New rail bridge study, comments from Frankel released March 18, 2015

A new study shows that the number of boats passing under the FEC rail bridge over the New River has increased, and U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel said this month that the Federal Railroad Authority’s report on All Aboard Florida doesn’t accurately address its impact.

MIASF members Chris Brown and Jimmie Harrison monitored the bridge 24 hours a day for 21 weeks and supplied the data they collected to an independent third-party contractor who analyzed it for the study.

From Dec. 14-Feb. 21, there were 1,587 bridge openings and 39,509 boats passed through it, averaging 320 boats per day. That includes the Miami boat show loading and the MLK Day boating “holiday” and is almost 100 more boats per day than during the earlier time period studied (Aug. 24-Nov. 7). The city’s water trolley also started service during that time.

According to the analysis, the average time it took the train to pass was 3:23 from start to finish. The average time the bridge was closed each time was 19:03. All Aboard Florida has said it will bring that number closer to 12 minutes. It currently takes 2 minutes each way for the bridge to go down and up.

During a presentation this month, U.S. Representative Lois Frankel said the Federal Railroad Authority believes trains increase economic productivity, and that it downplayed AAF’s impact on boating and cars.

Frankel, who sits on the House Transportation Committee and Coast Guard Subcommittee, said she believes in “first do no harm.”

“I’m skeptical of whether All Aboard Florida will help Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach grow. It will bring some additional development near the train stations, but there is a lot of development without it,” Frankel said. “I’m skeptical of any near-term economic advantage. I’m more concerned about the economic impact of 32 trains coming up and down the corridor I represent. The marine industry is a much bigger economic driver than All Aboard Florida will ever be.”

Frankel noted she was the only congressman who didn’t write a letter in support of AAF because the stakeholders have issues with it, though she noted she is not necessarily opposed to it either. The possibility of moving freight trains farther west has been explored but hasn’t gained any traction, she said.

As far as the Coast Guard, their first priority is the marine industry and protecting the reasonable needs of maritime navigation, Frankel notes. She spoke to Barry Dragon in November, and during their conversation he noted that the Coast Guard can only address “current and near future needs of mariners.” However, Frankel said she learned this month that the Coast Guard will take into account future conditions.

Frankel advised stakeholders in the marine industry to get local and state officials on the same page. “We take our cue from local and state people,” she said. She also said she will convene a meeting of marine industry stakeholders with local, state, and Coast Guard representatives.

When formulating strategy to address AAF, Frankel said members of the marine community need to think of the industry as a region. “Even the expansion at Rybovich should benefit small businesses here,” she noted.

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