Rusty Roberts, spokesperson for All Aboard Florida, spoke at our last meeting on May 7th. A tough job for him as opposition to AAF grows almost daily with cities and counties along the route gearing up to fight this intrusion of 32 high speed trains rocketing through the Treasure Coast. St Lucie County the most recent to join the fight by pledging up to a half million dollars for legal fees. Bringing the total for the Treasure Coast legal fund over $4 million.
Roberts gave a shortened version of his canned presentation. At times Roberts seemed to grasp at straws. Even to go as far as to almost promise a station for St Lucie County. Although many months ago AAF management said that the Treasure Coast was not on the planning board for any stations in the foreseeable future. That means there would be zero benefit to the residents of St. Lucie, Martin or Indian River counties. But there would be costs, maintaining the grade crossings, and quiet zones. Roberts said that AAF would foot part of the costs. Part is not all. The remaining costs must come from somewhere, and that would be the cities and counties along the route.
The most interesting tidbit of the evening was when Roberts volunteered that AAF signed a non-compete agreement with Tri-Rail. “Why would you try to compete against another railroad which during its year of peak ridership still lost $85 million?”, asked a 912 Tea Party member. The question referred to Tri-Rail which serves West Palm to Miami. Roberts replied, “We’re not competing with Tri-Rail.” Saying that AAF would target a different market of riders. Roberts even went as far to mention the non-compete agreement.
We believe that such an agreement would open AAF to endless lawsuits. AAF will have stations in Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm. Tri-Rail, although more of a local rail system, also has stations in Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm. How can anyone from AAF say they are not competing with Tri-Rail. The moment a rider who got on in Miami gets off in Ft Lauderdale or West Palm, Tri-Rail would have standing to bring AAF to court.
Roberts would not give information on projected ridership, ticket prices or projected revenue. Roberts was reminded that a family of 4 would pay over $1000 if they rode Amtrak’s Accela (high speed train) from NYC to Washington DC, approximately the same distance from Miami to Orlando. Roberts only replied that, “We’ll operate more efficiently than Amtrak.”
We believe that is setting the bar very low. We also do not believe there is any combination of ticket price vs. ridership capacity numbers for 32 trains of 6 passenger cars to pay operating costs and pay off the $1.5Billion that AAF is looking to borrow.
AAF says that they will be 100% privately financed, so the public won’t have to worry if AAF fails to meet their obligations. Unless AAF looks to the DOT and a RRIF loan to redeem $1.5B private bonds early. This would only make sense to do since the RIFF loan would be at a significantly lower interest rate. If they get awarded a RRIF loan and then fail then the taxpayer would be on the hook. After which there would be a strong possibility that AAF would be operated as a government entity. Again the taxpayers covering what could be massive losses. That’s how Amtrak got started.
We were happy to see that Your Voice, St Lucie West’s local paper was at the meeting and gave the 912 Tea Party meeting a place on the front page.