Martin County Very Much NOT All Aboard on Miami-Orlando Rail Line

By: Nancy Smith | Posted: March 20, 2014 3:55 AM
I Beg to Differ

Martin County isn't used to taking no for an answer, but it might find defeating All Aboard Florida a too-steep hill to climb.

You remember All Aboard Florida, right? It's the proposed higher-speed rail service set to operate along the Florida East Coast Railway on the Atlantic Coast. The service would connect Miami with Orlando via a roughly 240-mile route north from Miami to Cocoa, where it would turn west toward Orlando.

The train won't stop in Martin County, but that's not why local residents are mad enough to bare-knuckle box the railroad, the governor and the federal government all at the same time.

What residents most fear about All Aboard Florida is that the private passenger rail service has so far given them no chance to voice their concerns -- which begin and end with Stuart resident Donna Robinson's fear that "this thing will tear our tranquil life apart and destroy the county's vital marine industry."

Robinson, who is one of more than 2,500 to sign a petition against All Aboard Florida, told Sunshine State News, "The county commissioners are urging the railroad to move this service to the CSX tracks in Indiantown, out where Amtrak travels. That's what most of us want to see. We can get behind that." (By the way, CSX and FEC both told me moving the venture west isn't going to happen.)

She said All Aboard Florida will create 32 additional trains daily, doubling the number now running through the heart of Hobe Sound, the city of Stuart, Rio and Jensen Beach. That many crossings, she explained, will paralyze boat traffic. And she's right.

FEC passenger train

FEC's All Aboard Florida presentation

All Aboard Florida does not intend to replace the railroad bridge across the St. Lucie River. Openings still will be required. If the full schedule of passenger trains a day were running, boat traffic would be backed up from 35 to 45 minutes per hour between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m.

This is a serious safety hazard and represents the marine industry threat Robinson is talking about. Certainly citizens need to engage the U.S. Coast Guard, which has jurisdiction over the bridge.

But it doesn't help anybody for the local press to flail away at imaginary demons. These are the folks who not so long ago liked railroads and the stimulus money to build them.

The Stuart News attacks the railroad, the Federal Rail Administration, All Aboard Florida/Fortress Investment Group LLC and, of course, the governor. (I can't link the story for you because of the newspaper's paywall; it is on the front page of the March 12 edition.)

For starters, Florida East Coast Railway has been there for more than 125 years. Not a single living soul in Martin County moved there before the railroad came to town. It is sovereign. That means it isn't even like a local airport -- Witham Field in Stuart, for instance -- which local government can make largely to its own liking. It has a lineage that traces directly to Henry Flagler and it owns a significant swath of land through some of the Florida east coast's most valuable real estate.

In the second place, the Federal Rail Administration (FRA) is not as the newspaper portrayed it, just "big government" writing a report. It's an arm of the Obama administration, which has made rail travel one of its priorities, and it has a great deal of power over the All Aboard Florida venture. I guess I'd just like this newspaper to throw the president under the bus for his policies for once, as it does the governor so often for his. 

All Aboard Florida map

Which brings me to Gov. Rick Scott. 

All Aboard Florida aims to be the first privately owned, operated, and maintained passenger rail system in the United States. Why wouldn't Gov. Scott support such a thing? He loves private enterprise, hates the strings attached to most federal projects. Nothing revolutionary there.

Scott turned down $2.4 billion in federal stimulus dollars for an Orlando-to-Tampa high-speed rail link and cited three reasons: predicted construction cost overruns would put Florida taxpayers on the hook for $3 billion; low ridership would have required state subsidies; and if the project were shut down, the state would have to return the $2.4 billion to Washington.

Scott says he wants to spend $215 million on a railroad hub at Orlando International Airport for All Aboard Florida. That's smart money. The state would own the hub, allowing other private ventures to connect from there, maybe Orlando-Tampa and Orlando-Tallahassee lines. Scott has pledged $215 million this year and $92 million next. It's well within the governor's philosophy for bolstering business, tourism and jobs and, frankly, within the $74 billion state budget, too.

The Stuart News castigates Scott for accepting campaign money from All Aboard Florida and its various levels of parent companies. But all you have to do is look at Rep. Patrick Murphy's campaign, or the president's, come to that, or any one of more than two dozen politicians, Republican and Democrat, looking for another term. As the Florida Times-Union said of All Aboard Florida, "Their political contributions have reached every corner of the state."

All Aboard Florida's engineers inspected all 28 of the county's rail crossings Feb. 28. A second track will be added to FEC's 100-foot right-of-way. But those upgrades don't include the additional gates and other features required to create "quiet zones" throughout the county.

I think Martin County Commissioner Doug Smith, a former president of the Florida Association of Counties, struck the right tone when he said, "The railroad was here first and they are sovereign. ... This is a privately funded project so we're not going to be able to stop it. We should be concentrating on mitigating its effects on our citizens ... in whatever way we can."

That has also been the advice of Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart: Cool it and let's all try to make the best of it for the community. 

Screaming for meetings where more screaming is sure to ensue isn't going to lessen the number of trains or shorten the closings of the railroad bridge. I sympathize with Donna Robinson and other Martin County residents sure to be affected by this change. But Martin doesn't have many cards to play on this one and that's why citizens need to be cagier. The FRA and All Aboard Florida say they'll meet with residents when they've got their ducks in a row. So, why not back off for now, hold constructive intracounty meetings, look for ways to compromise. That's the way to coax them to the table.

Give the other stakeholders at least a couple of months to deliver. 

FEC freight train

FEC freight train, as advertised by the railroad

Reach Nancy Smith at or at 228-282-2423.

Comments (33)

4:20PM OCT 27TH 2014
This is completely ludicrous! The way All Aboard has snuck behind our backs with their plans to put a high speed train right through my community (Stuart) is beyond criminal. They are going to threaten our safe, quiet little communities with a pollution spewing, high speed death rocket. That rocket will resonate with blaring horns, quaking buildings and a path of destructive homicide that will threaten our beloved Treasure Coast hour upon hour for the rest of our shortened lives! Our children will then inherit properties that are worth pennies on the backbreaking dollars that we purchased them with.
This has got to be stopped before it begins!

Sent from my iPad
Concerned Citizen
3:54AM JUN 23RD 2014
AAF brings tremendous negative impact for marine traffic. Jupiter Inlet District engineers recorded nearly 8000 vessel trips in April alone, past the FEC bridge over the Loxahatchee. It’s probably even more than this for St Lucie River. Each cycle of the rail bridge takes about 20 minutes, longer for a slow freight.

With 2-3 trains per hour once AAF begins, that doesn't leave much navigation time. Boat traffic stacks up; currents can be tricky.

Lot of Florida jobs — as well as much of the Florida lifestyle — depend on the marine industry. This project has serious negative socio-economic impacts.
12:12PM JUN 22ND 2014
diane schoeneck
1:48AM JUN 7TH 2014
I have lived in Stuart 30 years, if there is no jobs or benefit to our quite county why on earth do we wants this. NOT GOOD I oppose!
Jerome Kowalski
4:52PM MAY 13TH 2014
I will vote NO TO ALL ABOARD FLORIDA!! Your on the wrong track in Martin County because we will DERAIL your intentions!!
Johnny Throbo
3:58PM APR 9TH 2014
People in Martin County are going nuts. Many take a lot of pride in stopping progress.
joe hamilton
9:34PM APR 7TH 2014
This passenger train will be a huge mistake for the treasure coast. The boating traffic will almost be impossible due to delays caused by outdated train bridges that realistically need to be replaced for safety. The many crossings combined with draw bridges especially in Jupiter will cause auto traffic to spill into neighborhoods creating unsafe conditions for school children in the mornings and afternoons due to frustrated drivers dealing with all the new delays. In short the Treasure Coast will suffer all the problems and major safety concerns with no benefits. This train needs to go inland. I DO NOT UNDERSTAND WHY THEY INSIST ON USING THE TREASURE COAST!
Bright Light
2:32PM APR 6TH 2014
To stop AAF you must Stop Seven50 for Seven50 is the plan that AAF will use for crony-profits for decades to come.
7:44PM MAR 31ST 2014
6 questions to ask AAF; and 2 questions to ask the Florida Dept. of Environmental Protection:
1) Does AAF plan to run only 32 passenger trains a day?
2) With the widening of the Panama Canal and increased dock space in Miami and Fort Lauderdale, might AAF be planning to significantly increase its freight schedule?
3) Is AAF planning to apply for federal loans for this project?
4) Do federal loans come from federal income taxes and other federal taxes?
5) Is Amtrak making a profit carrying passengers between Orlando and Miami? If not, then why run another rail line between Orlando and Miami, unless you are actually planning to run more freight trains?
6) If AAF builds another rail within their 100 foot right of way, will this negatively impact neighborhoods and businesses?
Questions for FDEP:
1) Why has AAF been given consent for activities/construction at 20 locations over sovereign submerged lands, when the State of Florida statutes state that the State of Florida owns all land under navigable waterways.
2) Why was AAF given consent in 1) above, prior to their submission of an Environmental Impact Statement to the FDEP.
2:19PM MAR 23RD 2014
The trains take seconds to cross an intersection, possibly shorter wait time than at a traffic light. Have the residents been bitching about the freight trains? You are connecting 7,000,000 residents & and millions of tourists. Pick your battles.
1:07PM MAR 21ST 2014
Why is Gov. Scott against "the first privately owned, operated, and maintained passenger rail system in the United States (this should probably be corroborated)?

If it fails, there would be insurmountable political pressure for the state to assume its operation.
1:07PM MAR 21ST 2014
Why is Gov. Scott against "the first privately owned, operated, and maintained passenger rail system in the United States (this should probably be corroborated)?

If it fails, there would be insurmountable political pressure for the state to assume its operation.
Robert Brands
3:45PM MAR 20TH 2014
Today it was reported that TCRPC recommends the freight trains to go on the Westerly Tracks...why not the Passenger Trains...
Avoiding all the improvement cost and attempted noise abatement...

Here is the recap so far:

Some key points of the All Aboard Initiative:
-ONLY MIA, FLL, WPB and Orlando will benefit (but all FL tax payers are paying up)
-No additional stops will be added
-Passenger usage is greatly overestimated (50MM trips??)
-Traffic will be disrupted all along the East Coast, not just the Treasure coast (Pompano, Boca, Deerfield etc.etc.)
-All Treasure Coast communities will have major cost, traffic disruptions, increased noise, and downtown depreciation
-All Aboard is completely counter to any Downtown rejuvenation efforts.
-Jupiter and St Lucie inlets will have recreational boating and Maritime issues (limited coast guard access a legal issue)

Before improvements are being done because they are paid for by tax payers, communities and local politicians need to push to use the Westerly route north of WPB (Benefit of MIA. FLL, WPB and ORL stays in tact)
5:18PM MAR 22ND 2014
The FEC right of way in along the Florida coastline. CSX runs it's right of way through the former ACL and Seaboard route through central Florida starting at West Palm Beach where it turns west. AAF is a FEC venture not a CSX venture.
Ed Vossen
3:22PM MAR 20TH 2014
In the above article I did not read that Nancy Smith was in favor of All Aboard FL. Her point was that residents should hold meeting amongst themselves with local government officials to discuss what "WE" can do or ask about the All Aboard plans. Ranting and raving will not accomplish anything.
Rick Bennette
1:24PM MAR 20TH 2014
Private industry relies on one thing. Money. Take away the incentive for passengers to actually use these new trains, and most of the trains will eventually go away. No industry board of directors will continue to pay for a service that is losing big money. Let's get the airlines on board to counter the fares of riding the train and offer faster service to boot. Would you rather spend three hours on the tracks, or spend less money and only 30 minutes in the air? This loss of revenue is the only thing to which All ABoard execs will pay attention.
Victoria Huggins
10:29AM MAR 20TH 2014
Poor Nancy Smith. She just doesn't get it. I live in Port St. Lucie and I can see what this bullet train will do to the neighborhoods and our community. We will have to pay for quiet zones - not AAF. Have you taken a good look at the bridge rail in Stuart? It is old and needs replacement, not just a bandaid to keep it operational. There are no stops along the Treasure Coast, yet they are touting it as a "economic windfall" for the area. How could that be when the train is not even stopping anywhere along the Treasure Coast? The only economic windfall I see is that the citizens of all of the counties north of the last stop in West Palm Beach, will be paying for quiet zones - that's a windfall for the railroad, not the citizens. 32 trains a day, whizzing by your backyard at 110mph. So many socio, economic and environmental impacts to our area, it is laughable. Won't be subsidized? Another laugh. They already are.
5:28PM MAR 22ND 2014
Apparently you don't get it either Victoria. AAF will not be reaching speeds of 110 mph through Port St. Lucie - that will only occur on the new rail segment being built from Cocoa to Orlando. It is not a bullet train. Bullet trains reach speeds over 200 mph.

Quiet zones? It may amaze you, but there are actually people who like trains. If you don't like trains don't live with them in your backyard when you know the FEC railroad was built here first 125 years ago.

I do agree that there should be additional stations built and that very well may happen. As it is, it will be tremendous to be able to take the train from West Palm Beach to downtown Miami where the new station is being built right where Flagler built the first station in Miami across from Bayside and the AA Arena.
10:40AM APR 24TH 2014
Oh, I get it Mike. They will be entering and leaving this area at 110 mph by their own admission. They will reach speeds of 125 mph from Cocoa to Orlando.

As of yesterday, April 23, 2014, the new price tag for AAF is $2.25 BILLION. It keeps growing and growing. That is directly from the horse's mouth during an interview with our local paper.

As I stated, I do not live in close proximity to the tracks....I am miles and miles from them, yet I can see the impact it will have on our communities.

Miami - armpit capital of the world. I was there last Wednesday at the location where the megaplex is going to be located. It looks like a very dangerous area. Graffiti everywhere, even on peoples houses. Barbed wire fencing around houses and houses which has steel bars over windows and doors. I don't wish to go back.
11:46AM MAR 20TH 2014
I don't think Nancy is saying she likes it, I think she is saying ranting and raving at the wrong people is not the way to get what you want. I happen to agree.
Bertha Matics
8:25AM MAR 20TH 2014
This is about Palm Beach Gardens, Jupiter, Tequesta and all the other communities that run by the tracks. All aboard will affect the quality of life people moved here to have.Yes the tracks were there. Yes people that moved there did so after. There is ONE big difference...a few trains in a 24 hour span is very different to a total of 32 plus freight on top of that. It will affect home values, the ability to open windows on beautiful florida days, to entertain in your backyard or home. It will affect the backed up traffic on already busy roads such as Indiantown, Hood, Donald Ross and other east west roads in Northern Palm Beach County .It will affect boaters and taxpaying citizens. Open your eyes to see how bad of an idea this is. They do not want to foot the expense of the other tracks BUT want taxpayers to foot the expense of quiet zones and improvements and loss of property values. Anyone now wanting to sell has to disclose this dreadful idea. I am Not All Aboard!!!
5:43PM MAR 22ND 2014
I am happy you realize that Henry Flagler's railroad was there first Bertha and they own the right of way. Are you really saying that you can't open your window because a passenger train is going by? Have you even seen what a passenger train looks like and how short it is?

If that is really true you should be building your home out west. The FEC railroad right of way is only about 100 feet wide so there are plenty of "quiet zones" to live if you don't like trains. Florida is 200 miles wide and you can't live away from the FEC and CSX railroad right of ways that total 200 feet from west to east?
9:58AM MAR 20TH 2014
what y ou dont remember is 25 years ago FEC had twice as many rfeight trains on those tracks than they do today. more than a mile long too. the passenger trains will run quieter and be quicker. I live less than quarter miles away from the FEC tracks. wont be so bad. the railroad isnt going to start passenger service with that many trains it will be years before they come up to speed.
5:50PM MAR 22ND 2014
You are correct, except that AAF will start with 32 passenger trains a day to give passengers a frequent choice of departure times.
Sylvie Rimmer
7:48AM MAR 20TH 2014
The concerns are not limited to Martin County. We live in Norrhern Palm Beach county and All Aboard will have a negative effect on a large swath of the county. Between the effects on the Loxahatchee river cantilever Bridge ( 15 mn per train crossing - really!) blocking all access westward per train, the multiple crossings with no noise abatement and which back traffic up enough right now ( to Hospitals no less) the use of the FEC tracks will be a NIGHTMARE. We too are NOT. all aboard
7:06AM MAR 20TH 2014
Nancy, this is not just about Martin County and who cares what Doug Smith says! How Gov. Scott can support passenger rail service that cannot survive in the US without Government subsidy and allow this very rail to hurt profitable businesses that do pay taxes is beyond us! The Treasure Coast once supported Scott but this issue may be the straw that breaks the camels back this election!
Grant A. Garrett
10:12AM MAR 20TH 2014
So what do you think Charlie Crist is going to do for you? You can ask him and he will tell you what you want to hear but it won't mean anything.
11:31AM MAR 20TH 2014
Scott supporting All Aboard Florida will help Crist get elected. I hope Scott wakes up and soon.
Florida NOT All Aboard
7:01AM MAR 20TH 2014
This is about all the communities affected on the East Coast of Florida. All Aboard Florida has applied for a government backed RRIF loan with the same funding model that melted down Wall Street in 2008. Bravo Amy for pointing that out! Taxpayers are being told to pay for quiet zones that could total millions in each county. This is better described as as Public - Private venture! Fortress will come out smelling like a rose as Amy points out - not Florida! This is not a done deal.
6:37AM MAR 20TH 2014
This is NOT a private venture. Orlando Sentinel announced yesterday that All Aboard Florida has applied for federal funds. Translation? Tax payers will be funding the creation of this virtual fault line on the east coast of Florida that will sever our communities. The hedge fund that owns FECI and All Aboard Florida could care less about passenger service as they well know there is no profitable example in US history. This is all a giant smoke screen that will have the american tax payer footing the bill for the second set of rails to allow increased freight carrying capacity...the REAL money maker for FEC.
5:13PM MAR 22ND 2014
Virtual fault line that would sever our community? Good grief! There is so much absolute ignorance spewing from Martin County people it makes me embarrassed to live here. As Nancy mentioned in the column, Henry Flagler's FEC railroad is sovereign and has been here for 125 years and was the FIRST thing built in Florida.

This IS a private venture and the first private passenger rail since Amtrak took over private passenger rail in 1971.

The FEC was previously double tracked so double tracking is nothing new. The whole notion that All Aboard Florida is a giant smoke screen to have tax payers pay for double tracking is so ludicrous and false that it destroys the credibility of the one thing that you said that is partially true - passenger rail is not profitable. Every other highly developed country has high speed rail and it is funded by the government just like all other forms of transportation.
5:28PM NOV 18TH 2014
The railroad was not the FIRST thing built in Florida. The Jupiter Lighthouse was finished in 1860.
8:32AM MAR 23RD 2014
To be honest, I can't wait for AAF to get up and running. I hope it is an immediate success so that they will seriously consider extending this service to Jacksonville and Tampa.

In addition, the infrastructure improvements that will be needed for AAF will allow the long proposed Amtrak corridor service between Jacksonville and Miami to piggyback off of them. So there is economic incentive for Martin County.

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