The Atlantic's CityLab wonders: Can new train service between Miami and Orlando — in Florida! — be a model for the rest of America?
MIAMI — Beginning in 2016, All Aboard Florida will run 32 departures a day between Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach, with service extending to Orlando soon afterwards. With a maximum speed of 125 miles per hour, the trains will complete the 240-mile journey in less than three hours. In South Florida, around the three initial stations, the company will develop 4.2 million square feet of real estate. In Orlando, the terminus will be located at the airport and connect to a new commuter rail line at a sparkling, state-funded $215 million transportation hub.
It's a big project by any standard, but it looms even larger in historical context. No private intercity passenger rail line has operated in the United States in 30 years — and it has been longer still since a new service was introduced. "You'd have to go back over 100 years to find a significant investment in private intercity rail in the U.S.," says David Levinson, a transportation analyst at the University of Minnesota.
Broadly speaking, there are two reasons All Aboard Florida may be able to revive a transportation model whose decline began during the Hoover administration. The first might be called what is already there: a coastline's worth of right-of-way, half of Florida's population, and tens of millions of travelers on business and vacation. The second might be called what could be there: 21 acres of transit-oriented development in three South Florida downtowns.
Can All Aboard Florida establish a blueprint for how private freight railways, which averted financial ruin by abandoning passenger service, can profit from its revival? "If it can work there, it could work in other markets. The other private rail firms absolutely can be watching this," says Adie Tomer, an associate at the Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program who studies passenger rail. "This a great test for America."