U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy calls for federal All Aboard Florida viability study

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Florida’s controversial “privately funded” commuter rail plan will soon come under a federal microscope.

All Aboard Florida, facing a series of questionable financial claims and complaints by residents, has now drawn the attention of the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which was asked by lawmakers to conduct an independent review on the viability of the proposed 240-mile rail service linking Orlando and Miami.

On Thursday, U.S. Rep. Patrick  Murphy — a vocal opponent of AAF — sent a letter to the Comptroller General of the United States Gene Dodaro  for the GAO to conduct an independent review the feasibility of the planned All Aboard Florida project. It followed a similar request by fellow Florida Rep. Bill Posey.

In a statement issued from Murphy’s office, the GAO letter is just the latest in a series of warnings over the “serious risks AAF poses to the local economy, public safety, and quality of life” on the Treasure Coast and Palm Beaches. The Jupiter Democrat  also noted a “serious risk to taxpayers” posed by a possible default by AAF on any federally backed loan.

Murphy joins a growing coalition of local residents with serious questions on the expansion of commuter and freight rail and its potential impact on drivers, boaters and first responders. The main concern is how waterfront- adjacent communities on the route will deal with up to 32 trains a day running along the Florida East Coast Railway (FEC) rails.

Although sold to the public as a privately owned and operated rapid rail service operated by the FEC, AAF applied in March for $1.5 billion in federally backed loans to help cover startup costs. In addition, Gov. Rick Scott — after touting AAF as “100% privately funded” — included $10 million in the 2014-2015 state budget for train noise buffers and another $230 million for an Orlando International Airport rail terminal for use by All Aboard Florida.

The text of Murphy’s letter:

Dear Comptroller General Dodaro,

All Aboard Florida’s (AAF) plan to run 32 additional trains daily through the Palm Beaches and the Treasure Coast of Florida poses significant threats to our community’s public safety, economy, and our way of life. Although initially sold as a “private” project, AAF is actually seeking more than a billion dollars in taxpayer-backed loans from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). Before the FRA risks public money on this project, it is imperative that AAF’s relevant financial viability be thoroughly reviewed.

I applaud my colleague Congressman Bill Posey for joining the thousands of voices concerned about this financially risky and potentially disruptive project, and I fully support his call for the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to examine AAF’s true cost to taxpayers. A comprehensive evaluation of AAF’s viability is necessary to ensure that our tax dollars are not used as an irresponsible handout to a company that could not be profitable on its own.

I thank you for your office’s efforts to eliminate government waste, and I look forward to working with you to make this request a reality.

Sincerely,

Patrick E. Murphy

MEMBER OF CONGRESS

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.