Downtown Orlando-Miami train
A $1.5 billion passenger train that would link Orlando with Miami is just one deal from becoming reality. The Coral Gables company behind the privately financed project has won two critical agreements it needs to begin construction. All Aboard Florida railroad got approval Wednesday from Orlando’s main road-building agency to lay tracks on land along the BeachLine Expressway. A similar arrangement was made late Tuesday with the state, which also owns part of the BeachLine. That means All Aboard Florida only needs a deal with its final destination, Orlando International Airport, to complete its route through Central Florida. Train representatives will meet Friday with airport officials to talk again, said Mike Reininger, president and chief development officer of All Aboard Florida. He said the airport and All Aboard Florida are close to a pact. Airport spokeswoman Carolyn Fennell confirmed the meeting but would not characterize the negotiations, saying only that “discussions are ongoing.” Reininger, who attended Wednesday’s board meeting of the Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority, said the state and authority agreements move the train nearer to “the realization of this vision we have.” All Aboard Florida, owned by Florida East Coast Industries of Coral Gables, could not build its system without permission from the state and the expressway authority to lease right of way along the south side of the toll road that connects Interstate 4 with Cocoa. The company already has tracks that run from Miami to Jacksonville. It is selecting engines and cars, plus planning depots in West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami for what promises to be a 230-mile, three-hour route. Both the state and expressway deals are for 50-year leases, with a option for an additional 49 years. The train company would pay the state $275,000 a year for the land, but compensation for the authority has not been set yet. If there is an accident during construction or operation of the train, All Aboard Florida would take responsibility, according to the leases. The train is slated to start carrying passengers in late 2015. Authority Chairman Walter Ketcham praised the agreement, saying, “It’s an incredible opportunity to help connect us to other parts of Florida in different ways.” In a release from the state, Gov. Rick Scott was quoted as saying, “This lease is another example of how our economic policies work to create private sector jobs for Florida families and develop the best transportation and infrastructure systems in the country.” The state and authority deals could mean that opposition to the train could be waning at Deseret Ranch, the 300,000-acre tract on the south edge of the BeachLine. A meeting involving Deseret managers, the state and authority officials is set for Friday in Tallahassee. Erik Jacobsen, who manages Deseret, confirmed the meeting but would not comment further. Deseret managers have been pushing to involve All Aboard Florida in a series of planning exercises that could have delayed operations. Deseret officials fear the train could hamper their future plans to turn sections of the sprawling ranch into housing and commercial development near OIA. The ranch, which spans Orange, Osceola and Brevard counties, is owned by Farmland Reserve Inc., a trust of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Deseret donated some of the land for the BeachLine in 1965.