By Ann Henson Feltgen
Improving grade crossings and laying new tracks will continue to pose traffic delays and detours this spring, as All Aboard Florida readies train tracks for its Miami-to-Orlando express service, set to begin in mid-2017.
Brightline, the new name given the $3 billion service, will ultimately comprise 10 seven-car trains, each with 356-passenger capacity, running 32 daily trips along the Florida East Coast tracks shared with freight lines. New track will be added to connect Cocoa to Orlando. The trains will travel up to 125 mph.
According to Ali Soule, spokeswoman for All Aboard Florida, every grade crossing from Miami to Cocoa will be upgraded with new steel rail, thousands of concrete ties, new signals and crossing bars that will help keep pedestrians and automobiles safe and allow uninterrupted sleep for nearby neighbors by eliminating the need for trains to sound horns at crossings.
Construction is already underway in West Palm Beach and Lake Worth, according to All Aboard Florida’s timeline.
One of the areas most affected by this construction will be downtown Delray Beach, where its popular main street entertainment area, East Atlantic Avenue, is bisected by the tracks. Work there is scheduled for mid-April and will continue through June, but is subject to change.
Laura Simon, executive director for the Delray Beach Downtown Development Authority, said the impact to businesses, especially those closest to the railroad tracks, will be felt.
“We were able to go through the impacts of the Federal Highway project, so I think we will be OK,” she said. “But the business community does not yet have this on their radar, the restaurant and retail industries are day-to-day driven.”
She added that her agency will keep the public and business community informed and that while there will be impacts, they would suffer through it.
Soule urges residents to consult All Aboard Florida’s website for the most recent construction schedule at AllAboardFlorida.com/construction/grade-crossings.
She said the company works closely with local municipalities, county and state agencies as well as transit agencies, the Florida Department of Transportation and areas stakeholders to notify them of upcoming closures.
To date, Soule said 45 grade crossings have been updated between Miami and West Palm Beach. The work includes laying a second set of tracks next to the existing track in the crossings. The new tracks are stubbed into the original track at a later date.
All 109 crossings in Palm Beach County will become quiet zones. Funding came from the Palm Beach Metropolitan Planning Agency, Soule said.
Additional track improvements along the 66.5 miles of track between Miami and West Palm Beach total approximately $154 million.
As the crossing and rail improvements are underway, train stations also are being constructed in Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. And the trains themselves are being built.
Siemens is constructing the trains at its manufacturing plant in Sacramento, California, with the first train to be delivered in Florida this year. According to Siemens officials, the trains will feature high performance, be energy efficient and employ the industry’s latest technologies.
The West Palm Beach station under construction is downtown between Datura and Evernia streets, which have been permanently closed at the site. The 60,000-square-foot station not only connects Brightline but also existing local transportation, and is just blocks from Tri-Rail and Amtrak.
All Aboard Florida also will build an apartment and retail complex adjacent to the station.