A private company seeking to build rail service between Orlando and Miami has passed its biggest test so far.
Board members from the Florida Development Finance Corp. approved $1.75 billion in bonds to finance the All Aboard Florida project. All Aboard Florida wants to connect Miami with Orlando International Airport, with two stops in between.
Several hundred people showed up for Wednesday night’s hearing, including many opposed to the train. Some said it will create noise and safety problems, while others said it will be a traffic reliever and jobs builder.
Leaders from Martin, Indian River and St. Lucie counties asked board members to reject the request during their board meeting in Orlando. They have unsuccessfully sued to stop the project.
All Aboard Florida’s route would pass through those counties but does not stop in them.
Leaders in those counties said the train would create noise, traffic and public safety concerns.
A group called Citizens Against Rail Expansion (CARE) Florida attended Wednesday’s meeting to voice its concerns as well.
CARE Florida members said they wanted the vote postponed because of the cost and because they believe the FDFC has not been acting transparently and openly.
The bonds will be a loan that the privately owned All Aboard Florida rail company will have to repay. Critics said FDFC would get $1.8 million from the deal.
It could become the second-largest bond issue in the state, behind the $2 billion that was approved for the I-4 Ultimate project.
All Aboard Florida officials said the new train service would maximize convenience for travelers in central and south Florida, and create approximately 10,000 construction jobs. The train from Miami to Orlando would travel 235 miles each way with 16 daily round trips and handle 14,000 daily riders by the year 2020.
The train would run along existing freight tracks owned by Florida East Coast Railway, but new tracks would be constructed in Brevard and Orange counties.
Even though the project is billed as a privately financed train, Orlando International Airport is building a $214 million train depot, paid for almost entirely by Florida taxpayers, that will accommodate All Aboard’s trains, a new people-mover and a future SunRail connection.
Construction has already begun on a Miami central station, and Siemens is under contract to build and operate the trains. The train service could begin operations in early or mid-2017 in South Florida and would stretch to Orlando by the end of the year.