POINT OF VIEW High-speed passenger rail act ensures citizen safety

All rail and in particular passenger rail are vital to Florida’s economy. I support and acknowledge the value of efficiently moving goods and people to their desired destination. However, contrary to the representations made by Rusty Roberts, vice president of governmental affairs for All Aboard Florida (AAF), during a March 15 Senate hearing, it is my intention to ensure that all future high-speed rail projects are designed, constructed and operated in a manner that protects public health and safety and the local taxpayers.

For several years, the operators of the AAF project have been engaged in a dispute with local governments along the Treasure Coast with regard to the safety measures that will be installed to protect the public. Additionally, they have disagreed over who should bear the long-term cost of maintaining the necessary improvements.

Unfortunately, sometimes it takes a single project to bring issues like this to the surface. As policymakers, we are challenged with a choice of doing nothing and allowing a private for-profit venture to set a minimum bar for safety standards, or we consider the thoughtful recommendations of the Federal Rail Administration and require this project, and all similar projects, to be developed in a manner that provides the greatest protection to the public.

I acknowledge that the current freight companies, the Florida East Coast Railway (FEC) and CSX, have agreements with local governments that require them to pay all of the costs associated with the maintenance and repair of grade crossings. Although AAF did offer to pay for the initial costs of the improvements necessary for the high-speed at-grade crossing improvements, AAF would do so only if the local governments agree to allow AAF to be a third-party beneficiary to those railroad favorable contracts. Such agreements would put the burden of the maintenance costs for the at-grade improvements necessitated by AAF on the local governments in perpetuity.

Senate Bill 386 would require any company that wishes to operate high-speed rail anywhere in Florida on tracks that the company does not own to pay all costs associated with the for-profit enterprise, thus preventing the shift of higher costs to local taxpayers. However, the legislation does not interfere with the existing agreements between FEC and any governmental entity.

Our state is replete with examples of private-sector entities whose business models are dependent upon public tax dollars. As Florida considers these types of private-sector projects, we need to ensure that our local taxpayers are protected.


Editor’s note: Sen. Debbie Mayfield represents Florida Senate District 17.

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