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Florida officials vow rail plan won’t hurt marine industry

Officials vowed that they will not put the marine industry at risk at a meeting last week with stakeholders in All Aboard Florida.
Greg Stuart (left), director of the Broward Metropolitan Planning Organization, U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, D-Fla., and Marine Industries Association of South Florida executive director Phil Purcell are shown at the meeting.

Greg Stuart (left), executive director of the Broward Metropolitan Planning Organization, U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, D-Fla., and Marine Industries Association of South Florida executive director Phil Purcell are shown at the meeting.

U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, D-Fla., and Broward Metropolitan Planning Organization director Greg Stuart vowed that they will not put the marine industry at risk at a meeting last week with stakeholders in All Aboard Florida.

Representatives of the Marine Industries Association of South Florida, the Coast Guard, the Broward County Commission, the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance, All Aboard Florida and Florida East Coast Industries also attended the meeting. It was held to get an update on the railroad test regulations being implemented at the FEC rail bridge over the New River.

Greg Stuart, executive director of the Broward Metropolitan Planning Organization, promised that his organization will not allow for the degradation of the bridge and the capacity of the marine facilities west of it.

"We recognize the need to improve it if we want to add more," he told attendees.

Frankel commended the Coast Guard for its efforts and vowed to stay committed to the marine industry and finding a solution. "I'm optimistic we can do it," she said.

The test regulations in place require that the bridge not be closed more than a combined 60 minutes during any 120-minute time period. If the test regulations are successful, the Coast Guard has indicated they will become permanent.

Coast Guard Bridge Administrator Barry Dragon said communication has been the biggest problem in the past and that the regulations, which require various means of communication, have helped the service get a handle on it.

A review of Coast Guard logs shows that since the test regulations began, the average time the bridge has been down is 1 hour and 45 minutes during a 12-hour period for 17 minutes each time.

Representatives from All Aboard Florida and Florida East Coast Industries, the parent company of All Aboard Florida, said their goal is predictability and communication. Starting in 2017, they estimate that AAF's 32 trains will add 12 minutes to every hour that the rail bridge is closed between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m., totaling an additional three hours during the day, and that they will implement a website and/or an app that will communicate the times of the closings.

"We both want to grow and grow successfully," said Jose Gonzalez, senior vice president of Florida East Coast Industries.

They also discussed short- and long-term initiatives to move freight west to U.S. 27. The Florida East Coast Industries said eight of the 14 trains that run through the county, mostly at night, could eventually be diverted to CSX tracks. The MIASF pointed out that this would help car traffic, but the trains still would cross the New River at another point.

All agreed that during the next five to seven years growth in Florida, combined with freight and additional commuters on the FEC corridor, will require a second, higher bridge over the New River to elevate commuter trains, ensure predictability and protect the marine industry. Both the MPO and Frankel committed to finding funds for the bridge.

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