Treasure Coast leaders opposed to All Aboard Florida’s passenger rail project launched a new attack this week, arguing that a federal loan to help pay for the private rail venture could create both a financial benefit and a safety risk for Trump because of train line’s proximity to his Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach.
In a 6-page letter sent to federal transportation officials on Monday, attorneys for Martin and Indian River counties and the anti-rail group CARE FL argue a loan from the Federal Railroad Administration to help pay for the Brightline project would create “unique financial concerns” for the Trump administration.
One of Brightline’s three South Florida stations will be located in downtown West Palm Beach, roughly 5 miles from the sprawling Mar-a-Lago property. Some have argued that properties around those stations will see a benefit from Brightline’s trains, the attorneys wrote in the letter.
“This include’s the President’s Mar-a-Lago resort, which is located near the West Palm Beach station,” the letter said. “Therefore, granting the loan arguably impacts the president’s property. Critics may argue the loan creates an important benefit to a private business of the president’s.”
The attorneys also argue that the location of the Florida East Cost Railway tracks, where Brightline will operate its passenger trains alongside other freight traffic, could create a safety hazard for the president. The tracks are located about 1.5 miles west of the Mar-a-Lago club.
“An alternative argument that we believe is more accurate is that the AAF project creates safety risks to President Trump and reduces the value of nearby properties such as Mar-a-Lago,” the letter said.
Brightline CEO Dave Howard told federal transporation officials in April the company intended to “submit promptly” an application for a Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing loan, adding that it planned to use the proceeds to complete its service between Miami and Orlando.
As of July 20, the U.S. Department of Transportation had not received a formal application for the loan.
The push came after All Aboard Florida unsuccessfully tried to sell tax-exempt private activity bonds to help pay for the construction of its second phase between West Palm Beach and Orlando. Officials have said it will be at least three years before that leg is operational.
Brightline officials on Wednesday declined to comment on the attorneys’ letter.
In their letter, Indian River County Attorney Dylan Reingold, Ruth Holmes, Martin County’s senior assistant county attorney, and Stephen Ryan, a Washington, D.C.-based attorney representing the citizen’s group CARE FL, urge federal transportation officials to “carefully consider” the project before deciding whether to grant a loan. The attorneys argue that the loan is “unlikely to be payable and creates a very high risk of default.”
They pointed to the recent split in ownership between All Aboard’s parent company, Florida East Coast Industries, and Florida East Coast Railway, which owns the train tracks.
“These two ownership changes have significant implications for the AAF project — both from a financial and environmental perspective,” the attorneys wrote in their letter.
In February, Japanese Internet and telecommunication giant SoftBank announced it planned to buy Fortress Investment Group in a $3.3 billion deal. Florida East Coast Industries, All Aboard’s parent company, is a commercial real estate, transportation and infrastructure firm owned by private equity funds managed Fortress Investment Group.
In a sepreate deal, Grupo México, a mining and transportation company based in Mexico City, announced in March that it planned to buy Florida East Coast Railway from Fortress Investment Group.
At the time of the announcement, All Aboard, Brightline’s developer, said the sale would not impact the passenger rail project, which plans to start offering service in South Florida this summer.
“The sale of the Florida East Coast Railway does not impact Brightline,” the company said in March. “Brightline is a separate company that has dual ownership of the corridor and the right to operate passenger service. We have all shared operations-related agreements in place with the Florida East Coast Railway for us to fully build out and implement our passenger rail system.”
The Palm Beach Post has closely followed the $2.5 billion high-speed rail line – and its potential effect on local communities – since its inception. Read The Post’s archive of All Aboard/Brightline stories at my PalmBeachPost.com/allaboardflorida