In his May 23 column, Taken for a ride on the Boondoggle Express, about All Aboard Florida, Carl Hiaasen says the, “U.S. DOT gave AAF the green light to sell $1.75 billion in tax-exempt bonds...which is basically a federal loan.”
The federal government has zero financial liability. It is not supplying the funds, nor is it liable if the funds aren’t repaid. Not a single government entity has any financial responsibility in relation to these bonds.
Next he repeats the tired line: “All passenger trains in this country operate deep in the red.” But Amtrak’s northeast corridor regularly profits on its operations.
Then, “AAF has exactly zero chance of making money running passenger trains.” It’s correct that passenger rail is hard to be profitable, but that’s why AAF is also creating synergistic businesses.
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The trains deliver people, and by allowing passengers the ability to shop, work and live nearby, the passengers support the real estate. The rail helps the real estate, and the real estate helps the rail. Together the two pieces are more successful than either one would be on its own.
It’s misleading for Hiaasen to say that expansion of the Orlando Airport is a “gift” to AAF. Every airport in the country was paid for with public money. AAF will be a tenant at the airport, just the same as every airline.
It will pay market rent for its space and pay for every passenger delivered, just as the airlines do. Why is this acceptable for an airline, yet reprehensible for a railroad?
Hiaasen also says, “The train trip is supposed to take about three hours — which is two hours and 18 minutes longer than a...flight.” But most of us have to drive to the airport, park, check in, navigate security, wait to board, squeeze into the sardine can, push back, taxi, fly, land, taxi again, wait for the gate, deboard, walk a mile, and wait for luggage.
He says: “Nowhere in the study summary does it reveal how much it will cost to ride the train.” As with airlines, ticket price will be competitive and determined by market conditions at the time.
As for his assertion that emergency-vehicle access will be impeded, since AAF is only talking about 16 round trips per day, can you imagine the impassable gridlock of 60 trains per day? We’d all be dead.
Except, every weekday, right now, the SFRTA/TriRail tracks carry that amount, and these tracks run through the densest population of Florida. But we don’t hear about people dying.
Jim Kovalsky, president, Florida East Coast Railway Society, Lantana