Over at CityLab Henry Grabar writes about All-Aboard Florida in The Triumphant Return of Private U.S. Passenger Rail: Can new train service between Miami and Orlando be a model for the rest of the country?
I was interviewed:
It’s a big project by any standard, but it looms even larger in historical context. No private intercity passenger rail line has operated in the United States in 30 years — and it has been longer still since a new service was introduced. “You’d have to go back over 100 years to find a significant investment in private intercity rail in the U.S.,” says David Levinson, a transportation analyst at the University of Minnesota.
Comment: Of course this depends on significant. There were a few stations built within the past century, and some of the fastest trains are from the 1920s and 1930s, but trackage started its long decline in 1920 and ridership peaked around the same time (excepting World War II).
Later the article talks about economic development effects, since this seems to be a land development project as much as a railroad (not that there’s anything wrong with that).
Unlike the activity around commuter rail, subways, and other daily-use transit, the financial spillover effect of a high-speed rail station is not clearly established. “The evidence that’s looked at the economic development effect of high-speed rail has shown that there’s not a whole lot of local effect,” says Levinson. “A comparison is to the airport: What frequent business traveler is going to live next to the airport?”
Comment: See: Levinson, David (2012) Accessibility Impacts of High Speed Rail Journal of Transportation Geography Vol 22 May 2012. pp. 288-291 for more details and review of the evidence.
Also, it appears they are ready to sell bonds, so it looks like it will go forward. Note the bonds are likely to be offered at 12%, so this is considered a very high risk investment. Good luck to them. (I am not an investor in this project).
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This story keeps coming up in all my various feeds. There can be no “triumphant return” until trains are running (trains that have yet to be procured) and people are riding them in sufficient numbers for the company to cover their not-insignificant investment in addition to their on-going costs. The article is pretty good otherwise, but the headline is misleading.
I really hope it works. Like Amtrak’s Auto Train (which isn’t profitable but probably isn’t far from it) the experience here will probably not translate to other markets.
As an aside, there is lots of confusion (not in the article) about the FEC Railway and FEC Industries. Both are owned by investors behind Fortress Investment Group; the former runs the freight railroad while the latter owns All Aboard Florida (which holds an easement from FECRy to run passenger trains) and, apparently, the right of way over which the FECRy runs. At least that’s what I could glean from slogging through their Form 10-K. So when folks say “The FEC is going to run passenger trains”, it isn’t really true – the two entities are different. That they were all one entity not too long ago does nothing to help this impression!
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