Brightline/Virgin Trains (FEC) Update

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railiner

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VTUSA has decided it'd like to operate a commuter service if the city's willing to pay. Sounds like they've essentially appropriated the plans for the Tri-Rail Coastal Link.

If this actually goes through, the FEC corridor is going to become the most built-up rail ROW in the US outside the NEC. Intercity, commuter, and freight trains, triple (maybe even quad) tracking, and equipped with CTC, ATC, and PTC.

The FEC trackage was always first-class (ironic for a Class II railroad), but this would put it on a whole 'nother level.
I thought I read that FEC and Tri-Rail were going to 'swap' routes, to run commuter trains on the former, and freight trains on the latter? Is that true?
 

jadebenn

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I thought I read that FEC and Tri-Rail were going to 'swap' routes, to run commuter trains on the former, and freight trains on the latter? Is that true?
I'm not familiar with any proposal for that.

In any case, it's certainly not viable now. SFRTA has poured too much investment in its corridor to give it up and start all over again. And can you imagine all the ticked-off Tri-Rail users who would suddenly find themselves miles away from a train stop? It'd be a political nightmare!

Likewise, I don't see what benefit the FEC would get out of a swap. They'd lose all their local customers, for one, and their interests are pretty well-served even with those pesky passenger trains on their rails. The corridor is essentially under joint ownership and management at this point; They've got a stake in what VTUSA does with their tracks.
 

jadebenn

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What's the benefit to the city? I'm always a bit skeptical about forking over taxpayer money to a private business. Is VTUSA taking any risk in this transaction, or does it have the potential to be one of those situation where, in a few years, a public agency is going to have to take over, and meanwhile the VTUSA executives (and possibly investors) have benefited from the taxpayer-fed cash infusion. Sounds like another case of socializing risk and privatizing benefits.
I have some misgivings about the deal (mainly about the lack of flexibility if VTUSA proves to be a poor operator), but for the most part it seems to be a fairly standard case of outsourcing.

The most analogous situation that comes to mind is how BNSF and UP are contracted to run Chicago Metra service on lines they own and dispatch. The rolling stock and stations are the agency's, but the underlying right-of-way and the employees are provided by BNSF/UP.
 

jis

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I thought I read that FEC and Tri-Rail were going to 'swap' routes, to run commuter trains on the former, and freight trains on the latter? Is that true?
Only in railfan fantasyland, is what informed people in South Florida and FECR Society tell me.

Trying to do a swap deal now involved three companies (FECR, VTUSA and FDC) and FDOT/SFRTA. The three companies involved have two masters (Ferromex and FECI/SoftBank), and the very tightly written contracts among the three companies. VTUSA cannot unilaterally do anything, nor can FECR. VTUSA also has first dibs on any passengers service on FECR. FECR is not free to trade that away either.

I think jadebenn is correct in his/her assessment.
 

railiner

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I'm not familiar with any proposal for that.

In any case, it's certainly not viable now. SFRTA has poured too much investment in its corridor to give it up and start all over again. And can you imagine all the ticked-off Tri-Rail users who would suddenly find themselves miles away from a train stop? It'd be a political nightmare!

Likewise, I don't see what benefit the FEC would get out of a swap. They'd lose all their local customers, for one, and their interests are pretty well-served even with those pesky passenger trains on their rails. The corridor is essentially under joint ownership and management at this point; They've got a stake in what VTUSA does with their tracks.
Only in railfan fantasyland, is what informed people in South Florida and FECR Society tell me.

Trying to do a swap deal now involved three companies (FECR, VTUSA and FDC) and FDOT/SFRTA. The three companies involved have two masters (Ferromex and FECI/SoftBank), and the very tightly written contracts among the three companies. VTUSA cannot unilaterally do anything, nor can FECR. VTUSA also has first dibs on any passengers service on FECR. FECR is not free to trade that away either.

I think jadebenn is correct in his/her assessment.
Makes sense...so I agree.
I don't know where I got the idea...I thought I I read somewhere that they were installing a connection to allow FEC freights to use the SFRTA route, and vice versa...and then back at the other end...
Must have misunderstood it for something else....
 

jis

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Makes sense...so I agree.
I don't know where I got the idea...I thought I I read somewhere that they were installing a connection to allow FEC freights to use the SFRTA route, and vice versa...and then back at the other end...
Must have misunderstood it for something else....
Yes the connection has been built between Mangonia Park and West Palm Beach, but it is unlikely to be used for major move of traffic. It will allow some transfer of cars destined for CSX Yard that happens to come down the FEC, and also provide some access to CSX trains to Port of Miami FECR willing.. It is unlikely to be used for FECR's hot shot trains since the way to get from Tri Rail to FECR's Hialeah Yard is a circuitous one and wil remove the hot from the hotshot.

Also the crossover will allow extension of Tri-Rail Service to Jupiter which is under serious discussion. And of course if some day Amtrak comes down from JAX via FECR, it will aloow them to get back to Tri Rail tracks tog et to their stations in the Miami area.
 

railiner

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Yes the connection has been built between Mangonia Park and West Palm Beach, but it is unlikely to be used for major move of traffic. It will allow some transfer of cars destined for CSX Yard that happens to come down the FEC, and also provide some access to CSX trains to Port of Miami FECR willing.. It is unlikely to be used for FECR's hot shot trains since the way to get from Tri Rail to FECR's Hialeah Yard is a circuitous one and wil remove the hot from the hotshot.

Also the crossover will allow extension of Tri-Rail Service to Jupiter which is under serious discussion. And of course if some day Amtrak comes down from JAX vcia FECR, it will aloow them to get back to Tri Rail tracks tog et to their stations in the Miami area.
Oh, so that's it...thanks for clearing that up.
 

west point

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Agree with jis. Right now to get CSX freight to FEC in Miami requires CSX to run a transfer train from Hialeah yard on TriRail to just north of Miami TriRail station . Then runs along the CSX track around the east and south side of MIA airport. Now jis will have to correct this but in the past CSX drops the freight cars at the south end of the airport rail interchange.

Then FEC picks them up and horse shoes around runway 27left on the west side of the airport to the FEC yard. FEC originally went straight to the interchange point but when the runway was extended the FEC had to make a horseshoe around the west end of extended 27L.
 

jis

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Agree with jis. Right now to get CSX freight to FEC in Miami requires CSX to run a transfer train from Hialeah yard on TriRail to just north of Miami TriRail station . Then runs along the CSX track around the east and south side of MIA airport. Now jis will have to correct this but in the past CSX drops the freight cars at the south end of the airport rail interchange.

Then FEC picks them up and horse shoes around runway 27left on the west side of the airport to the FEC yard. FEC originally went straight to the interchange point but when the runway was extended the FEC had to make a horseshoe around the west end of extended 27L.
Yep, that is the traditional way. Now the other way possible is at Iris interlocking where a connection has been built from Tri Rail southbound to FECR eastbound for Tri Rail access to Miami Central Station. So there will be a bit of a long backup move involved on some very busy trackage somewhere in the process, which of course, neither FECR nor TriRail will appreciate during the busy day time.
 

west point

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jis yes did consider Iris as not viable . However last time there it was just one track for TriRail . Have often wondered if the connection was rather tight, the second TriRail track assume was placed on the east side of the original track ? Easy to string line a long freight ? Did that connection put new track connecting to the original yard tail track ?

With as much traffic across the Iris 4 diamonds cannot imagine the delays that occur for both FEC and TriRail. A back up FEC freight would probably be at restricted speeds across Iris.
 

Palmetto

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Just east of IRIS, there are three tracks, the northern track seeming to be an industrial siding. There is plenty of room on the ROW to accomodate the extention of this third track eastward to accommodate a longer train., if need be. I have no idea what the length of a normal transfer train is, though. The current length of the third track might even be enough.

FEC does not run THAT many trains that an overnight move [to avoid Tri-Rail] would seem feasible to me. Moves like this often have a caboose or a plaform car for a crewman to relay signal indications and grade crossing functioning to the engineer. And it's two tracks all the way to the FEC yard from IRIS, giving further flexibility to the move.

Google Maps seems to show that a backup move of a mile or so would be necessary. Not that bad, IMO.
 

AGM.12

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This may be off topic, but what is the word, if any, about CSX shedding the Homestead and Auburndale subs?
 

Palmetto

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The lower part of the Homestead Subdivision is being abandoned, basically from the Gold Coast Museum south to the end of the line in Homestead. Personally, I am disappointed that the proposed commuter rail on this line did not get started. It runs right through Kendall, a highly populated area southwest of the city of Miami. And it would've provided a one seat ride to the city for those folks, as well as for residents of Florida City and Homestead.

I don't have an answer for the Auburndale Subdivision.
 

jis

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This may be off topic, but what is the word, if any, about CSX shedding the Homestead and Auburndale subs?
There has been some noise in the rumor mill but nothing concrete from CSX as far as the Auburndale Sub is concerned. At one point there was a solid enough rumor about FECR+Brightline being interested in it for it to be raised at an FECRS Annual Meeting. Actually the FECR Chief Counsel was asked the question. Being a good cCounsel he gave and appropriate legal mumble mumble answer which was relatively content free but nice sounding. Nothing has been heard of it since. I can ask around and see if there has been any movement that the FECRS folks are aware of.

In that same time frame CSX dumped the Florida portion of the JAX - NOL route into the laps of a short line.
 

DSS&A

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Ever since the Federal government built the "free" U.S. Highway system, and then the "free" Interstate Highway System, the private railroads have not been able to make money on many passenger train routes. Taxpayer funds have also been spent to pay for building the airports and air traffic control system for the private airlines, which have taken more passengers off of the private trains. (Federal taxpayer are paying 20.6 Billion of the 35 Billion cost - NextGen – FAQs ) Airlines would NOT be "profitable" if it wasn't for the HUGE taxpayer funds spent every year on aviation.

Federal tax dollars spent on competing modes of transportation necessitate the taxpayers also pay for passenger train transportation services.

Also, one of the top US Post Office officials who was involved in the project to transfer the mail off of the trains to the airlines was given a Vice-President position at one of the major airlines after the mail was switched to the airlines. This removed more profitable revenue off of the passenger trains.
 

jadebenn

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I found a very interesting quote in this Railway Age article.

Abrams also expressed concern that Tri-Rail would not be able to use the Miami Central Station (MCS) as planned, because of potential issues with Positive Train Control (PTC): “Now that [VTUSA] has suspended operations, SFRTA has no assurances when it will be able to access the FECR Corridor and the MCS. [VTUSA] is no longer subject to the deadline of Dec. 31, 2020 to implement the federally mandated PTC system because it is not operating its service. Further, it is our understanding that [VTUSA] has recently elected to change the type of PTC system it was originally installing.”
A new PTC system? Are they switching away from E-ATC? To what? Certainly not I-ETMS, I'd imagine.
 

sttom

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I still don't get why we didn't design one PTC system for nationwide implementation other than that is not how we do things in the US. This is one of those times where you don't want an exciting and unique system. You want a boring system that works for decades without human interaction.
 

jadebenn

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I still don't get why we didn't design one PTC system for nationwide implementation other than that is not how we do things in the US. This is one of those times where you don't want an exciting and unique system. You want a boring system that works for decades without human interaction.
Few reasons:

One: Congress didn't want to hand out a monopoly by mandating a specific system.

Two: The needs of the railroads are different.

I mean reason two is the whole reason that I'd eat my hat if this was I-ETMS, because I-ETMS is a poor man's (or rather, cheapskate's) PTC. It works, but the whole design is centered around having as little wayside equipment as possible. Good if you're a 1,000+ mile Class I begrudgingly fulfilling a legislative PTC mandate. Not so good if you're operating outside of your typical Class I's performance envelope. There's a reason Amtrak sticks to ACSES and ITCS on their higher-speed lines. I don't think I-ETMS is even certified for speeds above 79 mph.

If we'd had a single national PTC system, I'd wager that system would've looked a lot like I-ETMS. The Class I freight railroads would've always been looking at ways to drive the cost down, even at the expense of capacity or speed, and they're the biggest stakeholders.
 

nullptr

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Few reasons:

One: Congress didn't want to hand out a monopoly by mandating a specific system.

Two: The needs of the railroads are different.

I mean reason two is the whole reason that I'd eat my hat if this was I-ETMS, because I-ETMS is a poor man's (or rather, cheapskate's) PTC. It works, but the whole design is centered around having as little wayside equipment as possible. Good if you're a 1,000+ mile Class I begrudgingly fulfilling a legislative PTC mandate. Not so good if you're operating outside of your typical Class I's performance envelope. There's a reason Amtrak sticks to ACSES and ITCS on their higher-speed lines. I don't think I-ETMS is even certified for speeds above 79 mph.

If we'd had a single national PTC system, I'd wager that system would've looked a lot like I-ETMS. The Class I freight railroads would've always been looking at ways to drive the cost down, even at the expense of capacity or speed, and they're the biggest stakeholders.

How hungry are you? 😬


Edit to say I don't disagree with anything you said, I don't have much knowledge on PTC implementations. Just found the timing of this news amusing.
 

jadebenn

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Well I'm eating my words. Why did they go with I-ETMS when they already had an ATC installation? Maybe they wanted to reduce the costs on the new lines? That's the only reason I can think of.
 

jis

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Well I'm eating my words. Why did they go with I-ETMS when they already had an ATC installation? Maybe they wanted to reduce the costs on the new lines? That's the only reason I can think of.
Basically availability of an off the shelf system and the I part becomes important as they go with inter-operation with other systems - SFRTA in South Florida and potentially CFRC in Central Florida for passenger and CSX and NS for freight interchange with run through power without needing an FEC pilot at JAX interchange for freight.

They actually withdrew their application using eATC and will submit a new application using I-ETMS. It will be a while before Brightline/Virgin Trains runs again I would imagine, depending on how soon Wabtec can get it up and running and tested between Miami and WPB. Of course I-ETMS will be an overlay on their current signaling system which is based on track circuits which I understand they are keeping in place for train detection and integrity verification.
 

jadebenn

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Basically availability of an off the shelf system and the I part becomes important as they go with inter-operation with other systems - SFRTA in South Florida and potentially CFRC in Central Florida for passenger and CSX and NS for freight interchange with run through power without needing an FEC pilot at JAX interchange for freight.

They actually withdrew their application using eATC and will submit a new application using I-ETMS. It will be a while before Brightline/Virgin Trains runs again I would imagine, depending on how soon Wabtec can get it up and running and tested between Miami and WPB. Of course I-ETMS will be an overlay on their current signaling system which is based on track circuits which I understand they are keeping in place for train detection and integrity verification.
I don't think interoperability factors in much here. I don't see much potential for foreign power on the FEC, and SFRTA was previously planning to equip some of their fleet with both system for Downtown Link operations. But perhaps I'm not thinking "big picture" enough.

Will they be tearing out the underlying ATC when they're done? Or will it be a hybrid system?
 

jis

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Now no one has to equip any fleet with both systems. FECR really had very little reason to keep their one of a kind system around. Think of this as an overall reduction of cost of operation.

They will keep the track circuit based signaling system and integrate it into I-ETMS to provide the ATC functionality. Apparently enhancing their ATC to so called eATC to comply with PTC regulations proved to be a bridge too far to do in a cost effective way. I am sure FECR, Brightline, FDC, SFRTA and FDOT sat down together and had a chat about what is the most cost effective way to put an infrastructure in place that will serve future needs, which BTW does include cross operation of freight train on FECR and on CSX (or whoever happens to be the then owner of the Auburndale to West Palm Beach Line) and of course SFRTA. That is why they spent all that money to build the two way crossover in WPB.
 

jadebenn

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Yeah, I suppose it's rational. It's just a shame to see the end of one of the FEC's most unique features. What other Class II has a full ATC system with cab signalling, after all.
 
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