Private Rail Company Says Orlando to Miami Service Possible in Two Years

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Amtrak's Orlando station (photo by Matthew Peddie)

(Orlando, FLA -- WMFE) The company that wants to begin a privately funded passenger rail service from Orlando to Miami says it expects to get millions of drivers out of their cars and riding the rails once it starts rolling.

Florida East Coast Industries executives are meeting with local authorities as they decide on the exact route of the service.

If the rail service starts as planned in 2014, it's expected to improve connections to regional transportation hubs in Central Florida.

FECI traces its roots back to Henry Flagler, one of the wealthy industrialists who created a network of railways and hotels throughout the state from the late 1800s.

The company already owns 200 miles of track needed for the route- it says it will cost a billion dollars to build the final 40 miles between Cocoa and Orlando, and modify the existing freight track to accommodate the new service, called All Aboard Florida.

Proposed route for a new intercity passenger rail service (Image courtesy of All Aboard Florida)

Spokesperson Christine Barney says there’s an appetite for intercity rail in Florida, but the failed high-speed rail project between Tampa and Orlando shows tax payers don't want to bear the risk.

This service isn't billed as high speed rail, but it would hit speeds of 100 miles per hour and more, allowing it to make the trip from Orlando to Miami in about 3 hours.

Barney says the company is confident it will get the funding it needs to start in 2 years time.

“We’re already looking at selecting the operators, picking the actual trains, you know, we’re moving very quickly," she says.

"We understand that if the project is going to move forward things have to happen quickly, but we think that’s a reasonable expectation.”

Barney says for the service to be a success, it has to run frequently.

"If you think about the successful rail corridors like in the North East, you can go from New York to Washington, and if you get to the station at 10.15, you've missed your 10, but there's another train at 11," says Barney.

She says the aim is to have between 12 and 14 trains running every day.

That could mean up to 3 million fewer cars on the road, but Barney admits it may be a challenge getting drivers to change their habits.

“It is going to be a learned behavior because people haven’t had this option before. But our initial studies indicate that there are enough people that don’t like the delays that occur, the traffic that occurs, the cost, wear and tear on cars, gas, and the difficulties of driving.”

The train will stop in West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale, and Barney says there could also be the potential to link up to airports and seaports, including Port Canaveral and Orlando International Airport.

Stan Thornton, project Liaison Manager for the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority, says the airport is ready to connect to rail- whether it's the SunRail commuter train set to start rolling in 2014, light rail, or an intercity service.

"We've always had rail in our master planning," says Thornton.

"When high speed rail was getting serious we went ahead and laid out how some of the different types of rail would get into here."

Thornton says the airport is talking to Florida East Coast Industries about their plans.

He says the proposed rail service could increase passenger traffic by giving people better connections to the airport.

“People have a tendency of how far they’ll drive before they’ll fly. We have people who come down from Jacksonville, we know that from our garage traffic, so it’s what we call a catchment area and we think that could increase by up to 50 per cent.”

A private company could soon be competing with Amtrak for these passengers (photo by Matthew Peddie)

All Aboard Florida is not the only passenger rail service that could be rolling on the east coast. Amtrak, which already has an inland service running from Jacksonville to Miami twice a day in both directions,  is also exploring another service along on the same stretch of track. Amtrak has a ridership study underway, but no date on when that will be finished.

Florida East Coast Industries says Amtrak and All Aboard could both use the track without any conflict.

The company says it will have a better idea of the final route of the train and the timeline for completion once ridership, engineering and environmental studies are finished in the next few months.