by many experts in the transportation industry.

Furthermore, unlike recently implemented passenger rail projects, this just may be your granddaddy’s railroad.  Dusting off the business plan Flagler used a century ago, to build the railroad and much of Florida, the AAF project ties passenger rail with transit-oriented real estate development.

A transit-oriented development (TOD) is a mixed-use residential and commercial area designed around transit stations to maximize access to public transit, encouraging longterm transit ridership. AAF plans to develop millions of square feet of commercial, office, and residential development around its downtown stations in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach. Serving as a hub of intermodal connectivity, these developments will add shopping, dining, hotels and more in the heart of each city’s urban core.

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