A train by another name still stinks! Guest editorial by KC Ingram.
All Aboard Florida, Brightline, Virgin Trains. The name may constantly change – I’ll just refer to it as “the train” – but the basic fact remains. The company is still desperately seeking financing. Despite claims to the contrary, the train is NOT a done deal.
The week of Nov. 19 was bittersweet for those of us who have been battling this train for nearly five years. The sweet: Indian River County voted to reject the settlement that would have made them agree to no longer represent their constituents on this issue. The bitter: Martin County voted 4-1 (Commissioner Sarah Heard the lone dissenter) to approve the settlement.
During Florida NOT All Aboard’s consistent opposition, the train has undergone many changes. Fortress Investment Group, the original founding force behind All Aboard Florida, was delisted and purchased in 2017 by SoftBank, a Japanese multinational holding conglomerate headquartered in Tokyo. That same year the freight division, FECR, was sold to Grupo Mexico, the largest mining corporation in Mexico. Ferrocarril Mexicano, the company’s rail transport division, operates the nation’s largest rail fleet. Now the passenger train is owned by the Japanese company SoftBank, and Grupo Mexico owns the land, tracks, and freight division.
The Martin County vote sets a dangerous precedent. It demonstrated that a foreign-owned entity could control and silence our local government. Our county commissioners essentially agreed to no longer represent us on this issue for a period of build-out, PLUS five years beyond their start-up.
Should the train come through here, our commission has willingly agreed to be legally silenced regardless of what unexpected, yet-to-be-known adverse effects may occur. How can our commissioners protect the health, safety, and welfare of our community if they cannot speak, lobby, review the improvements, etc.? Even new commissioners elected in two years will be silenced by this agreement.
I cannot put a price tag on silencing our representatives, but the train found one.
Now is not the time to cave in and give up the fight. We have many residents and businesses west of the train bridge who receive zero benefits from this agreement. Being open only 15 minutes per hour will be a debacle during peak boating hours. The train may or may not add more clearance to the bridge. They are not raising the bridge, merely adding more clearance by reconfiguring the bottom side of the bridge IF it allows for 35% more boat traffic.
Boaters, you know how low that bridge is; don’t count on much help with this iffy concession.
Time will tell the real cost of the BOCC’s decision. I believe what the BOCC conceded is far more costly to our community than what was promised by the train, which provided no financial guarantee of actually being able to provide those benefits.
It has been reported the train lost over $56 million in the first two quarters of this year. The BOCC’s perceived savings in ending the lawsuit by signing this settlement may be one of the costliest decisions ever made by the Martin County Board of Commissioners.
Why must we continue the fight? Why is it not a done deal? Let me review.
Initially planned to start operations between Miami and Orlando in 2014, the train still is not traversing the Treasure Coast in 2019. Financially, the train always has been and still is scrambling for financing. The train applied for, but did not receive, a $1.5+ billion federal Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing loan. Strike one.
The train then applied for and received state approval to issue and sell Private Activity Bonds (PABs). After numerous offerings, the West Palm Beach to Orlando segment bonds still have no buyers, despite the enticing tax savings. Strike two.
Now, the train is applying for authorization to issue an IPO, but the amount of projected sales falls far short of the needed capital. How many strikes can the train take? Time will tell.
We must continue our fight – even without our own commissioners. Florida NOT All Aboard, Indian River County, residents, and state and federal legislators have not given up. We must support our elected officials who are fighting for us and remember them at election time. I believe that together we CAN protect our communities. Don’t give up now because a few have thrown in the towel. We can do this!
We will not go quietly into the night as our commissioners did over a holiday weekend. Follow Florida NOT All Aboard on Facebook and visit floridanotallaboard.com for information on an upcoming event, Jan. 19, because FNAA wants to hear from you. ■ – K.C. Ingram, founder of Florida NOT All Aboard