Now that the state has agreed to accept liability for potential rail crashes near Miami, Amtrak representatives say they are revising their 2010 ridership and revenue studies to make sure passenger rail service through the Treasure Coast is still feasible. “The numbers we have are already two years old,” Amtrak Government Affairs Director Todd Stennis said Wednesday. “I don’t want to put a timeline on this revision. Of course, we want it sooner rather than later, but when we do get the numbers, we’ll let everyone know.”
“Everyone” would include officials from Vero Beach, Fort Pierce and Stuart on the Treasure Coast, along with St. Augustine, Daytona Beach, Titusville, Cocoa and Melbourne, where Amtrak expects to stop at new stations in a long-proposed return of passenger rail service to this stretch for the first time since 1968.
Service would be one round trip a day to start off. After it gains more steam, supporters look to two trips a day.
Stennis’ comments come after Gov. Rick Scott in late April removed what Amtrak officials said was a major obstacle. Scott signed a new law that provides a no-fault policy on 72 miles of state-owned track from Miami to West Palm Beach.
Amtrak already enjoys such a no-fault agreement with other track owners, Stennis said, but had to negotiate one from scratch with the state when it bought that South Florida section of track from CSX Transportation Inc.
Now, the Florida Department of Transportation is to buy up to $200 million of insurance and pay a deductible of up to $10 million to cover the state-owned tracks.
After revising the ridership and revenue numbers, Stennis said, Amtrak will next have to hammer out an action plan with the Florida East Coast Railway, which owns most of the 351 miles of track between Jacksonville and Miami and the FDOT, which has set aside $118 million toward the project in the state’s 2013-14 budget.
Stennis said he didn’t know when that phase would start.
Locally, the potential station cities are taking different approaches to a possible Amtrak future. In Stuart, the station project was set back last month when Martin County commissioners killed a transit depot and gave up a $1.2 million federal grant. That depot, mostly for local buses, would have included an Amtrak station.
Stuart City Manager Paul Nicoletti said he is now looking at two alternate locations and will present those details in public meetings in July.
Vero Beach leaders, meanwhile, are taking a wait-and-see approach. The city already owns a historic FEC station on 14th Avenue, so it won’t have to build from scratch.
“We haven’t taken a position because we just don’t know the price tag,” Vero Beach City Manager Jim O’Connor said.
The FDOT hasn’t said how the $118 million would be divided among the station cities. And for all the talk of no-fault insurance on the track, O’Connor said, nobody has addressed how the city property would be insured.