Brightline/Virgin Trains (FEC) Update

Discussion in 'High Speed and Other Non-Amtrak Intercity Rail' started by Anderson, Jun 5, 2012.

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  1. Jun 5, 2012 #1

    Anderson

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    It looks like the FEC got things rolling well ahead of the All Aboard Florida announcement; this blog notes a PR stating that they're expecting to have their go/no-go study done this month (i.e. June). Considering that I've never even heard of a half-decent non-poll study turning around that quickly (Two months? Really?), this tells me that they started the planning on this a while ago...I'm going to guess that they started immediately after the Orlampa project collapsed.*

    Not that I can blame them for holding out this long before going public...but it suggests that they already had an idea what the study was going to say before All Aboard Florida made its announcement.

    Of particular interest is the travel time from Orlando to Miami (3:02). This is just...amazing (though it's probably a shame that they couldn't find :03 to shave off so they could wave around "Less than three hours!" in a PR...but I expect we'll see a move for some sort of upgrade a year or two in that will allow this, giving them either a way to ask for money or some minor service upgrade that they get a free round of press for). This would also seem to hint at a stop-included average speed of around 80 MPH (which, IIRC, isn't too much slower than the Acela WAS-NYP)...and it would also, I believe, suggest that you might well pick up a decent bit of traffic driving from Daytona/Jacksonville Cocoa and picking up the train there.

    Another thing that has me scratching my head a bit: This project is going to cost $1 billion, which I love. But if this can be done for $1 billion and (per my dinner with Daniel Lyons) Orlampa could probably be done for $400 million at 125 MPH for only a 15-minute loss, that gives a total cost of Tampa-Orlando-Miami of $1.4 billion or so. IIRC, the HSR project was supposed to run something like $10 billion for the same general route. What was the TPA-MIA travel time for that project (or, in other words, what were we going to pay $9 billion for)?

    Finally, two hunches here following up on the blog's speculations:

    1) The FEC will probably aim to do the passenger rail project itself entirely on their own (to keep the Feds as far out of it as possible and reduce at least some of the study requirements), and handle the crossing upgrades (which have their own merits, and their elimination has been an FRA safety priority for some time) as a nominally separate project that shouldn't require lots of environmental work.

    2) I can't help but wonder if they're not hauling ASCII on the project to try and get something in if CA melts down. A ready-to-go project with an aimed completion date of 2014 or thereabouts would almost be tailor-made for that money, even if it just went to grade crossing "fixes"...though I don't know if they'd even be eligible to apply for the money.

    *Either that or this study ought to be a scathing indictment of government feasibility studies taking as long as they do.

    Blogpost link: http://reasonrail.bl...mi-orlando.html

    Edit: This guy also did a back-of-the-envelope analysis of the ridership that's expected to be needed to make the operation work. The conclusion? About 3 million riders per year, which is about what AAF expects to attract from what I can tell.

    Finally, for the kicker of the day: Apparently, the Miami Tea Party folks have backed the plan. Granted, if it works out with mostly private money (public funds only covering some odd-and-end compliance stuff)...well, Atlas Shrugged centered around a railroad.
     
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  2. Jun 5, 2012 #2

    afigg

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    Their study may be far simpler than a government feasibility study which has to include alternatives, wide ranging enviromental impact analysis. The study may be just a basic business model study with minimal engineering design and input. It also should be using previous state funded studies as references.

    The HSR project was going to be a new ROW from Tampa to Orlando and then to Miami, IIRC. New stations, straighter route than the CSX and TriRail tracks, which were likely the comparisons. FEC is, of course, planning to use their own tracks and the entire project to leverage their real estate holdings.

    The $1 billion price tag is likely to have a lot of assumptions built into it: not having to pay outright for the 40 miles of ROW to Orlando, low interest state backed loans, speedy approval for construction permits from the state. Where will the new FEC ROW go to in Orlando? There are many, many questions about their proposal and plans, that some degree of skepticism on the final cost and their ability to start operations in 2014 from Miami to Orlando is warranted. The 2014 start date could just be pure PR BS to get public support which they know is not a realistic date, but they can blame state bureaucrats and NIMBY lawsuits when they don't start service by end of 2014.

    Only the state of FL would be eligible for the HSIPR funding. I can't see LaHood, the US DOT and FRA wanting to deal with Gov. Scott at all this year. *Government feasibility studies, which are mainly done by private contractors, do take too long, but the requirements have expanded over the decades that they have to look at everything, including the kitchen sink.
     
  3. Jun 5, 2012 #3

    Anderson

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    Ok, point taken on a narrower scoping, and the timeframe seems to be closer to three months. Still, I highly doubt that FECI jumped without doing some advance work.

    As to those assumptions, my gut says that Rick Scott is going to cut through red tape like a hot knife through butter on this one. Not because he's pro-rail...but because he caught a rather sharp (and rather bipartisan) backlash on canceling the Orlampa train; as I recall, he actually had to fight some members of his party in court to make the cancelation stick. Furthermore, I suspect that the FEC has a decent bit of heft within the state. If nothing else, he's going to have a lot of pressure on him from the stance of "Ok, Rick, we dealt with your concerns, now get out of the way."

    I concur on the HSIPR funding point (it was worth asking; this project is a sort of dog-caught-the-car proposal: "Ok, a private railroad wants to invest in intercity passenger rail. ...wait, WHO wants to invest in that?")...and I don't see /anyone/ wanting to deal with Rick Scott. However, the other pot of cash out there (RRIF)...FECI's eligible to apply for that, right? 'course, it's also entirely possible that (as noted) the government may simply be asked to kick in to help with closing a bunch of grade crossings (which may require bridges, tunnels, etc.), which would probably allow them to completely avoid federal involvement.
     
  4. Jun 5, 2012 #4

    AlanB

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    Not only was he dragged into court, but the State Senate tried to go behind his back to get things done anyhow despite him, even meeting with Sec. Trans. Ray LaHood trying to figure out how to circumvent him.

    When all of the above failed, 16 Republican State Senators joined with 10 Democratic ones to form a veto proof majority in rebuking Governor Scott for his foolish decision.
     
  5. Jun 5, 2012 #5

    Anderson

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    I'd recalled that there was a veto-proof majority for something there, but I'd forgotten exactly how the intrigue went. I remember that the whole thing was very much a back-and-forth affair, and that for a while it looked like the project might get rammed down his throat (which would have been all sorts of amusing).

    With that sort of a backlash (that would be a majority of the GOP caucus voting to rebuke him), the apparent tea party support for this plan, and Scott's dismal approval rating (I've seen all of one poll putting him over 40%), it probably wouldn't be smart for him to get in the way. I also went and checked...FEC (the railway) donated close to $400,000 in 2010 to both parties, and FECI (the holding company) has been a substantial GOP donor...and, wait for it, the FEC Railroad put $25,000 towards the "Derail the Bullet Train PAC". Funny how they've jumped in here after ensuring that the potential rival for business isn't there anymore.

    'course, there is room for the "actual" NIMBY objections to come up, and those can always stall a project, but even there...considering that the project is already on a railroad RoW on the FEC main line and that most of the rest of it runs down the middle of an expressway RoW, I don't see where there's going to be much of a basis for those. Actually, as funny as it sounds, the biggest fight might well come if Scott tries to cut too much red tape and the project trips up because a requirement of some sort goes unfulfilled.
     
  6. Jun 22, 2012 #6

    Anderson

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    And Mica has jumped on board with this project. Granted, it runs through his district and there's an obvious mass of popular support for rail in Florida, but I think Mica is indicative of what I suspected earlier: To the extent that any groups in the GOP opposed the original Florida HSR project, this one is really hard to justify not giving every advantage, either ideologically (let's face it, this is the sort of thing that the GOP is supposed to eat up) or pragmatically (see above).
     
  7. Jun 22, 2012 #7

    mfastx

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    Mica supports because Obama didn't propose it. :p
     
  8. Jun 22, 2012 #8

    The Davy Crockett

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    I got an update from the AAFT that sure seems to indicate where they would like Orlando station to be:

     
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  9. Jun 22, 2012 #9

    Texan Eagle

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    I see American Airlines has nine daily non-stop flights Orlando to Miami.

    7:35 am - 8:35 am American

    9:00 am - 10:05 am American

    10:25 am - 11:30 am American

    12:10 pm - 1:15 pm American

    2:10 pm - 3:25 pm American

    3:30 pm - 4:45 pm American

    4:30 pm - 5:45 pm American

    6:30 pm - 7:40 pm American

    8:40 pm - 9:40 pm American

    I am not sure how much of the traffic carried by these flights is O&D vs transfers from elsewhere, but it would be interesting to see American's reaction to a Orlando-Miami train starting from the airport itself! Will they oppose the rail? Cut back the flights? Code-share with AAFT?
     
  10. Jun 23, 2012 #10

    jis

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    For AA those are MIA hub to MCO spoke service so it is quite likely that the preponderance of passengers on those are connecting at MIA and are not O/D.
     
  11. Jun 23, 2012 #11

    Anderson

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    This. ORL-MIA is very likely a loss leader feeder route for the most part...it's such a short hop, after all (what is it, 200 miles as the crow flies?), and I suspect that the airlines would prefer to have those slots at MIA and MCO go to either longer-distance flights (say, from New York, Chicago, or even Atlanta) or international flights. It might be saved by higher load factors from tourist/business travel, but I don't see it being one of the "big winner" routes (particularly since the route is at least somewhat drivable).

    Just wondering, but are there any flights from Orlando to the Palm Beach/Fort Lauderdale area?
     
  12. Jun 23, 2012 #12

    Texan Eagle

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    Yes. Spirit has 2 daily non-stop MCO-FLL flights

    9:47 pm - 10:45 pm Spirit from MCO

    8:50 am - 9:54 am Spirit from MCO

    There is nothing to Palm Beach. A random search threw up impractical options-

    US Airways Orlando to Palm Beach via... Philadelphia [​IMG]

    JetBlue Orlando to Palm Beach via... San Juan, Puerto Rico [​IMG]
     
  13. Jun 23, 2012 #13

    Anderson

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    That reminds me of some of the options I got when looking up some relatively short flights...I think there was an option listed at one point to go from Dulles to one of the New York area airports (or to Boston from Richmond, I really can't recall) involving a connection in Toronto and costing $1200 on Air Canada.
     
  14. Jun 23, 2012 #14

    PRR 60

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    Southwest has four non-stops a day each way between Orlando and Fort Lauderdale: $87 for advance purchase.
     
  15. Jun 23, 2012 #15

    jis

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    They are competing against the Ronald Reagan Turnpike and about 3 hours driving time, not very pleasant driving I might add specially at the south end. [​IMG] It would be amazing if any airline seriously flew a stopping flight between Orlando and Ft. Lauderdale. An old Dakota anyone? [​IMG]
     
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  16. Jun 23, 2012 #16

    Texan Eagle

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    Google Maps says 3 hr 45 min driving time from MCO airport to Miami. I did this drive last summer and it was quite ordinary. I started on Florida Turnpike and there was no traffic, no turns, no scenery.. swamps and trees for miles together, sitting with cruise control put on 65 miles, I got so bored and sleepy that I had to bail out and get on to I-95 midway to get some traffic that would keep me awake :D

    I understand the AA flights feed into MIA hub, but what about Spirit and Southwest? If a passenger train starts right from MCO airport to Miami, will they cut down the MCO-FLL flights? Any chance of them code-sharing on trains like it is common in Europe, like, you book JFK-FLL ticket on Southwest Airlines and it includes Flight 9W-XX JFK-MCO and then "train" 9W-YY MCO-FLL?
     
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  17. Jun 23, 2012 #17

    jis

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    MCO to FLL would be at least half hour less.

    Said train will surely make a brief stop at Fort Lauderdale since it is on the way. At least if the Japanese pattern of HSR operation is followed there'd be some trains that would call there.

    Why would Southwest use Jet Airways code 9W? Southwest would be WN-XX and WN-YY. It could happen, but then again it may not. Some airline like UA would possibly be more likely to do something like that than WN. AFAICT, and correct me if I am wrong, WN in general does not code share.
     
  18. Jun 23, 2012 #18

    Texan Eagle

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    Sorry, I meant WN. I was typing something in another forum and jumbled up the codes :)

    Yes, I don't know any routes where WN code-shares with any airline, I was just wondering the impact an intercity train starting from a station that is right at the airport will have on short flights between the same cities.
     
  19. Jun 23, 2012 #19

    jis

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    Usually the problem is with checked baggage. If the train service does not have checked baggage integrated with the airline's checked baggage service it creates a breach in seamless service. But still it can be made to work in many cases.
     
  20. Jun 26, 2012 #20

    CHamilton

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    Orlando airport eyes FEC rail link

    Friday, June 22, 2012

     
  21. Jun 29, 2012 #21

    afigg

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    FECI planning Grand destination on downtown Miami land

    More info on what the FEC is planning. Ok, so the FEC is looking to build a downtown Miami station on land that it owns. I would expect they plan have a lot of retail space in the station.

    What I don't follow is that the article indicates that FECI may be looking at or considering building stations in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. Why wouldn't FECI use or stop at the existing Tri-Rail stations in Ft. Lauderdale and WPB? If the Tri-Rail station facilities are not nice enough, still got to be cheaper to upgrade the existing stations than build new ones. Also, I would think the FEC service would want to have direct connections to Tri-Rail, so passengers can take Tri-Rail to the nearest FEC Miami-Orlando service station for trips to Orlando or downtown Miami.
     
  22. Jun 29, 2012 #22

    jis

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    I suspect that FECI plans to run its service on FEC. The Tri-Rail Stations are not on FEC. There is also a plan to start a second Tri-Rail route along FEC, and of course to connect the two around West Palm Beach allowing Amtrak and Tri-Rail trains to transfer back and forth between FEC and Tri-Rail.
     
  23. Jun 29, 2012 #23

    afigg

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    Ah, my bad. I was forgetting where the FEC and Tri-Rail ex-CSX routes would sort of meet up and where an FEC Orlando extension would cross over. Two separate stations in Fort Lauderdale could be confusing at the start. I'll have to look at the WPB map to see how Tri-Rail might provide connections to an FEC Miami-Orlando service.

    Miami would have the Tri-Rail & Amtrak station at the Miami Intermodal Center at the airport and a FEC station in downtown Miami which should be easy for most people to keep straight which is which. (I'm envisioning someone jumping into a cab and asking to be taken to the train station and getting taken to the wrong one.)

    Looking at Google Earth, the FECI site in downtown Miami looks to be very close to the Miami metrorail station which is pretty damn convenient. Two intercity train stations with different services at different stops on the Miami Metrorail system - one at the airport, the other in downtown? Would provide a significant upgrade in the usefulness of the Miami Metrorail system I would think.

    There is a lot more to find out about the details of the FEC plans for their service, but it will be interesting to see how this all plays out.

    Edit: FEC and Tri-Rail route fixes.
     
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  24. Jun 30, 2012 #24

    Anderson

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    Welcome back to the 50s, folks.

    As to the stations, my guess is that the Fort Lauderdale (which has a streetcar project in process at the moment; I'm going to be shocked if FECI isn't working with them to integrate The Wave with their services in some way, but The Wave's planning seems to extend to an implied station with both FEC service and SunPort service by the airport) and Palm Beach projects will be more limited versions of the Miami project...but I don't see FEC not trying to make the stations into something of a centerpiece for a modest development project. Likewise, going off the FEC tracks just screams "mishandle my trains!"

    Also, this interests me a lot:

    "Cumber said the company hopes to start construction on the project in early 2013, with the line open for service the following year. He hoped to make a decision on the cars within the next 60 days and the company would make an announcement about the company that would help plan the project very soon."

    I haven't seen the go/no-go report yet, but from the sounds of that the company has already made up their mind and is just trying to grab a supplier. The 2014 timeline still seems ambitious, but...well, it might just happen. I'd like to see that succeed if for no other reason than to slap the EIS process hard upside the head.

    One other amusing thing: Amtrak service will go from Orlando (downtown) to Miami (airport). The FEC will be running from Miami (downtown) to Orlando (airport).
     
  25. Jul 3, 2012 #25

    jphjaxfl

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    There is enough population along Tri Rail and the FEC to support frequent service on both lines. I think the North Miami FEC station may still exist. It was the Miami terminal for the last FEC train that operated from the Jacksonville yard in 1968. That station is also in one of the I Love Lucy shows where Lucy & Ethel hitchhike from NY to Fl.
     

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