Brightline/Virgin Trains (FEC) Update

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Brian_tampa

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There has just been a bit of head breeze, and continues to be from the like of Debbie Maynard and IRC. I don't think that is partisan in nature. I think it is due to a mix of concern about safety and the Treasure Coast obduracy (there I found a more obscure word than "stupidity" :) ).

https://www.orlandoweekly.com/Blogs/archives/2019/12/05/florida-to-roll-out-new-safety-measures-to-curb-deadly-rail-crossing-accidents

Part of the issue though is that the "developers" in Florida are more often than not a relatively deceitful bunch who will sell you water bodies as land with a smile on their face. So they are generally not trusted too much by the public at a visceral level. Quite a bit of the argument against FEC is possibly driven by that than any rational analysis.

The rational point regarding the Brightline related expansion of infrastructure is about who is going to pay for the necessary grade crossing and fencing upgrades needed. Brightline has not exactly been a good citizen when it comes to installing fencing to protect their tracks, for example. Of course that does not excuse the foolhardiness of people that attempt to cross the railroad at grade crossings when the gates are down and then manage to get killed.
Well I meant any significant threat. As you know, every single bill against Brightline over the past 3 or 4 years that the Treasure Coast politicians have brought in the FL Senate or House has died.

As far as fencing, I am not sure that is a great idea except in areas with a lot of pedestrian traffic such as certain cities in south Florida. Some of the trespasser strikes have occurred where there was fencing, albeit private fencing not the railroad, and seems most of the strikes have been at legal roadway crossings or suicides which no amount of fencing will prevent. Also, fencing can create a funnel affect and not allow trespassers to exit the ROW as quickly.

The Treasure Coast is known to be anti-development over the decades. They stopped I-95 from being built for 25 years in Martin County! And in that part of Florida, anti-development is bipartisan. I wish it were that way in more places here in Florida (but not to the degree they have taken it!).
 
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chrsjrcj

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To start with they can stop calling it a high speed railroad. That plays into the sensationalism and the belief that it is unsafe to operate.
 

MARC Rider

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From the article:

"Susan Mehiel, spokeswoman for Florida Alliance for Safe Trains in Vero Beach, said her volunteer advocacy group believes the high death rate is attributable to the trains’ speed, as well as insufficient fencing to keep trespassers away from the tracks. She believes bridges should be erected over the tracks so that pedestrians wouldn’t have to cross them at ground level.

She asserted that the spike in deaths is due to the dense populations near the tracks the trains travel over."


So is the death rate higher than the NEC, where the train speeds are faster and population is more dense? (And the trains are more frequent.) True, there are no grade crossing on the NEC, at least not south of New Haven, but all of the other factors cited are more intense on the NEC. So why is the death rate so high in Florida?
 

Ziv

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Perhaps in Florida it is a combination of a lack of habituation and a plethora of grade crossings? And a substantial amount of the fatalities seem to be suicides, is that as prevalent on the NEC? It doesn't seem to be as frequent, but I haven't looked into NEC fatalities.
People in Florida have lived with FEC trains all their lives, but I believe the rock trains travel at 40 mph, which makes trying to beat the gate "thrilling", not suicidal. Do FEC's other trains travel at 40 mph, 60 mph or 79 mph? If the other FEC train speeds are 40 and 60, then the locals have gotten used to relatively slow trains and the Bright trains simply don't give the scofflaws time to get across. It may simply take a couple years for the "gate beaters" to realize this is now a losing game, or to die learning. The suicide aspect will be a completely different problem to solve.

From the article:

"Susan Mehiel, ... asserted that the spike in deaths is due to the dense populations near the tracks the trains travel over."

So is the death rate higher than the NEC, where the train speeds are faster and population is more dense? (And the trains are more frequent.) True, there are no grade crossing on the NEC, at least not south of New Haven, but all of the other factors cited are more intense on the NEC. So why is the death rate so high in Florida?
 
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Anderson

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Perhaps in Florida it is a combination of a lack of habituation and a plethora of grade crossings? And a substantial amount of the fatalities seem to be suicides, is that a prevalent on the NEC. It doesn't seem to be as frequent, but I haven't looked into NEC fatalities.
People in Florida have lived with FEC trains all their lives, but I believe the rock trains travel at 40 mph, which makes trying to beat the gate "thrilling", not suicidal. Do FEC's other trains travel at 40 mph, 60 mph or 79 mph? If the other FEC train speeds are 40 and 60, then the locals have gotten used to relatively slow trains and the Bright trains simply don't give the scofflaws time to get across. It may simply take a couple years for the "gate beaters" to realize this is now a losing game, or to die learning. The suicide aspect will be a completely different problem to solve.
The issue is that, per Goddard, 75% of the deaths are (probable) suicides. I think what we have here is a "suicide epidemic" (that is a thing; it's quite well-documented) that is being, ironically, made worse by all of the media coverage. If you take someone who has that ideation and you hit them with a string of news stories about suicide-by-train incidents (as well as other fatal incidents, to be fair), the chance of them getting it in their mind to do that start rising. Taken to a somewhat farcical (but not exactly wrong) conclusion, the mess of anti-Brightline coverage focusing on this can be argued to be causing some of these deaths.

(I am now [morbidly] curious as to whether there's excess mortality involved or this is simply "moving mortality around". Geez, I've been playing around in data for too long...)
 

AGM.12

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Where I live, Norfolk Southern instituted a new intermodal service from Charleston,SC to Spartanburg. In the first year, there were a rash of crossing collisions and fatalities. Most people were unaccustomed to a train at that time. I suspect this seems to be part of the problem with Brightline.
 

Anderson

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Where I live, Norfolk Southern instituted a new intermodal service from Charleston,SC to Spartanburg. In the first year, there were a rash of crossing collisions and fatalities. Most people were unaccustomed to a train at that time. I suspect this seems to be part of the problem with Brightline.
That's part of it, but they've had pax service on the other line for over a century so it's not like this is an area that's never seen a passenger train. On the FEC line, perhaps, but...well, I guess I'd say that it seems there's clearly a heck of a learning curve...
 

jiml

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Perhaps in Florida it is a combination of a lack of habituation and a plethora of grade crossings? And a substantial amount of the fatalities seem to be suicides, is that a prevalent on the NEC. It doesn't seem to be as frequent, but I haven't looked into NEC fatalities.
People in Florida have lived with FEC trains all their lives, but I believe the rock trains travel at 40 mph, which makes trying to beat the gate "thrilling", not suicidal. Do FEC's other trains travel at 40 mph, 60 mph or 79 mph? If the other FEC train speeds are 40 and 60, then the locals have gotten used to relatively slow trains and the Bright trains simply don't give the scofflaws time to get across. It may simply take a couple years for the "gate beaters" to realize this is now a losing game, or to die learning. The suicide aspect will be a completely different problem to solve.
It's not just Florida. I live in an area generally regarded as law-abiding - except when it comes to level crossings. There is a level crossing a couple of minutes from my home that sees around 50 trains a day crossing a lightly-travelled minor roadway. "Running the gates" is very popular and occasionally documented via dashcam footage on social media. The problem (other than stupidity) is exactly what Ziv has mentioned above. There are several lumbering freights that plod along at 40 mph plus stack trains that reach 60. The close calls are always with the VIA trains. The pic below illustrates the problem - that's a CN speed limit sign (and yes, they still use MPH here). The top two numbers are for LRC and conventional VIA trains, the lower for freights. If a vehicle is perpendicular to the tracks, all you see coming is a locomotive and headlight during the day and only a headlight at night. It is virtually impossible to determine the type of train and its speed coming at you. People tend to assume it's freight and take a chance. It is only a matter of time before a vehicle becomes a hood ornament on a P42.

sign.jpg
 

Anderson

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You know, there's a case to be made for an extensive legal chase-down of folks posting dashcam footage of such exploits in the form of example-making (particularly since I cannot imagine that crews dealing with such antics are immune from stress from them, or that the railroads are immune from expenses from having to go into emergency on occasion because of it). One thing I'd be entertained to see is a "backed" series of lawsuits pitting not the companies but the operating crews against the gate-runners (the theory being that it is probably cheaper to spend a million dollars supporting some intentionally brutal legal action than to have to shop multiple locomotives over time from either going into emergency or actually crashing).
 

neroden

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IIRC Florida had the highest rate of grade crossing incidents in the US before Brightline, and has had for years, along with having the highest rate of cars hitting pedestrians and the highest rate of car crashes in general, so... Something about Florida drivers.
 

Brian_tampa

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https://www.bizjournals.com/orlando/news/2019/12/27/virgin-trains-tampa-to-orlando-right-of-way.html

So the FDOT sent Virgin Trains a letter on Monday announcing another 90 day extension to negotiations for ROW leasing between MCO (Orlando) and Tampa. What is very pointed in the letter is that FDOT appears to be saying that Virgin Trains has tried to pitch the idea of building MCO to Disney without completing the design or negotiations or even building the rest of the route to Tampa. This from the letter:

The department cannot indefinitely offer a lease opportunity in the Interstate 4 corridor, one of the busiest corridors in the state, for a project with uncertain and unspecified plans and impacts on department projects, and unknown solutions to those impacts. Nothing in this letter or the RFP commits the department to lease department right of way for a project that is not intercity passenger rail between Orlando and Tampa.

Note the bolded text (added for emphasis) where FDOT actually states this. Something is not going well between FDOT and Virgin Trains. FDOT is also complaining that Virgin has not specified what land they need and has not informed DOT of progress on negotiations with CFRC and OUC (Sunrail and Orlando Utilities Commission). When negotiating for the SR528 lease, all parties worked together to conclude negotiations. It sounds like Virgin is doing separate negotiations and not treating the whole route as a single deal. I can 100% understand why FDOT is frustrated at this point after over a year into the negotiations. At the very least, Virgin Trains should have had at least a 30% design done that would allow them to specify and detail the required ROW needed. I understand that this letter may be FDOT's way of playing hardball, but it does seem like Virgin Trains has dropped the ball here if they can't even tell FDOT what they need! As mentioned in the article, there are many future expansion projects planned for I-4 between Tampa and Orlando.

Here is a portion of the article from the Orlando Business Journal today:
Miami-based Virgin Trains is looking to potentially explore leasing the properties along the right of way in segments as part of the deal, including a priority segment it wants to set up that would lead from Orlando International Airport to "roughly the area" of Walt Disney World Resort, according to a Dec. 23 letter from FDOT Assistant Secretary for Strategic Development Tom Byron. Virgin Trains currently has a memorandum of understanding on a station with the resort that it agreed to in November.

FDOT and Central Florida Expressway Authority both agreed to 90 additional days to allow for further development of the project, as well locating the property Virgin Trains wants to lease and the finalization of environmental planning for the route. But, there were a few areas that needed to be sorted out before negotiations could be successfully completed, Byron said in the later.
MODERATOR NOTE: to comply with copyright laws, a portion of the OBJ article has been removed from this post.
 
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Anderson

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I think the issue is probably that Virgin thinks they could finance, design, and build the WDW segment pretty quickly. It's the sort of project that I could see being funded on pretty thin data so long as the form was clear, especially given the rest of the initiative.

Tampa is a more complicated beast (at least two more stations, track, etc.). And compared to WDW it is less of an obvious winner (WDW seems like at least a million-passenger slam-dunk).
 

Brian_tampa

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Tampa is a more complicated beast (at least two more stations, track, etc.). And compared to WDW it is less of an obvious winner (WDW seems like at least a million-passenger slam-dunk).
Yes, getting to Tampa is definitely much more complicated then building only to Disney/I-Drive from the Orlando airport. However, the RFP issued by FDOT for I-4 ROW leasing specifically calls for an intercity passenger rail service to be built. It is clear that FDOT intends to hold Virgin Trains to that point of qualification. It is in the state's best interest to have an entity develop true intercity service between Tampa and Orlando and not cherry-pick the best/most profitable segments. Otherwise, Virgin Trains could potentially delay building from Disney to Tampa by decades while reaping the benefits of the shorter link to Disney.
 

Anderson

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Yes, getting to Tampa is definitely much more complicated then building only to Disney/I-Drive from the Orlando airport. However, the RFP issued by FDOT for I-4 ROW leasing specifically calls for an intercity passenger rail service to be built. It is clear that FDOT intends to hold Virgin Trains to that point of qualification. It is in the state's best interest to have an entity develop true intercity service between Tampa and Orlando and not cherry-pick the best/most profitable segments. Otherwise, Trains could potentially delay building from Disney to Tampa by decades while reaping the benefits of the shorter link to Disney.
It might be worth making long-term access conditional on the completion of the leg to Tampa within X months/years of completing the Disney leg (possibly with an exception for certain sorts of outside interference causing delays). For example, once Disney is operational they have three years to break ground/five years to complete the line to Tampa or "something nasty" happens (we can all come up with versions of "something nasty", but I could see anything from a default of ownership and the ability to call in another company who would legally have access at least as far as MCO to simply charging them escalating fees for non-completion to creating a "default performance" clause that essentially lets the state handle building the line and then "issuing" it to Brightline/Virgin at-cost...or making operation of X daily trains to Tampa by X date, subject to extension by mutual agreement, a condition of the lease and Brightline/Virgin gets to figure out how to make that happen but if they don't operate the trains they're in default).

Edit: To be clear, the rub is that I don't think anyone is served by holding up Disney access while Tampa gets sorted out. Even under the best of plans, Disney might be a 2-4 year project (once it gets approved and so on) while Tampa is probably a few years longer (due to the size, scope, etc. of the operation). Probably not quite as long as WPB-MIA to MCO-MIA, but that feels like a reasonable analogy.
 

jiml

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The Brightline project as a whole is fascinating to me as an observer. I have some familiarity with the area that these new extensions will serve, so curious if the Tampa leg is totally new construction, rehab of an abandoned ROW or partial acquisition of underused (CSX?) trackage - or a combination of all three. It was easier to understand when all linked to FEC. What are the longer term implications for Amtrak service to Tampa? (I'm not sure I've seen that aspect discussed yet.)
 

brianpmcdonnell17

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The Brightline project as a whole is fascinating to me as an observer. I have some familiarity with the area that these new extensions will serve, so curious if the Tampa leg is totally new construction, rehab of an abandoned ROW or partial acquisition of underused (CSX?) trackage - or a combination of all three. It was easier to understand when all linked to FEC. What are the longer term implications for Amtrak service to Tampa? (I'm not sure I've seen that aspect discussed yet.)
It will primarily be new construction along the I-4 ROW.
 

west point

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Star ridership from the NE portion probably will not be reduced. However Tampa - to southern Florida east coast much likely to be problematic . Now if ridership improves due to more total ridership on Amtrak and Brightline ?
 

Brian_tampa

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Edit: To be clear, the rub is that I don't think anyone is served by holding up Disney access while Tampa gets sorted out. Even under the best of plans, Disney might be a 2-4 year project (once it gets approved and so on) while Tampa is probably a few years longer (due to the size, scope, etc. of the operation). Probably not quite as long as WPB-MIA to MCO-MIA, but that feels like a reasonable analogy.
I probably should have focused on the main problem that FDOT appears to be having with Virgin Trains (VTUSA) at this point: lack of detail or clarity regarding what land VTUSA needs from FDOT and CFX, not the actual build-out date of the rail system. FDOT and CFX have planned road projects that they want to see completed by 2025. I-4 Beyond Ultimate from US27 east to Sand Lake Rd. near Orlando and the 'Lexus Lanes' project on I_4 from Plant City west to downtown Tampa as well as SR417 expansion west of MCO towards I-4. IMO, VTUSA is being presented with a 'all or nothing' request now from FDOT. Tampa can easily get sorted out with a bit of design effort. I need to re-read the RFP to see how detailed the responses had to be to obtain a lease of ROW.

FDOT (and CFX) needs clarity so the designs of all road and rail projects planned in the next 10 years can be integrated together before any design gets too far. VTUSA has been actively considering using the I-4 ROW since early 2018 (if not before). I do not understand why they have not been able to present an accounting of ROW land required to FDOT and CFX after almost two years.

EDIT: Just thinking further... I have heard that VTUSA has been focused on their Vegas project for the past year. Perhaps this is why things aren't going real smooth with the Tampa extension? Maybe they don't have the resources to ramp up both projects?
 
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Anderson

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I probably should have focused on the main problem that FDOT appears to be having with Virgin Trains (VTUSA) at this point: lack of detail or clarity regarding what land VTUSA needs from FDOT and CFX, not the actual build-out date of the rail system. FDOT and CFX have planned road projects that they want to see completed by 2025. I-4 Beyond Ultimate from US27 east to Sand Lake Rd. near Orlando and the 'Lexus Lanes' project on I_4 from Plant City west to downtown Tampa as well as SR417 expansion west of MCO towards I-4. IMO, VTUSA is being presented with a 'all or nothing' request now from FDOT. Tampa can easily get sorted out with a bit of design effort. I need to re-read the RFP to see how detailed the responses had to be to obtain a lease of ROW.

FDOT (and CFX) needs clarity so the designs of all road and rail projects planned in the next 10 years can be integrated together before any design gets too far. VTUSA has been actively considering using the I-4 ROW since early 2018 (if not before). I do not understand why they have not been able to present an accounting of ROW land required to FDOT and CFX after almost two years.

EDIT: Just thinking further... I have heard that VTUSA has been focused on their Vegas project for the past year. Perhaps this is why things aren't going real smooth with the Tampa extension? Maybe they don't have the resources to ramp up both projects?
My guess is that some of the problem surrounds Lakeland, where the station location is uncertain as of now (and I presume that a station location would require some extra width). The other part is probably the approach to I-4 from the Disney station, which would depend on (among other things) the station location.

Edit: And of course, the Tampa station situation is another open question...though there they might only need to figure out where they depart from the interstate ROW.
 
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This is probably a naive question, but why can't the VTUSA trains follow trackage on the current Silver Star route to Tampa from Orlando?
(But not use the back-in Tampa station.)
 

brianpmcdonnell17

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This is probably a naive question, but why can't the VTUSA trains follow trackage on the current Silver Star route to Tampa from Orlando?
(But not use the back-in Tampa station.)
It is owned by CSX, lacks the necessary capacity, and is slow. It also goes nowhere near Disney World.

It doesn't matter to Brightline since they're not going there anyway, but the only reason trains back into Tampa Union Station is to reverse direction. A push-pull service would therefore not need to back in. It's basically the same setup as Denver Union Station, where the CZ backs in but the Ski Train as well as RTD trains do not need to.
 

Brian_tampa

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My guess is that some of the problem surrounds Lakeland, where the station location is uncertain as of now (and I presume that a station location would require some extra width). The other part is probably the approach to I-4 from the Disney station, which would depend on (among other things) the station location.

Edit: And of course, the Tampa station situation is another open question...though there they might only need to figure out where they depart from the interstate ROW.
I have not heard any details about the Lakeland station location. Although I understand that instead of using a mile long viaduct from west of the CSX A-Line to US98, like the HSR project proposed, it will run at grade in the median through that section. Related to this is a project by FDOT and CSX to replace and lengthen that railroad bridge across I-4 to accomodate rail plus expansion of I-4 by 2022 or so.
EDIT: the new CSX bridge would allow for 2 tracks vs. the present single track bridge. Also, the HSR proposal had their station elevated above I-4 at this location east of Kathleen Rd. at the same elevation as the viaduct. Not sure what VTUSA plans for Lakeland.

In Tampa, the station site I think has the greatest potential to happen is the Tampa Park Apartments location. To get there, VTUSA would exit the I-4 median around 15th Street North and then follow East 12th Avenue to get to Nuccio Parkway which borders the property along the east side. It is one of the only large single owner parcels of land that is available at a somewhat inexpensive price in the north or east parts of the downtown and Ybor City areas. It has around 10+ acres of land and the apartments are old two story buildings for the most part.

It is across the CSX (old) Port Tampa rail line and Nuccio Parkway from the Tampa Union Station site.
 
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