Train Trouble: High-speed rail critics fear it will sink Broward marine industry

WSVN — Plans for a new train to connect Miami to Orlando, with stops in Ft. Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, may sound good but some businesses aren’t on the same track. Investigative reporter Carmel Cafiero is on the case.

Warnings bells are going off in Ft. Lauderdale over plans to use Florida East Coast Railway tracks and bridges for a high-speed passenger train connecting South Florida to Orlando.

It’s called “All Aboard Florida” and not everybody is “on board.”

This bridge over the New River is the issue. Business owners and boaters predict increased train traffic will mean the bridge will be down more often and cut off those who live and work west of the bridge.

7News timed the bridge. On this day, it was down 20 minutes before a train arrived and opened shortly after it passed.

With many more trains crossing in the future, critics say the already busy waterway will jam up and those who move larger vessels for business and for fun will be dead in the water.

John Fiore: “The river is the lifeblood to the boating community and it’s imperative that we keep that river open to boat traffic as much as possible.”

The Coast Guard recently held a meeting to hear concerns about navigation on the river and they got an earful.

Jim Parks: “I believe the economic health of the entire marine industry is at risk due to the limitations that will come with All Aboard Florida’s rail service.”

John Terrill: “Some chose to go elsewhere to avoid the New River. That’s the current state of affairs. We’re worried about what happens when we have increased closings.”

Speakers used notes, computers and even cell phones to make their concerns known. Most predicted dire consequences to a marine industry that in Broward County alone, employs more than 100,000 people and generates close to $9 billion a year.

Among them, Cable Marine, whose owner is hoping the Coast Guard will protect it.

George Cable: “And I know that we can count on your help, otherwise my little company with 60 employees west of the bridge may cease to exist.”

And waiting for a train to pass is much different on a boat than in a car.

Carmel Cafiero: “You can’t simply put on the brakes and wait and that makes safety an issue. As one boater put it, if I have to wait too long, I’m going to hit somebody.”

The owner of Ft. Lauderdale’s Tow Boat U.S was clear in telling the Coast Guard about back ups at the bridge.

Larry Acheson: “The FEC bridge closes unexpectedly, sometimes in heavy vessel traffic and with tidal current that’s dangerous.”

All Aboard Florida turned down our request for an on camera interview but sent a statement that reads in part, “We are committed to working with the marine industry and implementing appropriate mitigation measures to ensure an equitable use of this resource as our project progresses.”

Critics have suggested one solution might be replacing the bridge with a high level fixed bridge. The cost could be more than $50 million but advocates say what it could save is priceless.

John Dotto: “Ft. Lauderdale is the Venice of America, yachting capital of the world. Let’s make sure we keep it that way.”

Carmel Cafiero, 7News.

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