19.5.18

THE DAWNING OF RAILROAD AWARENESS.

We first noted Florida East Coast's plans to build a passenger railroad six years ago.  Focus, dear reader, on this.  "Much of the existing traffic on Florida East Coast is intermodal, and container trains cruising at 90 play well with passenger trains at 110 or 125."  Later that year, I offered further analysis.
It's intriguing that the operator wants to be freed of Congressional meddling with Amtrak, which is the cynic's interpretation of "exempt from federal oversight." The stipulation that the new trackage will be Passenger Service Only likely calms fears at the CSX Railroad of freight competition. The absence of joint ticketing, or any mention of connectivity, troubles me. The value of a Passenger Rail network is in being able to make connections. Admittedly, Amtrak's Florida service is a pale shadow of what Seaboard Coast Line operated almost up to 30 April 1971, and the Miami to Orlando service has more promise as a boat train connecting cruise ship passengers to the theme parks and Grapefruit League stadia.
That service is now up and running as Brightline.  As of yet, there are no plans to run tracks into Port Everglades Quay (that place is big enough that you'd probably have to install moving sidewalks to provide connections, particularly to the voyages catering to older folks.)

Today, Brightline began revenue operations into Miami, and the local media are intrigued by this for-profit rail service that, because it is not run by a transit authority, can offer amenities, such as a terminus that has all the features of a proper terminus.
Once completed, the mixed-use development will include large swaths of retail space — including a food hall and a grocery store — two office buildings and 800-plus residential units. One office building, Three MiamiCentral, was completed in February, while a second one — Two MiamiCentral — will have tenants moving in this summer. Brightline passengers can park their cars at a newly built garage nearby.

By 2019, Brightline will share a 50-foot platform with Tri-Rail at MiamiCentral. Further into the future — a MiamiCentral spokeswoman couldn't say when — crews will build a sky bridge directly into the Miami-Dade Government Center Metrorail and Metromover stations.
Perhaps the idea is that Brightline passengers will park in West Palm or Fort Lauderdale or ultimately Orlando and ride to Miami, or perhaps Florida East Coast, well, technically, Fortress Investments, anticipate balanced loadings with Miamians reverse-commuting to the north.  But they're still learning about Passenger Rail in Florida, and there will be a learning curve.

At the same time, this Miami station summons the echoes of Grand Central Terminal or Union Station in Chicago.
One of the stars of Miami Central will be Central Fare, the 50,000-square-foot food hall slated to debut in the fall, which will feature restaurants 800 Degrees Woodfired Kitchen, Kuenko, Rosetta Bakery and others. Anchoring the food marketplace will be Monger, a 10,000-square-foot restaurant to be opened by celebrity chefs and brothers Bryan and Michael Voltaggio, known for their stints on "Top Chef."

Elsewhere in the multi-use property, Einstein's Bros. Bagels will open up a downtown location this summer, Parliament cafe and Joe & The Juice will come in spring and Starbucks will welcome customers in early 2019.

Brightline, whose trains can reach speeds of 79 mph, advertises roughly 30-minute trips from Miami to Fort Lauderdale, and hour-long rides from Miami to West Palm Beach. Service will expand to Orlando in the future, although construction has already begun.
Some of the right of way toward Orlando, as well as an expressway median in the Tampa direction, once figured in an Obama-era stimulus project that a subsequent Florida political establishment stopped.  The political economy of private passenger trains will no doubt occupy us in the future.

For now, let's enjoy the play value. Your political masters do.
The ribbon-cutting ceremony [at Miami Central] was attended by members of the U.S. House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure Committee including Chairman Bill Shuster, Congresswoman Grace Napolitano, and Congresswoman Frederica Wilson.

Other political players in attendance included Congressman Carlos Curbelo, Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and Lieutenant Governor Carlos López-Cantera along with Christina Crespi, acting executive director, Miami DDA; Nitin Motwani, managing principal of Miami Worldcenter, and Bob Swindell, CEO of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance.
Miami Central is most likely the finest terminus in the city's experience.  Florida East Coast's station in the era of Champions and Dixie Flaglers was a modest frame building in the shadow of the county courthouse.

There surely has been the buzz around the opening of the Miami service, occurring, as it has, the day the House of Windsor cements its alliance with the House of Weinstein, and ladies' hat fanciers could also gather for a horse race in Maryland.  "As of Thursday morning, tickets were still available on the 7 a.m. weekend trains departing West Palm Beach for the Miami station. There were also seats on the 9 p.m. Saturday train and on the 7 p.m. Sunday train, both traveling from West Palm to Miami."  We'll see what happens when the novelty wears off: those fixed formations of three coaches and a club car making eight round trips a day are not eleven-car Naperville Zephyrs on twenty minute headways.  That's okay.  "The Cold Spring Shops position, however, is that incremental improvements -- where incremental can mean getting rid of those post-war Interstate Commerce Commission regulations that ended 110 mph running on block-signalled railroads with jointed rail -- will build ridership in such a way that subsequent upgrades to bullet trains make more sense."

Generalizations are beyond the "left to the reader as an exercise" stage.
The Brightline will connect Miami with service that already links Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. It hopes to attract traditionally train-resistant South Florida commuters by reducing travel time between Miami and Fort Lauderdale to about 30 minutes, and also offering lounges, food service and free Wi-Fi. A one-way ticket initially will cost $10 compared with a trip on Uber that can cost $40 or more.

Fortress Investment Group, which owns the Brightline, hopes it can be a model for other cities on routes too far to drive but too short to fly. This is “the same trip that I’ll take hopefully with the mayors from Dallas and Houston and Atlanta and Charlotte and St. Louis and all the other places we want to be,” said Wes Edens, Fortress’s co-founder and co-chief executive officer.
Passenger Rail advocates in Indiana are taking notice.  With most of the Indiana corridors having one end in Chicago, and the freight railroad tangle in Chicago being what it is, improving the Indianapolis service or restoring a direct train to Columbus might take more work and more money than restoring the second track on Florida East Coast to Cocoa or Jacksonville.  But there's nothing like a successful project, particularly in the face of evidence that adding more lanes to an interstate or putting in fancier traffic lights or rotaries doesn't really provide motoring convenience.

Now if the good folks at National Review might discover that Brightline is a private venture.  "Mounting problems may end high-speed-rail projects in California and Texas."  The California project illustrates the hazards of throwing good money after bad.
California’s transportation planners, who never encountered a boondoggle they couldn’t embrace, pressed on despite mounting costs and construction delays. In 2015, desperate to beat a deadline that would have meant the end of federal funding, they began construction on a 119-mile segment of track in the state’s sparsely settled Central Valley. Fewer than 3 percent of the train’s potential riders live along that portion of the route, but backers believed that if they built the Central Valley segment, the sunken costs would convince state legislators to find money for the remaining segments.
Unfortunately, as we have noted before, that's a good way to celebrate the centennial of the abandonment of the Chicago - New York Electric Air Line.

They continue, praying that sanity (or the Gods of the Motor Age) will prevail in Texas.
Let’s hope that California’s sad experience informs residents of another mega state before they run off the rails building their own high-speed railway.  Private investors in Texas have created a Texas Central Railway (TCR) project that they promise will deliver a $10 billion bullet train. They pledge that the train will speed passengers along the 240-mile corridor between Houston and Dallas in under 90 minutes.  The project would use the same equipment made famous by Japan’s Shinkansen bullet-train line. The train’s boosters claim that it will have the economic impact  equivalent to “hosting 180 Super Bowls.”

Learning from California’s cost overruns, Texas’s Train Trippers have vowed not to use any federal, state, or local tax money for construction. If they can’t strike deals with property owners along the route, they will ask for eminent-domain powers to seize the land. It’s a virtual certainty they would need those powers, since nine of the eleven counties the train would run through have gone on record opposing it.
The Brightline project raises the possibility of doing faster Passenger Rail by increments.  What happens to the traditional political divisions when a consortium of trucking companies, a power company, and a railroad propose to build, using investor funds, a truck-only highway with a two track railroad good for 125 mph operation in the median?  Heck, let's build that railroad in such a way that it can handle stack trains after the passengers are all at home.

And let's put to rest the canard author John Fund repeats, about the United States not being thickly settled enough for fast, frequent passenger trains.
I have traveled on high-speed trains in China, Germany, France, and Sweden. In densely populated countries with crowded air corridors, they are a pleasant, safe, and justifiable way to travel. But we should recognize that a continental nation like the U.S. isn’t as suited for them and that our environmental laws make construction very difficult and time-consuming.

We would be far better off to follow the example of most industrialized countries by transferring our nation’s air-traffic-control system to a public-private partnership that could more quickly introduce new technology and reduce airport delays. A bill to do just that was endorsed last year by both airlines and the union of air-traffic-control operators, but it got bogged down in Congress. Let’s work on improving what we know makes sense — reliable inter-city air transportation — before chasing the costly delusion of high-speed rail.
The United States has crowded, unpleasant air corridors (maybe Mr Fund has enough miles in to travel first class?) and the best air traffic control in the world is no help when the snow flies or the nymphocumulus clouds sound off.  Is it the environmental laws, or is it process-worship in Washington or trespassers who see a faster passenger train as a hazard to their distracted wandering, that slow construction?  Note, also, that you can put in new traffic control systems and more runways, such as at Chicago's O'Hare, and yet, the neighbors will object to that work.

Finally, that "continental nation isn't as suited."  That's not the same thing as not suited.  Was it really nine years ago I wrote this?  "Rivet-counting department: some parts of France are more thickly settled than Florida, but the most thickly-settled parts of Florida offer nice flat stretches of raceway for Champions and Orange Blossom Specials."

Well, here we are.  Back in the day, the Champions were on Florida East Coast, now home to the various Bright Color fleet trains.  The Orange Blossom Special -- yes, bluegrass musicians, there's a prototype for everything -- was on Seaboard metals, currently home to Amtrak and the Tri Rail service south of West Palm, running a mile or two to the west.

Score one for Cold Spring Shops.  Now, about doing something similar with the Alton Route, or the Hiawatha line, which runs right through Wisconn Valley.

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