Opinion: All Aboard Florida trying to keep Brightline’s future from dimming

Mike Reininger, Executive Director of Florida East Coast Industries (left) and Dennis Grady, President and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce of the Palm Beaches (right) speak with the Post Editorial Board this morning. (Joseph Forzano / The Palm Beach Post)

UPDATE, March 28, 11:40 a.m. — This morning, the state House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee pulled HB 269 from its meeting agenda. The committee gave no explanation for the last-minute decision to not discuss the House companion to state Sen. Debbie Mayfield’s Senate bill proposing new regulations on high-speed passenger rail in the state of Florida.

Here’s a statement released from All Aboard Florida:

“The fact that the bill was pulled from the committee agenda today means the overwhelming input from groups such as the Florida Chamber and Florida TaxWatch, elected officials from key cities and newspaper editorial boards is making an impact.  We have been saying this bill is not about safety but an attack against private property rights and is targeting our company.  Legislators are comprehending these facts, and we are appreciative.” – Rusty Roberts, Vice President of Government Affairs for Brightline

RELATED: House committee postpones vote on high-speed rail bill

And here’s excerpts from the response released Citizens Against Rail Expansion in Florida (CARE FL) to this morning’s developments:

“I want to once again thank Representatives MaryLynn Magar and Erin Grall for filing legislation this session to protect citizens from subsidizing high speed rail projects that pose risks to public safety.  We are disappointed that the subcommittee did not debate the bill today, but we respect the legislative process, and look forward to more dialogue about this important legislation in due course.

“All Aboard Florida (AAF) is taking a victory lap today in its public statements, but its latest actions are nothing more than a special interest group flexing its political muscle in a desperate attempt to protect its profits which are reliant on taxpayer subsidies. 

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All Aboard Florida is up against it these days.

Right… So what else is new? The proposed high-speed passenger rail line that’s expected to have 32 trains running between Miami and West Palm Beach daily later this year has been fighting opponents since it was first announced four years ago.

And it’s mostly those folks north of West Palm Beach — in Martin, St. Lucie and Indian River counties — that have declared war on the proposed Brightline service. They have mounted a well-funded group to fight it — Citizens Against Rail Expansion in Florida (C.A.R.E.), based in the Treasure Coast.

But AAF officials met with the Post Editorial Board today because of a new, and potentially bigger threat — a bill proposed recently by Sen. Debbie Mayfield, a Vero Beach Republican.

A bill that, if passed, could halt the much-ballyhooed Brightline in its tracks.

Listen to audio of the meeting here:

The proposal (SB 386) would place regulations on passenger rail service. It was passed out of the Senate Transportation Committee — and sent All Aboard Florida into a tizzy, warning that the bill’s ostensible concern for safety could actually derail plans to link Orlando and Miami.

“The goal here is to mask this whole proposal in safety,” Mike Reininger, Florida East Coast Industries executive director, told the board. “Right?… Who doesn’t like puppies and bunnies?

“But that’s not what this bill is,” he added. “This is bill is simply another attempt to stop All Aboard Florida, specifically, and kill further passenger rail expansion, generally.”

Reininger, joined by Brightline general counsel Myles L. Tobin and Chamber of Commerce of the Palm Beaches President Dennis Grady, added that passing the bill would certainly result in years of legal and administrative challenges. Not to mention having an impact on FEC’s schedule to begin offering service north of West Palm Beach.

(By the way, Reininger let it be known that All Aboard plans to propose opening a train station north of West Palm Beach “everywhere we believe is financial viable”.)

But Mayfield, at the March 14 Senate hearing, contended the proposal doesn’t target any particular rail service.

“This is about setting a framework so other high-speed rail companies that come in, we have that framework set into place,” said Mayfield of the measure, which would give the Florida Department of Transportation oversight where not preempted by federal law.

The measure also would require private passenger rail to cover the costs of installing and maintaining safety technology at crossings unless such contracts are agreed to by local governments.

“It’s not fair, and it’s certainly not legal,” Reininger said today. “We’ve already exceeded federal regulatory requirements in terms of upgrades to our tracks and crossings. So why do we need another law?”

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