Friday, September 19, 2014

Highlights from All Aboard Florida's Draft EIS

The Federal Railroad Administration released the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for All Aboard Florida today; the following are some highlights from it.

According to a ridership and revenue forecast commissioned by Florida East Coast Industries and prepared by Louis Berger Group (LBG) for the Project, the most conservative total annual ridership would amount to approximately 3.5 million in 2019. Among the 2019 project totals, approximately 2.0 million would be short distance trips (Ft. Lauderdale – Miami, West Palm Beach – Miami, West Palm Beach – Ft. Lauderdale) and 1.5 million would be long distance trips (Orlando – Southeast Florida). Total annual ridership is predicted to exceed 4 million by year 2030. (Page S-6)

If 3.5 million is their most conservative estimate, which comes out to an average of 300 passengers per train, I'm really surprised at the lack of capacity in their trains. With one coach as first class seating, their seven car sets will only have 446 seats, 396 if one coach is a dedicated café car. I anticipate that peak trains will probably sell out fairly quickly, especially if their conservative estimates do prove to be conservative. On the other hand, it will be fairly easy for them to expand their capacity as it should be a running production line and the initial Phase 1 operations, West Palm Beach to Miami, should give them a warning as to whether their ridership estimates are significantly off in either direction.

Additionally, if there are 2.0 million trips between West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale, and Miami, it's probable that a going proposition could be made simply on that traffic. Orlando nearly doubles the traffic, and is probably higher revenue traffic, but it also represents a major capital investment sink. Quite frankly, Florida should have looked at investing in this corridor a long time ago.

On page S-7, there's a summary of the construction elements involved. The Orlando extension will build six new bridges (including one for the Vehicle Maintenance Facility) while 25 bridges will be reconstructed on the existing Florida East Coast alignment, including seven between West Palm Beach and Miami.

Riders for AAF are expected to be primarily diverted from automobile modes (69 percent of forecast ridership). The Project would have the beneficial impact of removing 335,628 auto vehicle trips per year from the regional roadway network in 2016 and 1.2 million vehicles in 2019.
The proposed passenger rail service would divert 10 percent of its long‐distance riders from private inter‐city motorbus services, which totals approximately 152,600 annual bus passenger trips per year. The proposed service would divert 10 percent of its riders from the air service market, which totals approximately 152,600 annual aviation passenger trips per year. Two percent of the AAF long‐distance ridership is forecast to come from Amtrak passenger rail services. In 2019, this amounts to approximately 31,000 annual trips diverted from Amtrak which is about 4 percent of Amtrak’s 2012 ridership in South Florida. (Page S-9)

91% of ridership is expected to come via various diversions which leaves 9% for induced demand. That's a fairly low threshold to meet: in a perhaps extreme example, the Paris-Lyon LGV is credited with a 27% increase in total traffic while simultaneously rising to 72% of total mode-share, Table 1. If All Aboard Florida has significantly underestimated actual ridership, I expect induced demand to be where it has done so.

The Project would have long‐term direct economic benefits to local populations through the creation of approximately 1,100 jobs on average per year through 2021 and labor income valued at nearly $294 million through 2021. During construction, the Project would create an estimated 10,400 jobs on average per year and labor income valued at nearly $1.2 billion. Overall, the Project would realize approximately $1.2 billion to Florida’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in estimated annual economic development through 2021 and generate approximately $187 million in annual federal, state and local government tax revenue through 2021.1 Includes both direct, indirect and secondary federal, state and local government tax revenue generated from the Project (Page S-17)

The additional tax revenues that All Aboard Florida is claiming are a good reason for governments to look at investing in new and existing passenger rail corridors. Even if the service itself requires financial support, such as most state supported corridors currently require, that money can be recouped through the tax revenue that economic expansion garners, acting as a form of loss leader. That said, I take every job creation and economic impact report with quite a bit of salt.

Without further improvements to the existing I‐95 corridor, by 2035 100‐percent of the urban segments within the I‐95 corridor will be under “heavy congestion, and 55 percent of the non‐urban segments will see increased congestion” (I‐95 Corridor Coalition 2013).
In 1991, FDOT established a limit of ten lanes (five lanes in either direction) at any location on the Florida Interstate Highway System (FIHS) (FRA 2005). This limit to capacity was further solidified in 2002 and 2003, when FDOT procedures 525‐030‐250‐f and 525‐030‐255‐c set up specific criteria for widening all roads on the FIHS. These procedures were based on 2000 legislation (Section 225.02(3) of the Florida Statutes [FS]), which establishes criteria that must be considered when determining the number of lanes on the FIHS. The criteria include consideration of multi‐modal alternatives and considerations of local comprehensive plans and approved metropolitan long range transportation plans. The procedures (FDOT 2003) note:
“Nothing in Section 335.02 (3) FS precludes a number of lanes in excess of ten lanes. However, before the Department may determine the number of lanes should be more than ten, the availability of [right‐of‐ way] (ROW), and the capacity to accommodate other modes of transportation within the existing ROW must be considered.“ (Page 2-4)

Given the ease with which All Aboard Florida will be able to expand its capacity compared to the expense of widening highways, this should guarantee significant increase in passenger numbers for years to come. The biggest obstacles which All Aboard Florida will face are probably related to its agreement with Tri-Rail requiring high fares and a limited number of stations.

Amtrak currently operates two separate train services in the Project Corridor, the Silver Star and Silver Meteor (both between New York City, New York and Miami, Florida). There are two southbound (SB) trains per day and two northbound (NB) trains per day. The travel time between Orlando and Miami on the two Amtrak services is between 5 hours, 45 minutes and 7 hours, 34 minutes. Annual ridership on these two routes was 23,300 (Louis Berger Group 2013).
There are 244 daily and 88,900 annual passengers who travel between Orlando and Miami via airplane (Louis Berger Group 2013). (Pages 2-5-6)

I am quite confused as to how All Aboard Florida can expect to divert 31,000 passengers from Amtrak and 152,600 from air travel when these totals exceed the current passenger levels. Possibly they're considering, but not including, the passengers from Orlando to the West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale airports, but that wouldn't explain the Amtrak diversion issues. My best guess, assuming that they're not simply absurdly wrong, is that it is including trips currently made on Amtrak to cities not connected by the proposed All Aboard Florida network that will finish by intermodal connection: A bus from Orlando to Tampa for example.

Middle Section of East-West Corridor (SR 417 to SR 520)
This section is approximately 17.5 miles long. East of SR 417, Alternative A would be within the SR 528 ROW. The alignment would be comprised of mostly a single new track, but would require extensive retaining walls and bridges in order to minimize its footprint and accommodate existing and future SR 528 infrastructure. Constructing a new rail line along this corridor would require stormwater features to capture and treat the runoff. Drainage would be comingled with the existing SR 528 drainage ditch. The proposed ROW in this section is an average of 60 feet wide and would impact approximately 127 acres of land. (page 3-31)
This single track section will probably be the single greatest limitation on capacity for All Aboard Florida if it should try to expand frequencies in the future, though the lack of commuter or freight service on this line means that it shouldn't be too crippling.

The new construction and improvements proposed along the FECR Corridor are:
• Improve approximately 128.5 miles of rail line;
• Reconstruct 18 bridges;
• Add approximately 109 miles of new second track;
• Eight miles of new third track;
• Upgrade highway and pedestrian crossings; and
• Upgrade signals and grade crossings. (Page 3-35)
No comment on this, simply bringing it out as a highlight.

AAF will implement a PTC system throughout the Project, including the E‐W Corridor between Orlando and Cocoa, and the N‐S Corridor between Cocoa and Miami. The new PTC system will be interoperable between the AAF and FECR trains. AAF will outfit 55 FECR locomotives as well as its own locomotives to avoid any incompatibility issues. AAF will also expand and supplement FECR’s Digicon Digital Traffic Control systems and add a new Back Office Server to satisfy FRA’s requirements (49 CFR part 236). The system will also use the existing Parallel Infrastructure LLC’s fiber optic system within the FECR Corridor. (Page 3-41)
There is no information however on the specific type of PTC installation.

The Project’s planned service between Orlando and Miami would consist of 16 revenue round‐trips leaving hourly in each direction from 5:00 AM to 9:00 PM, with planned stops at the two intermediate stations in West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale. The last Orlando‐bound revenue train would arrive in Orlando at 12:10 AM and the last Miami‐bound revenue train would arrive in Miami at 11:10 PM.
Total scheduled travel time, including stops, is anticipated to be 3 hours, 10 minutes between the terminal stations. Station to station travel time would be 1 hour, 50 minutes from Orlando to West Palm Beach, and 1 hour, 20 minutes from West Palm Beach to Miami. (Page 3-44)

This is a good length of time for the trains to be operating, enabling both early morning and late night arrivals. While Orlando to West Palm Beach is approximately 30 minutes faster than driving (according to Google Maps at 6pm EDT), it's roughly the same speed as driving for West Palm Beach to Miami with traffic. Faster is always better, but same speed without aggravation should work quite well on its own.

The rolling stock for the Project would consist of ten train sets. Eight train sets would be required to be in concurrent operation along the AAF route to deliver regularly scheduled, hourly‐service frequency. Each train set would be comprised of two locomotives, and seven coach‐type passenger cars (two Business Cars, a Café/Economy Car, four Economy Coach Cars). In addition, AAF would procure one spare locomotive and one spare café car. The two‐locomotive arrangement provides redundant push/pull operation and would assure smooth operations up to the maximum speed of 125 mph even with an expansion of the train set to nine cars, if needed. The fleet and all facilities (stations and maintenance) are designed to accommodate expansion to nine‐car trains. (Page 3-45)

 So with two business cars the number of seats drops to 364 plus a nominal number, probably not more than 20, in the cafe car. I'll honestly be flabbergasted if they don't expand to 9 cars within a fairly short time-frame, though I'll admit that I may simply be biased by growing up with six car bilevel Surfliners as my norm.

To provide easy and safe train boarding and de‐boarding and to minimize the dwell time at stations, passengers would be distributed evenly along the platform. When AAF passengers purchase their tickets, they would select their seat, similar to the experience of airline passengers today. Along with each seat assignment, the tickets would indicate a number that coordinates with large numbering on each coach door location along the platform where the customer should wait to enter the train. These large numbers would be also affixed along the platform edge to assist with wayfinding. Uniform consistency of the AAF train sets would simplify this procedure, and give comfort to passengers that they have confirmed seating, and know exactly where it will be. These train features would support the planned dwell times at intermediate stations of 1 minute. (Page 3-45)

I'm not going to lie, my initial reaction to this was "Thank you Baby Railroading Jesus." There may be some degree of security theater nonsense going on with station design, but this is exactly how the seating and platforms ought to work and it will provide a substantial incentive, in the form of public relations, for Amtrak to fix its asinine boarding policies.

I'll be looking at the Ridership and Revenue Study Summary in a later post due to the length of this one and because I feel it ought to be considered separately.


  1. I'm not going to lie, my initial reaction to this was "Thank you Baby Railroading Jesus."


  2. This scam, All Aboard Florida will ruin the Treasure Coast. What a bunch of scam artists. If you live on the East Coast and near the rail tracks, kiss your investment goodbye for your house. You will never be able to sell it.

    1. You'll never be able to sell a house because a nearby rail line that likely predates it by the better part of a century has 3 trains an hour instead of one? I'm just a tad doubtful of that and I don't believe that's borne out by the experience of other locales that reside near far more active railroad lines.


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