A Florida Company Profile
Ticket to ride on FECI's 'All Aboard Florida'
Florida East Coast Industries believes it can make money offering a service no private company has offered.
The last train to try struck out. In 1997, the Florida Fun Train debuted, using the CSX line, as a "theme park on wheels," ferrying people between Osceola County and south Florida. But it was routinely late by hours, as CSX trains took priority on the tracks, and struggled to meet the "inordinate" insurance costs that came with not owning the rail line, says Allen C. Harper, who was chairman of the Fun Train's parent company and who now runs American Heritage Railways, an operator of excursion trains in Colorado and North Carolina.
FECI's control of the rail line will make the difference, Harper says. "It's got so much better chance of working than Florida Fun Train ever did. You're so far ahead of the game capital cost-wise," Harper says. Another factor favoring the train is a decline in airline flights each week from south Florida to Orlando, which fell from 358 in 2001 to 130 in 2011.
All Aboard also should benefit from millions of international tourists who want to visit both south Florida and Orlando. "It's natural for them to say, ‘Oh, is there a train?' " says Richardson. FECI will be helped by the money it can make developing the nine-acre tract in downtown Miami where All Aboard Florida will have its station, and from parcels it purchased in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach where it plans stations. The three sites come to 5 million square feet in entitlements.
Meanwhile, FECI has assembled an executive team for All Aboard, including two former Disney executives, to decide on the design of cars and choose a company to operate the line. It's talked of stylish settings, premium food and beverage service, wi-fi and an hourly schedule during the daytime with no service overnight.
Other developers are salivating at the prospect of intercity passenger rail. MDM Group, for instance, contracted to buy the one-time site of the Miami Arena to build an 1,800-room hotel and convention center that would be connected by bridges to the All Aboard station.
For the train to run by 2015, however, FECI has hurdles to overcome. In June, the Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority and the state transportation department approved a lease for land along the Beachline Expressway to Cocoa that All Aboard needs to connect to its own track. (The state will take $275,000 a year for its portion; no financial terms have been set with the authority.)
But the authority lease has a long list of conditions All Aboard must meet. Meanwhile, the train's coming has caused planners and interested parties, such as Deseret Ranches of Florida, a major owner of land along the road, to raise concerns about All Aboard's impact and advance their own ideas for use and development.