The Goodman DUI/homicide trial has temporarily knocked the campaign to stop All Aboard Florida off the front pages, but it will be back as soon as the judge declares a mistrial because of juror misconduct and postpones the matter for a few more years, by which time the defendant should be eligible for social security to help defray his considerable legal costs.
Meanwhile, while the debate rages over whether the Florida East Coast Railway should be allowed to be a railroad, the FEC doesn’t seem terribly worried about the outcome. Although it is making a big PR effort to meet with those who oppose its plan for high-speed rail between Miami and Orlando, assuring them that all the commotion associated with 32 new trains on its tracks will cause no commotion, it is going ahead as if it isn’t concerned about all the commotion.
It has announced plans to begin construction of a very big time complex, called Miami Central (pictured above), which will be the station for All Aboard Florida and Tri-Rail. The latter is anticipated to move some trains to the FEC tracks. Miami Central will be a lot more than a train station. The four-block complex on the site of the rail yard the FEC has owned forever will include a hotel, apartments, office buildings and retail, plus a huge parking lot to accommodate all this activity. It is more like the underground stations in New York, where Madison Square Garden sits over Penn Station, or Philadelphia, where blocks of offices are above the busy downtown commuter stations.
If anyone hasn’t already guessed, this shows that All Aboard Florida is at least as much a real estate play as it is a transportation initiative. The ambitious Miami plan, a boon to that city – turning a depressed area into a financial asset – will face no opposition. Combined with announced plans for new stations in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, the economic benefits to the FEC and surrounding communities are substantial. But the FEC needs the train to make it all work.
When Tri-Rail begins using the same tracks for commuter service, similar benefits could come to other locations in Palm Beach County. Not too many people up there seem to grasp this. We have noted before that All Aboard Florida initially will only serve West Palm Beach to Miami, but that could be a fall back plan if the Orlando route does not materialize. With a few more stations at key locations, the FEC would have a fast intercity service that by itself would justify the real estate investment.
One way or the other, All Aboard Florida is going to happen, and in the long run – perhaps a very long run – give all of South Florida more than just a modern rail service. Given the way traffic is going, it is more than an asset. It’s a blessing.