All Aboard; Not So Fast

Passenger rail may come with a heavy price for some east coast cities.

Passenger rail may come with a heavy price for some east coast cities.

As an urbanist, I want to like All Aboard Florida.

I really do.

Florida needs passenger rail—especially rail that can serve our eastern downtowns– and I’m not averse to high speed rail either.

We need to find a safe, efficient, environmentally friendly way to transports people and give them options other than the car. So on a conceptual level I was ready to embrace All Aboard Florida.

But the devil—as they say—is in the details. it always is.

First, it’s hard to understand the politics, PR and marketing of All Aboard Florida.

If you live in Boca Raton or Delray Beach or anyplace other than West Palm Beach, Orlando or Miami –cities with stops and train stations –why would you support this effort? What’s in it for us, other than watching lots of trains zip by our communities.

In 2001, when Delray Beach embarked on its Downtown Master Plan, we anticipated passenger rail and incorporated a downtown train station into our plan.

Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to bring people to downtown Delray via rail? Not only would passenger rail have alleviated some traffic it would have been a boon to downtown businesses and might have made it easier for downtown residents to commute to jobs outside of town.

I remember attending meetings in Fort Lauderdale with mayors from Broward and Palm Beach in which we plotted strategy to make eastern passenger rail happen. At one meeting, frustrated by the seemingly endless process, one mayor suggested it would be quicker and cheaper to engineer a leveraged buyout of the railroad than it would to wait for the private sector actors to make it happen.

Fast forward a decade and it appears that high speed rail is on the way—but it seems that lots of cities, including Delray Beach will endure the inconvenience of high speed rail and none of the advantages.


Why would All Aboard Florida think they can steamroll cities with 30 plus trains a day without the benefit of any of them stopping here to pick up our residents and drop off others who can enjoy our city?

What’s in it for us is not a selfish question but rather an essential one.

Citizen groups, such as Florida Not All Aboard have outlined dozens of arguments against the plan ranging from financial concerns and noise issues to safety concerns and what they feel the real motivations are behind the plan.

Yet according to what’s been written it appears that this deal is going to be hard to derail.

The sad part is, it didn’t have to be this way.

Even the most passionate members of the opposition acknowledge that there is public support for reasonable passenger rail that would serve east coast cities. But this deal feels forced, not well thought out and cloaked in intrigue.

Regardless, this is not what was envisioned when several residents gathered and planned for the day when passenger rail might serve downtown Delray. We had the audacity to hope that the train would actually stop in our downtown.

We saw all sorts of benefits to that vision, but nobody stood up and said “gee I hope we see 32 trains speeding by.”

So much of our work downtown was meant to slow things down and promote walkability vs. automobiles.

Whether it was encouraging downtown housing and a better mix of uses or slowing down speeding traffic on US 1—it was all done in service to building a vibrant, walkable, sustainable urban core.

Passenger rail, trolleys, bikes and even golf carts fit that vision.

What’s being offered by Florida All Aboard challenges that vision, if  it doesn’t kill it.

It’s too bad really, because if they worked with coastal cities and residents they might find more support and a more sustainable model.

But it appears that train has left the station.  What a missed opportunity.