From the Captain’s Chair: FEC Rail Bridge Closure January 23, 2017
“Railway bridge over St. Johns River stuck in down position. Marine businesses say they’re losing thousands because of malfunction.” This was a real headline from News4Jax on September 17, 2014, in Jacksonville when a mechanical problem with a gear on the track prevented the bridge from being raised, stranding boaters on both sides of the bridge. Unpredictable and lengthy bridge equipment malfunctions are likely a latent fear shared by boatyards and private homes on the west side of the FEC bridge over the New River, and having no control over a difficult situation can certainly cause some angst.
With permission from the U.S. Coast Guard, All Aboard Florida will lock down the FEC bridge over the New River for a maximum of 12 days in February to conduct necessary repairs to two trunnions, the trunnion base, and electrical upgrades to minimize an operational failure. We all agree that there is never a good time to halt navigation along the New River, but the bridge must be repaired, and in this case, it is far better to be proactive than reactive.
It is imperative that the railway bridge is maintained so that it can continue to accommodate the freight that originates from worldwide commerce sources, arrives at Port Everglades, and travels the railway corridor to destinations here in Florida and farther. Soon, All Aboard Florida’s Brightline service will begin carrying passengers from Miami to West Palm Beach 13 times a day at high speeds, and Tri-Rail Coastal Link will begin rail service to the south side of the New River, generating even more transit traffic with its planned 85-mile commuter rail service from Miami to Jupiter.
The more pressing problem facing the marine industry right now is not the planned bridge closure, but the complete lack of leadership to address future train traffic planned to cross the New River. It has been publicly acknowledged by elected officials and regulatory agencies that an elevated bridge across, or a tunnel under, the New River is an absolute necessity before any additional passenger rail can be approved, but who is taking the lead? The negative impact that passenger rail would have on our industry on the existing track, and the subsequent congestion on Broward Boulevard due to train crossings, should be unacceptable to every single citizen and business owner of Broward County. While it’s obvious infrastructure improvements are a huge expense, the price of doing nothing far exceeds the devastating cost to our industries and individuals. While we have one foot here in the present, we can choose to keep the other foot in the past or take an important step toward the future.
With more than 20 million residents currently, Florida is the third largest state in the nation, and South Florida is the second largest Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) in the Southeastern United States. People will continue to come here to visit, vacation, and live – in fact, close to 26.3 million will call Florida home by 2040, and we have a duty to demand from our public officials an infrastructure that meets our growing transportation needs.