Thursday, March 22, 2012

Florida East Coast is bringing back private passenger rail


Florida East Coast Industries, Inc. Announces Plans for Private Passenger Rail Service in Florida


Florida East Coast Industries, Inc. (FECI), the owner of Florida’s premier passenger rail corridor, is developing a privately owned, operated and maintained passenger rail service to connect South Florida and Orlando, which will be operational in 2014. By connecting the most visited city in the United States with South Florida’s business and vacation destinations, the passenger rail project, called All Aboard Florida, is designed to serve Florida’s growing number of business travelers, as well as families and tourists traveling for pleasure.
The All Aboard Florida passenger rail project will connect South Florida to Orlando through a 240-mile route combining 200 miles of existing tracks between Miami and Cocoa and the creation of 40 miles of new track to complete the route to Orlando. Eventually the system could be expanded with connections to Tampa and Jacksonville.
More than fifty million people travel between South and Central Florida annually, largely over highly congested highways. All Aboard Florida is envisioned to transform the way people travel throughout the state, offering a faster, safer, and more enjoyable mode of transportation between Florida’s two largest metropolitan areas.
Targeted to begin service in 2014, the approximately $1 billion project will operate on a regular schedule throughout the day transporting business and leisure passengers between South Florida and Orlando in approximately three hours

All Aboard Florida, their new website.

This is going to have tremendous impact on Amtrak as every state supporting corridor service, as well as Congress, is going to be drawing parallels between the two services. If Amtrak management in charge of various corridors that have performed poorly yet have high ridership and revenue potential is not quaking in their boots, they are completely blind. With a one billion dollar private investment and the apparent expectation of not only covering their operating costs, but also their investment, from service revenue, this stands as a firm slap in the face of Amtrak's current philosophy and practice.

That is not to say, of course, that all intercity rail services can or will be profitable. But where Amtrak does not invest in corridor services, requiring the supporting states to put forward all the money unless the track belongs to it, and continually demands greater subsidies for them, we see a major investment by a private organization, risking its own money, and asking no subsidy at all. If they're willing to make similar investments elsewhere, even if to a lesser degree and asking for similar or smaller state subsidies, I foresee them easily winning contracts to run corridor services instead of Amtrak.

There's also an important realization here: This is going to be a higher speed rail service. At a flat 3 hours, the 240 mile route would be running at an average of 80 miles per hour; that's about the same speed as the Acela between New York and Washington. I believe much, if not all, of this track will be signaled for 110 miles per hour as a result, or possibly only 90 if an average speed of 70 miles per hour is to be attained and the approximately 3 hours means rather 3.5 hours. More than that and I personally would say "less than four hours" rather than approximately 3.

With all that said, I don't see this as something that will be emulated by the other freight rail companies. FECRR has been greatly expanding their intermodal service and does not run the long heavy slow coal and other bulk trains that the major freights do. For them, light and fast is applicable both to their freight and passenger services. In addition, this is a major tourist travel corridor and in addition to being car competitive time-wise, the existence of tolls (about $16.70 cash) helps make rail a more affordable option.

Edit at 12:40pm: A slight reconsideration on average speeds: It is possible that, when they refer to South Florida and approximately three hours, they're referring to the northernmost southern stop, West Palm Beach. In such a case, the average speed would, obviously, be slower, only about 60 miles per hour, although still significantly faster than corridor operations elsewhere. The FRA mandates positive train control for all mainline passenger rail service, which I believe would be covered by this; should the track be in condition for it, much of the route may be signaled faster than 79mph as a result of the mandate.

1 comment:

  1. As an additional note, Gene Skoropowski, who brought the Capitol Corridor up to its current high ridership and service level, was recently named Senior Vice President of Passenger Development at FECRR, which is a tremendously positive sign.

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