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Federal Study Show All Aboard Florida’s Benefits

Palm Beach Post / September 30, 2014 / www.bdb.org

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For months, opponents of All Aboard Florida had been hoping to gain political ammunition from a long-awaited federal study of the project’s potential impacts. Perhaps, they thought, the review of the Miami-to-Orlando passenger train service would reveal unacceptable effects on the environment. Or large traffic jams at South Florida and Treasure Coast railroad crossings. Or harmful amounts of extra noise to neighborhoods along the tracks.

But when a draft of the report was released Friday, there were no such findings. The 522-page study of All Aboard Florida’s environmental impact not only projected nearly none of the devastating effects that critics have claimed, it highlighted a series of benefits from the service to a region with too few alternatives to the automobile.

According to federal officials, who are reviewing the project because the company wants a $1.6 billion federal loan, All Aboard Florida would:
•Reduce traffic. By offering an alternative to long drives, the passenger rail is projected to eliminate more than 1 million trips on Florida’s highways a year. This will be particularly important as the region continues to grow, putting added stress on Interstate 95. Within two decades, all of I-95’s South Florida segments are projected to be under “heavy congestion.”

•Improve air quality. The report found that with All Aboard in operation, “air quality in the region would be improved through the reduction of vehicles from the roads and highways.” This includes lowering the amount of carbon monoxide in the air by more than 1,600 tons over 15 years.
•Reduce noise along the tracks. Because improvements would be made to railway crossings along the corridor, All Aboard trains would not need to blow their horns. Neither would the freight trains that move along the tracks now. Pole-mounted horns in some places would be a far quieter alternative, and quiet zones at other crossings would eliminate the need for horns entirely.

•Create only minor backups at railway crossings. With 32 new trains a day moving along the tracks, critics have worried about massive traffic backups. In reality, the impact of these short, quick-moving trains would be minor. All Aboard trains would close crossing for less than two minutes at a time, the study found. The added impact would mean added closures of, on average, just two minutes an hour.

•Disrupt some boat traffic, but not as dramatically as often claimed. Because the FEC tracks cross three waterways on retractable bridges, more trains inevitably mean more time that the bridges will be down, blocking boats from passing for several minutes. In northern Palm Beach County and along the Treasure Coast, this has become one of the primary points of opposition. But federal officials say the company plans to alert boaters to closure schedules so they can plan accordingly, and also has committed to coordinating schedules of northbound and southbound trains so that, as often as possible, they cross the bridges at the same time. Upgrades to the bridges will make closure times shorter.

No one can deny that more trains means more impacts on people living and working along the tracks. But in most cases, the changes amount to inconveniences. Meanwhile, South Florida is not going to stop growing anytime soon. As getting around in cars gets harder, a functioning passenger rail will be an increasingly valuable asset to the region.

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