All Aboard Florida (AAF) is currently developing an express train service, called “Brightline,” which will provide express passenger rail service utilizing its perpetual passenger rail easement within the Florida East Coast Railway (FEC) rail corridor between Cocoa and Miami. AAF also plans to construct new track along SR 528 to connect Cocoa and Orlando utilizing various easements and land purchases. With top speeds ranging from 79 mph to 125 mph, and a minimal number of planned stops between Miami and Orlando, Brightline will offer passengers an opportunity to travel from Orlando to Miami in roughly an hour.
Unlike other high-speed rail projects, this project does not require public grants or subsidies. Ridership risk is borne by the private sector. Funding for AAF comes from the issuance of tax-exempt private activity bonds, which are backed by project revenues. Should the project default, only those who invested in the bonds are on the hook, not the taxpayers. Still, there are some who believe the project will not be successful unless public subsidies, such as Federal Railroad Administration loans, are made available.
A recent policy brief by the James Madison Institute (JMI) expressed optimism that, because of AAF’s sensible business plan, “this project has a much greater likelihood of success than any other U.S. passenger rail project in recent history.”
JMI concluded that “All Aboard Florida may in fact be a niche market where higher speed rail can make business sense without taxpayer support.” Scheduled to begin service from Miami to Ft. Lauderdale and West Palm Beach this summer, Brightline has created thousands of new jobs and spurred economic development in South Florida. When completed, Brightline will provide a more affordable connection between Central and South Florida and relieve traffic congestion on Florida roadways. Although Brightline has gained wide support in South Florida, the minimal number of planned stops and purported safety concerns have raised concerns among legislators in the Treasure Coast region of the state.
These concerns have prompted the proposed Florida High-Speed Passenger Rail Safety Act (HB 269 / SB 386) which, if passed, will give state and local governments additional authority to regulate intrastate “high-speed” passenger rail systems in Florida. In this paper, Florida TaxWatch examines the impacts of the proposed Act on intercity passenger rail service.