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Florida rail plan details offered to industry crowd

FORT LAUDERDALE — “High-speed passenger rail service is going to come [to this country] whether the public sector or the private sector pays for it,” transportation guru and entrepreneur Gabe Klein said Thursday at the Hyatt Regency Pier 66 Resort & Marina at a presentation that was jointly hosted by the Marine Industries Association of South Florida and the American Boat Builders and Repairers Association.

Klein said high-speed rail will be part of a transportation revolution that already is happening in and around U.S. cities and includes car-sharing; small, slow-moving (and self-driving) electric cars for city use; flexible mass transit; pedestrian malls; electric bikes; bicycling lanes; and other innovations that not only make cities more people-friendly, but also are catalysts for changing the way cities work.

MIASF executive director Phil Purcell said Klein’s insights are timely in light of All Aboard Florida, the proposed $1.5 billion high-speed passenger rail service that would run on the Florida East Coast rail corridor between Miami and Orlando, with stops in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach.

Marine interests are concerned about the impact that 32 high-speed trains a day — 16 in each direction — would have on boat traffic and marine businesses upriver from railroad drawbridges over the New River in Fort Lauderdale, the Loxahatchee River in Jupiter and the St. Lucie River in Stuart.

Klein said the rail service would take 3 million cars off the road and “unlock tremendous dollars” in real estate, retail and hospitality service development around the stations.

“The entire country is watching this,” he said. “If it works, it will have a profound effect on the rest of the country.”

Without going into detail, he said there are ways to work out “win-win” solutions for a project such as this that benefit not just the railroad, but the marine industry as well. He said it might require the railroad to spend more money — maybe more than it wants — on infrastructure to address industry concerns about backing up boat traffic at drawbridges and community concerns about noise and the interruption of vehicular traffic at crossings.

Critics of All Aboard Florida have proposed that the railroad use competitors’ tracks farther inland for its passenger service and build higher bridges over the rivers. The MIASF also wants assurances that the drawbridge will remain open 40 minutes every hour. AAF has said it can only schedule them to be open for 30 minutes an hour.

Klein said updating infrastructure, such as tracks and bridges, is vital. He said the United States spends 2 percent of its Gross National Product on infrastructure, compared with 5 to 6 percent in Europe and 8 to 9 percent in Asia.

“Infrastructure can be a big investment in our future,” he said.

Klein was an entrepreneur for 15 years, introducing Zipcar — shared cars — to Washington, D.C., where he built a fleet of 500, and consulting on Bridj, which operates small buses that change their routes as demand requires.

He also served as transportation chief in Washington, D.C., and Chicago, where he worked to make city streets and rights-of-way more welcoming for bicycles and pedestrians.

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