Feds push non-compete pact for new rail line
Written by Lidia Dinkova on April 23, 2014
As intercity passenger rail connecting Miami to Orlando rolls toward fruition, the US Department of Transportation has encouraged the company behind the project to sign a non-compete agreement with a proposed commuter rail line that could use some of the same tracks.
The agreement would probably say that the intercity rail line, All Aboard Florida, won’t compete with an existing Tri-Rail commuter line, said Bill Cross, director of planning and capital development at South Florida Regional Transportation Authority.
The non-compete agreement has been tentatively put on the authority’s Friday board agenda, Mr. Cross said.
The 25-year-old Tri-Rail is a commuter line running west of the site of the future All Aboard Florida. It connects Miami to West Palm Beach, running on CSX tracks. In Miami-Dade County, the line stops near the Golden Glades interchange, in Opa-locka, in Hialeah and near Miami International Airport, according to its website.
The federal government has invested about $500 million in Tri-Rail and contributes part of the line’s operating cost to the regional transportation authority, which runs the rail service.
“The federal government felt like it was important to assure that existing service, that public investment is protected,” Mr. Cross said. “They want to make sure that by giving this loan to All Aboard Florida that they don’t enable this parallel service to become a competing service to Tri-Rail. They [the federal government] don’t want All Aboard Florida to take passengers from existing Tri-Rail.”
All Aboard Florida, a subsidiary of Coral Gables-headquartered Florida East Coast Industries LLC, said it has applied for an about $1.5 billion Railroad Rehabilitation & Improvement Financing federal loan to cover part of the cost of infrastructure improvements, new stations and new trains.
All Aboard Florida is to have fewer stops than Tri-Rail, and the company said the two systems won’t compete but complement each other.
A second part of the non-compete agreement would probably say that a proposed commuter rail line that planners want to partially operate on the Florida East Coast Industries’ corridor won’t compete with All Aboard Florida.
If plans for the Tri-Rail Coastal Link pan out, the commuter line would connect Miami to Jupiter.
“All Aboard Florida does want some language in the non-compete agreement that kind of reciprocates and says, ‘OK, we’ll agree not to compete with the existing Tri-Rail. But in return we want it to say if there’s ever a commuter rail,’” it doesn’t compete with All Aboard Florida, Mr. Cross said.
To ensure that the intercity passenger rail and the commuter rail line don’t compete, part of the pact could say that Tri-Rail Coastal Link will stop at all of its stations and won’t offer express service.
“We’ll be happy to say that that’s how we’ll be operating our service,” Mr. Cross added.
A steering committee of staffers from planning and transportation agencies, including the Metropolitan Planning Organizations from each county and the regional transportation authority, is working on the Tri-Rail Coastal Link. Plans are for the line to integrate into the existing Tri-Rail and run on the Florida East Coast corridor farther east.
“It tries to put the trains where people want to come from and go to,” Mr. Cross said. Tri-Rail “is out by the highway and doesn’t go where people want to go. Downtown Miami and downtown Fort Lauderdale are the two important destinations.”
If the commuter line comes to fruition, Mr. Cross said, it will “close to double the existing Tri-Rail ridership, which is a little more than 16,000 trips per day.”
In Miami-Dade, the part of the proposed Tri-Rail Coastal Link that could run on Florida East Coast tracks might stop in downtown Miami, Midtown/Design District, North Miami, North Miami Beach and Aventura.
The project hinges mainly on obtaining an access agreement to use the Florida East Coast corridor. That, too, would come at a cost.
“That’s the magic number everybody would like to understand, and unfortunately that’s the least understood number and that’s the big piece we need to move forward,” Mr. Cross said.
The project’s capital cost could reach $800 million and annual operating cost could hit $38 million, according to preliminary estimates.