Politics

Bill Posey, Patrick Murphy Team Up Against All Aboard Florida

By: Kevin Derby | Posted: August 16, 2014 3:55 AM
Bill Posey and Patrick Murphy

Bill Posey and Patrick Murphy

All Aboard Florida is drawing the concern of two Florida congressmen who joined together, despite partisan differences, in asking the federal government to conduct a study to see if its plan to connect Orlando to Miami by high-speed rail is viable. 

U.S. Rep. Bill Posey, R-Fla., wrote U.S. Comptroller General Gene Dodaro on Thursday, demanding the Government Accountability Office (GAO) launch a study to see how viable All Aboard Florida’s proposed line is.

“It is my understanding that the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) – an operating entity of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) – will soon issue a determination about providing a loan through the Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing program (RRIF) to All Aboard Florida (AAF),” Posey wrote on Thursday. “Serving in the Florida Legislature, and now in Congress, I have consistently opposed taxpayer subsidies for rail initiatives. I am therefore concerned about the potential exposure to taxpayers of all such projects including, but not limited to, the AAF application.”

Posey pointed to how the GAO handled Xpress West, a company which was hoping to rely on federal loans to build high-speed rail from California to Las Vegas with possible extensions to Denver, Phoenix and Salt Lake City on the table.

“It is also my understanding that the GAO conducted a review of the Xpress West high-speed rail loan application when it was before the DOT in 2013,” Posey wrote. “It was reported that the Xpress West proposal was rejected due to concerns about the viability of the loan following the GAO review. I believe it is well-advised to have similar reviews for all significant loans where taxpayers are on the hook for any potential losses. As such, it is prudent for the GAO to evaluate the specific application by AAF.

“I write to request that the GAO conduct a review of AAF similar to the GAO review conducted for Xpress West, examining the potential risk and cost to taxpayers, the nature of such a loan including possible interest rates that would be appropriate for this particular loan, and whether or not private financing could be sustained for this project,” Posey concluded. “We have a duty to protect taxpayers, and this evaluation will help us uphold that duty.”

Posey was quickly supported by U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Fla., who also sent Dodaro a letter on Thursday with the same request.

“All Aboard Florida’s (AAF) plan to run 32 additional trains daily through the Palm Beaches and the Treasure Coast of Florida poses significant threats to our community's public safety, economy, and our way of life,” Murphy insisted. “Although initially sold as a ‘private’ project, AAF is actually seeking more than a billion dollars in taxpayer-backed loans from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). Before the FRA risks public money on this project, it is imperative that AAF’s relevant financial viability be thoroughly reviewed.

“I applaud my colleague, Congressman Bill Posey, for joining the thousands of voices concerned about this financially risky and potentially disruptive project, and I fully support his call for the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to examine AAF’s true cost to taxpayers,” Murphy added. “A comprehensive evaluation of AAF’s viability is necessary to ensure that our tax dollars are not used as an irresponsible handout to a company that could not be profitable on its own. I thank you for your office’s efforts to eliminate government waste, and I look forward to working with you to make this request a reality.”



Reach Kevin Derby at kderby@sunshinestatenews.com or follow him on Twitter: @KevinDerbySSN

Comments (39)

Ed Stowell
11:05AM AUG 22ND 2014
Thank you for this update. I still don't see a recommendation from Posey or Murphy to move the trains west as a better alternate to the present AAF proposal.
Ray Centola
8:58AM AUG 22ND 2014
Stop this project scrap start , lets build a rapid rail system that benefits all Fl, and relieves congestion on our roads !!
Rick
7:07PM AUG 19TH 2014
I've been dealing with train safety and quiet zone issues for 10 years here in West Palm Beach where we got a quiet zone finally on the CSX tracks. I strongly believe that the people opposed to the AAF project are not seeing the forest through the trees. If (and when) the FECI wants to have more freight traffic along the FEC corridor, they would simply increase the number of trains and they wouldn't need any permissions of any kind...or if necessary, build a 2nd track on the land that they own...and then FEC would not be required to do any safety upgrades. The safety upgrades have become a significant issue because of the speed of AAF trains. If they were just doing freight, then they wouldn't even be asking our opinion, much less approval. In my view, there is no doubt that the AAF project represents the best possible chance for communities to raise funding, from multiple sources, for higher safety standards to make the surrounding safer and to achieve quiet zones along the entire stretch. If AAF doesn't launch, then we'll never get quiet zones....that's a promise! Keep that in mind the next time you hear a train going by (now, with horns). If AAF is launched but then fails, the quiet zones would stay in place.
Richard Davis
8:54PM AUG 19TH 2014
You drank the kool-aid. So just give them 1.6 billion so they will stop the horns? As you said they could double the tracks if they want to and they will..they just want the federal funds to do exactly that, using a crappy public transportation in the scheme to facilitate all the new freight (panama canal widening) wake up !!
Rick
9:44PM AUG 19TH 2014
Oh I agree completely that the train traffic will increase one way or the other. But if its just freight traffic, they don't need our permission at all....NOT AT ALL....and they can build a 2nd track too. So do you want loud and dangerous 50 - 60 trains 5 years from now? Or safer and quieter trains? The choice is ours....literally.
Richard Davis
9:19AM SEP 1ST 2014
Yes but you have the power and right to contest an unfeasible loan.
If a 30 year loan is desired the interest rate should be 22.8% our 1.9 times the rate of a 5 year loan. This ratio is exactly what the market says the US Treasury must pay for a 30 year versus 5 year borrowing (3.158% and 1.63%). Next the government must decide if AAF can pay the $428 million a year debt service required by a $1.875 billion, 30 year loan with a 22.8% rate.
If 32 trains a day, every day of the year each have 400 passengers, AAF would need $91.60 from each passenger merely to repay the loan!
Richard Davis
6:45AM AUG 20TH 2014
Now the Kool-aid is affecting your thinking process. FEC never intended to run a passenger train. It will have all the appearances of an attempt to do so but will die as soon as it slows down all the freight trains. It is just a scam to get funds to beef up the tracks and connecting terminals and spurs. Passenger trains do not make enough profit. Especially ones that have no stops. The amount of new freight flowing into Florida after the completion of the panama canal will be devastating, not only to track activity but long haul truckers and cargo planes and shipping. This is huge ! Think on a bigger scale. AAF is just what they needed to pull off the scam to get the funds to facilitate the huge profits of this New freight.
Alicia B.
2:05PM AUG 19TH 2014
By the way, I reside in Broward County, downtown Hollywood.
Alicia B.
2:00PM AUG 19TH 2014
I too live and work close to the FEC train tracks. The noise is deafening. As the tracks run on ground level, the building rattles and shakes. Sometimes I fear that the ground will give in from so many, many years of disruption caused by those trains. I don't think the ground can handle more weight of trains going through. AAF to Orlando (32 trains a day on GROUND level) is an insane idea devised by total greed.
Mary Lou
12:07PM AUG 19TH 2014
All I know is that I live about 3 blocks from the FEC train tracks. If this train (AAF) becomes a reality, our lives will be forever changed. I would have a hard time dealing with it. After all, we were here first!!! We built in 1976 and are retired now. Would it be fair for people's lives to be disrupted like that? I will pray that AAF will fail!!!!!
Jeanette Pardo
12:06PM AUG 19TH 2014
Just try navigating around Stuart downtown as it is right now with the freight trains and you will wonder how in the world we would manage with another 32 trains a day. It's a HUGE safety concern and of no benefit to Martin County. I don't even see the need to bring the trains here when a more direct route would be west, away from the more populated areas. There should not be high speed trains going through downtown areas where pedestrians, including many tourists will be walking. Let's use common sense ! Our quaint downtown is unique and we need to keep it that way. No Federal loans for this please!!!
Jean DeFrancis
11:42AM AUG 19TH 2014
We in Stuart don't want 32 trains per day, plus freight trains, to speed thru our 100 year old town and destroying our buildings. There would be no need to go thru the towns north of West Palm Beach - at that high rate of speed - there would be little or no sightseeing for its passengers. We want the train to take the western tracks after WPB to get to Orlando. We ALSO do not want to spend our retirement funds on more taxes to make money for the people running AAF.
Maureen M
11:03AM AUG 19TH 2014
If AAF gets the loan, it will certainly be a waste of taxpayers' dollars, whether they use the existing tracks or build new tracks out west. What needs to be addressed is an exit strategy when AAF fails. What will be done with the tracks? A surge in the number of freight trains from the cargo ships coming into Port Everglades, I assume. The Port is now being dredged to allow for more (cruise) ships.....imagine the possibilities for freight trains on those empty racks once AAF fails.
Richard D. Kvies
10:34AM AUG 19TH 2014
Discussions concerning safety issues, noise abatements and crossings etc. along the presently planned route are a waste of time. The only discussion should be rerouting the track, north of Palm Beach, through rural lands. The massive railroad undertaking that permits the high volume of rail traffic through our quiet and unique Treasure Coast life style is ruinous. I've never felt more left out in my 66 years of being an american citizen.
Richard Davis
8:16AM AUG 19TH 2014
Webster is being paid by the pro AAF entities. I am retired and kive on the tracks and qualify as an expert on the functions of the FEC. Many things were said here that are incorrect and or incorrect assertions.
1. FEC can't even keep the trains, they have now, running on a schedule.
2. The track in my area is the worst type of track for maintenance and is the cheapest style of track to install. There are no RR ties of old. Just cubes of concrete with a bar between them. The system requires the crushing of rock to give cushion. The dust off this track is seriously unbelievable and a health hazard. When the rock crushes in alters the elevation, (level) of the rails. FEC refuses repair Bad wheel assemblies on the cars. The flattened wheel surfaces POUND the track and creates an unbearable unnecessary noise. Repairs take days to make numerous passes with different equipment. This process spews even more dust and can have the track down for days. This puts FEC behind and then we suffer from heavy traffic to catch up. FEC refuses to maintain the engines eng 103 is screaming loud as if it is about explode. FEC can't even maintain their maintenance vehicles that use the track and are constantly screeching and squealing by.
3. This is not a high tech train they propose, which those claim the Europeans expect to ride. What about some real advancement, real new technology, real high speed transportation.
4. How can you deny the obvious benefit to FEC only wanting to upgrade their tracks for the Panama canal widening, guaranteeing a mass amount of shipping on the FEC.
5 The whole thing is a scam and will never work.
Janet
6:32AM AUG 19TH 2014
First, any idea of building tracks west is ridiculous; there is no land to do that unless you are building them in the Everglades. I should specify my comment pertains to Palm Beach and Broward countries; I can't comment on any others. What is the point the of train? We do not have adequate mass transit down here so if people take the train, how would they get anywhere? We are already inconvenienced with the freight and Tri-rail trains that run through our counties, always at rush hour. I don't see the benefit of it. We don't need more people down here. We are cramming people into every nook and cranie in Palm Beach and Broward counties thanks to developers and their paid buddies, the commissioners for those counties. And, Mr. Bob Webster, clearly you will refute anything I have said here and let me say this, I don't care what you think. Obviously, you are 100% in favor of this nonsense and nothing anyone could say would change your mind. Same here.
Bob Webster
8:47PM AUG 17TH 2014
I live very near the FEC railroad. We hear the freight trains every night.

But the objector arguments are baseless.

Those who fear their community would be changed ignore the fact that there will be few, if any, stations between Palm Beach and Orlando.

If there were a station, a community would be well-advised to lobby in FAVOR of it! Few of the 16 trains (each direction) would stop between Orlando and Palm Beach. But in any event, any changes to the community could only occur if land-use ordinances were changed. It is not transportation that changes a community's nature -- it is inappropriate development, and that is controlled by the land use ordinances, not the transportation modes available to residents and tourists.

The notion that AAF is "all about freight" is laughable on its face and cannot withstand serious scrutiny.

And the RRIF program is NOT a "subsidy". All it takes is for one to look into the program and understand how it works to know that much.

Finally, I ask objectors two simple questions and have never received a lucid answer to either:

1. What governmental board/agency does AAF need approval from to go forward with its project?

2. With what laws/regulations governing the approval process does AAF fail to comply?

If you cannot answer those questions, you have no case. It is as simple as that. All the rest is noise.

That is the reality.
scvogel
11:03AM AUG 17TH 2014
So easy for folks to support AAF and who obviously don't live in or near the thriving downtowns and coastal towns that side the FEC tracks. There are no benefits for these residents, just noise, congestion, disruption to businesses, mega safety issues, municipal costs for crossings, etc. This is a scheme for developers to profit and the FEC to juke up rail traffic on taxpayer loans, all the promises of offloading traffic from I-95 is a joke and everyone knows it. Worse, taxpayers are gonna be on the hook when it fails. AAF doesn't want anyone to see its rider surveys -- so what does that tell you? This is disaster for residents who live near the tracks, and later, all Floridians.
Bob Webster
8:57PM AUG 17TH 2014
Uninformed nonsense. A pure NIMBY argument. You cannot stop a legitimate use of the rail corridor. If you don't want to live near a railroad, move. The AAF does not need to provide benefits to your area. The noise will be reduced from what it is currently by compliance with Sealed Corridor requirements that will allow Quiet Zones at very little cost to local governments -- which will also silence freight horns, resulting in less noise, not more. There are no safety issues and, in fact, safety is improved by the use of quad gates (sealed corridor) to prevent idiot drives from weaving around the gates. Municipalities who own roads at crossings are ALWAYS required to maintain the crossing as it exists for THEIR benefit, not the railroad's. The railroad owns the right of way. It is the community owning the roads who request crossings, so why shouldn't the community pay for crossing upkeep? FEC is not AAF. AAF has an agreement with FEC that is mutually beneficial, but they are separate entities. RRIF loans may be either from taxpayer funds (thank Congress for that) or private funds. They are guaranteed by the federal government, but EVERY RRIF loan pays a risk premium up front that goes into a pot to cover any future default. That program has been running for many, many years and I have been unable to find any evidence that any RRIF loan has ever defaulted. So this concern is a red herring.

It seems objectors have nothing to do but throw out every rumor they can conjure up in the hopes that it will stick. But, in the end, there is no agency for them to take their case to. So what is the point of all this silly negativism?

And AAF has every right to protect its proprietary information. Or would scvogel want to reveal recent tax returns to prove there is no ulterior reason for these silly objections?
jerryd
7:20AM AUG 17TH 2014
This is going to be a noisy and public interruption of life as it screams though the east coast town that will get little benefit.

It's mostly a scam to get massive corporate welfare while hurting a couple million others lives from the constant load noise to having to wait likely a million manhrs/yr the public pays waiting at tracks while the trains get a free pass over the public.

Nor is it fast. Instead we need a real HST, much lighter, cheaper, quieter elevated over roads, etc to not interrupt everybody 32x's a day.

Sadly we could have already running the first leg with the jobs, etc it would have brought. Now even if a HST gets going Tampa will be about last hooked up instead of first at no cost to the state but Scott, repubs killed it.

Now their buddies want too and they are showering money on them, CSX for far worse, more expensive versions that cost Florida big time.

A bid contract should be let for a real non steel wheel HST using mostly Interstate Right of Way as the only public cost. Since done right, cheap rates, it'll take traffic off them making it a net gain from having to build more Interstates.

We could make a low cost ground effect HST here by our boating industry, being light composite cars similar to composite aircraft lowers all the other costs yet go 200-300mpg quietly on little power.

It could be paid for by station rents, local taxing districts around them, clean power made on the tracks, low fares, communication, power lines, etc rentals, etc because of it's lower cost to build, run.

But no slush money for republicans like this fiasco so unlikely to get done.
Bob Webster
9:00PM AUG 17TH 2014
More utter rubbish.

This is all conjecture with nothing to substantiate it.

Objectors are REALLY getting desperate if this is the best they can muster!

The notion of an elevated light rail high speed rail is a pipe dream. Who is going to fund this concept and with what? Public money? There isn't any.
Richard D. Kvies
10:38AM AUG 19TH 2014
Yeah Bill. Let's build it and wait and see if the people you refer to as the uninformed feel it works. Thanks for the tip.
les
2:27PM AUG 16TH 2014
I’m curious to know to what extent the US should subsidize HSR? We don’t want to be like on overbuilt Spain system (3rd largest HSR nextwork in world after China and Japan) and subsidize out systems dearly, and I doubt if every line can be like Lyons-Paris and pay for itself. But I don’t think Congress should freak if ridership projections don’t appear high enough to payoff RIFF loans. So far the Las Vegas line has been cancelled and now maybe Florida’s 3rd attempted HSR will fine the same fate. It just shows how important Obama’s seed money was and how we can’t let goons like Denham dictate policy. Airports and highways receive billions in subsidies why not a little love for HSR too.
Bob Webster
9:01PM AUG 17TH 2014
On what basis do you claim that the RRIF loans are a subsidy?
sean
11:39AM AUG 16TH 2014
The US government was poised to grant FL over $1B for a high speed rail HSR link from Tampa to Orlando. If that line was eligible for funding, I can assure you that the Miami to Orlando route would be as well. Another study? What a dumb idea from our do nothing again politicians. The fact is the MIA to Orlando line is what makes HSR more viable. Will the line lose money? Probably on the train, however this loss leader could be made up with rents and royalties from the stations in S FL. FEC business and land is worth many times more the value of the loan they are seeking. The risk is very low given the assets of FEC. The reference to the company in CA is not relevant since they own nothing. One of the benefits, at the end of the day, will be a double track and commuter rail on the east coast of FL. Also, don't minimize the world of tourism and the ability to move people via train. Millions from Europe travel via train every day, and many come to FL. The market is there. You have to know how to tap it correctly. The vision and business risk of Henry Flagler is still present from FEC/AAF. Had Flagler not taken the risk in the 1800s FL would be a very different place today. I say get onboard and look towards what FL will be like in 10-20-30 years. We are growing, like it or not. Clearly AAF does get it and more power to them. These politicians clearly are worried about their next election and not the realities of the state they live in.
G H Kreisler
11:04AM AUG 16TH 2014
Interesting to see who comes out against rail when they hear they don't have a stop in their town.
The Swampfox
8:35AM AUG 16TH 2014
I am at odds here I constantly hear all the sabre rattling about the environment in Florida you know the ambiguous Amendment 1 etc.??? So now they want to carve out tracks through Florida for a train that probably will be dubbed the train to nowhere, federally funded, (aka. taxpayers dollars) working on a obvious deficit? AAF sounds like a free train ride at taxpayers expense and you know for who!
Bob Webster
9:14PM AUG 17TH 2014
swampfox: Educate yourself. Your comment reveals you know very little about AAF.

No federal subsidy. A federal loan from the RRIF program set up for just such ventures. Paid back at market rates. Collateral provided. Risk premium based on difference between collateral value and amount of loan, which is a lump sum paid UP FRONT for EVERY RRIF loan. It is from that pot of funds paid that any default would be covered. Some RRIF loans are from public funds, others from private equity. In all cases, the program does guarantee the loan which is paid back at market rates. I have found no case of a prior default of an RRIF loan, despite its being a going program for more than a decade.

Your concerns are not well-founded. And this is NOT a subsidy and it will use existing rail ROW except for the Cocoa-Orlando connection which will run along the FL 528 ROW corridor (lease agreements already in place for this new line which prohibits its use for freight).

I hope this helps you better understand the realities of this project.
Dave West
8:33AM AUG 16TH 2014
All aboard Florida will be renamed ETOTEC. Empty Trains On The East Coast. All so thatWhy is our federal government loaning $1.5 billion that they don't have to a private company who will use the money to modernize their private FREIGHT lines for their own profit. All while selling the public on a commuter rail line that nobody wants and nobody will ride. What we will get is traffic blockages and noise bombs 32 times each day. Wake up people, this has to be stopped!!!
Bob Webster
9:01PM AUG 17TH 2014
So, according to YOUR business plan, AAF won't succeed.

Fortunately, they have their own.
Julian Rogers
8:46AM AUG 16TH 2014
How could we possibly trust a private company to make decisions about investments? Only the government is wise and honest enough to do that for us. We can trust the politicians to always look our for our interest. They know best.

Did someone miss out on economics 101 or did they get a public school education??
Bob Webster
9:05PM AUG 17TH 2014
If you cannot trust a private company, who do you trust? Government? The same one that tells you "you can keep your doctor" or "you can keep your plan"? Or, "there isn't a scintilla of evidence of corruption"? Or the one who spends vastly more than it receives and simply prints worthless paper to cover the difference? Watch what happens to the value of the dollar. Note the cost of gasoline vs. what it was on January 20, 2009 ($1.89/gal)... or the cost of food.

Really!
jerryd
7:31AM AUG 17TH 2014
I guess you don't remember when JEB! Bush privatized nearly everything he could in state government and 3 yrs later he had to switch back as under private service was worse, workers paid less and cost more, not less.

So where is this magical land where business costs less? Repub have been scared to death of Government because it does work well when done well, not destroyed by politicians of the right. At least giving services to the public at lower costs.

What Repubs want is giving corporations the free hand to rip Floridians off. This train scam, the utility nuke/rate, etc scams, the paying to clean up big sugars pollution/price scam, Banking/oil/coal corporate welfare scams, etc.
Concerned Citizen
8:19AM AUG 16TH 2014
This is the kind of representation Florida needs, from both sides of the isle. I'm a District 18 Republican, but Patrick Murphy gets my vote. Murphy and Posey are both doing a great job preventing the pro-rail federal bureaucracy from rubber-stamping All Aboard Florida.
Bob Webster
9:09PM AUG 17TH 2014
Educate yourself before praising these two politicians who have no case against AAF and are only doing what they do to garner votes from objectors (who also have no case). Pure political opportunism, nothing else.
Julian Rogers
8:41AM AUG 16TH 2014
The opponents of rail passenger service would have us believe that they can also pass a law preventing people from traveling between South Florida and Orlando. If not, then the question becomes not if, but how do these leaders want people to travel.

Apparently they prefer them in cars and buses on I-95 and the Turnpike. So they are not anti-rail as much as pro asphalt, pro air pollution, pro energy waste and pro traffic congestion.

They prefer to spend billions in taxpayer dollars for more paving (which, make no mistake, will be necessary) but oppose a private company using their private property in a legal manner. And, most amazing, the Republican candidates are falling all over each other to oppose such a terrible project.

Since South Florida and Southern California both rely on automobile for almost all transportation then they both should be the kind of places these mis-guided souls see as the vision for our county. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result.

Does anyone else notice that if someone is attempting to cross the railroad on Monterey coming east bound that they will be delayed by cross traffic at Kanner Highway and at US 1. That cross traffic closing the intersection hundreds of times a day for over three minutes. Yet protestors will wait in traffic twice to get to the rail crossing to scream about their journey being interrupted 32 times a day for less than one minute.

The slogan for NOT ALL ABOARD should be "Let them drive SUV's"

Julian
Bob Webster
9:07PM AUG 17TH 2014
Well said!
Mark
8:15AM AUG 16TH 2014
This column is outright proof that both Mr Posey and Mr Murphy are totally out of touch with the needs of the people.
Bob Webster
9:06PM AUG 17TH 2014
Amen! Posey should be ashamed of himself for being taken in by these NIMBY objectors.

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