10 June, 2009

JACKSONVILLE AND AMTRAK, A City Speaks Out On Passenger Rail Routes


We took a look at the classic trains of Florida Past, and Present, then listed them by route by route. This was a long survey and we are quite happy to have had 47 people to volunteer their time to read through it and answer it as truthfully as possible. There were a few surprises but most of the answers were as exciting as the memory and imagination of the old railroad guy.

Routes: The train routes were given an identification based on some historic train or where possible a current Amtrak name. We then listed only the major destinations of all of the trains to give a good feel for the routes themselves. Everyone understood that there would be smaller intermediate stops enroute. Frankly, I wondered if the names or the routes or even the fact that they would not be "NON-STOP FLIGHTS" would play in a 2009 world. Not only did it play, I think many of these old routes are still considered solid gold by our City. Routes to the Carolinas, New York, Chicago, Cincinnati, and New Orleans all made a very strong showing. The Florida East Coast Ry. Corridor, nearly blew the survey away.

We then asked where they would prefer to catch a train in Jacksonville, again Jacksonville Terminal downtown was a hands down run away winner. However Orange Park/Yukon and a South Jacksonville station (both were once suburban way stations with passenger service) made a strong showing. Perhaps the citizens living in the most sprawled city in North America (largest in land mass) are begging Amtrak, JTA and FDOT to give us the benefit of multipule stops such as the Orlando area enjoys.

Schedules were questioned based on the age old, "Florida Passenger Train Curse." All trains run Southbound in the early AM, and all trains run Northbound in the early PM... I, for one, have always thought a couple of very late PM departures South from Jacksonville, with early AM arrivals in Tampa/Sarasota/Ft. Myers or St. Petersburg, as well as West Palm/Fort Lauderdale/Miami, would serve a strong market. I really didn't know how it would play for others to rock 100 years of tradition. One can only imagine my response to the peoples validation of my theorys.

The questions on the JTC (Jacksonville Transportation Center) aka: Jacksonville Terminal, are loaded as it is currently a far too small Convention Center. The old Headhouse of the 1919 Railroad Terminal dwarfs any other station built South of Washington D.C., but it sits vacant, used as an occasional "ballroom" for Conventioniers. The exhibit halls are new and take up most of the former railroad platforms with buildings and/or parking. If we attempt to build JTC with the Convention Center in the middle, it will scatter our station all over the LaVilla neighborhood. If we move the Convention Center to larger and more desireable locations in the center of downtown's waterfront, then transportation can reclaim all of the land that was once in use.

The questions of "Interface" with the City have to do with multi-modal connections. Our Monorail, and Bus System, plus any future Streetcars, Light Rail, Commuter Rail, Bus Rapid Transit, and Water Taxis. Again we wanted to hear from those with zero background in this type of venture to see what the casual resident would say. I think many will be amazed at just how savvy these citizens really are.

The last set of questions put the JTC or Jacksonville Terminal back to something of it's original form. We asked how much, where, when, what, how, who and why and again, honors go to these intrepid residents that hung in and gave intelligent answers to the questions.

Finally something of a joke. Our question about "The Lakelander" as a certain Mr. Davis, urban planner is known. "Ocklawaha", as Mr. Mann, your blogger, and former railroad consultant, is known in various civic forums and events. We knew there was local name recognition and wondered if all of these 5,000 + storys in all forms of media had given anyone a sense of who we are and what we'd love to do?
It was never intended to sound like hollow bragging, but the public themselves spoke loud and clear much to our delighted surprise.



Total votes out of a possible 47/(percent of all totals combined)/Percent out of a possible 100%.

ROUTE> The Tidewater Route: Jax-Savannah-Fayetteville-Suffolk-Portsmouth/Norfolk
13 (1.6%) 27%
ROUTE> The Carolina Special Route: Jax-Savannah-Columbia-Charlotte-Washington-New York
27 (3.3%) 57%
ROUTE> Silver Meteor Route: Jax-Savannah-Columbia-Raleigh-Richmond-Washington-New York
28 (3.5%) 59%
ROUTE> Champion Route: Jax-Savannah-Fayetteville-Richmond-Washington-New york
20 (2.5%) 42%
ROUTE> KCY-FL Special Route: Jax-Jessup-Hazelhurst-Macon-Atlanta-Chattanooga-Nashville-St. Louis-KCY
19 (2.3%) 40%
ROUTE> Dixie Route: Jax-Waycross-Fitzgerald-Macon-Atlanta-Chattanooga-Nashville-Louisville-Chicago
24 (3%) 51%
ROUTE> Royal Palm Route: Jax-Valdosta-Cordelle-Macon-Atlanta-Chattanooga-Knoxville-Cincinnati-Chicago/Detriot/Cleveland
21 (2.6%) 44%
ROUTE> City of Miami Route: Jax-Valdosta-Albany-Columbus-Birmingham-Memphis-St.Louis/Chicago
13 (1.6%)nb b 27%
ROUTE> South Wind Route: Jax-Waycross-Valdosta-Dothan-Montgomery-Birmingham-Nashville-Louisville-Chicago
12 (1.5%) 25%
ROUTE> Gulf Wind Route: Jax-Tallahassee-Pensacola-Mobile-Biloxi-New Orleans-(Los Angeles)
31 (3.8%) 65%
ROUTE> The Gulf Coast Special Route: Jax-Baldwin-Starke-Alachua-Gainesville
17 (2.1%) 36%
ROUTE> West Coast Champion Route: Jax-Palatka-Orlando-Lakeland-Tampa-Clearwater-St. Pete
22 (2.7%) 46%
ROUTE> The Meteor Route: Jax-Waldo-Wildwood-Auburndale-Winter Haven-Sebring-West Palm-Miami
16 (2%) 34%
ROUTE> The Sunniland Route> Jax-Waldo-Wildwood-Lakeland-Arcadia-Ft. Myers-Naples
9 (1.1%) 19%
ROUTE> The Palmland Route: Jax-Waldo-Wildwood-Lakeland-Tampa-Sarasota-Venice
11 (1.4%) 23%
ROUTE> East Coast Champion Route: Jax-Palatka-Orlando-Auburndale-Winter Haven-Sebring-West Palm-Miami
19 (2.3%) 40%
ROUTE> H. M. Flagler Route: Jax-St. Augustine-Daytona Beach-Melbourne-Ft. Pierce-West Palm-Miami
37 (4.6%) 78%


I'd Prefer to catch the train at the current Amtrak Station
1 (0.1%) 2%
I'd prefer to catch the train at the Jacksonville Terminal Downtown
46 (5.7%) 97%
I'd prefer to catch the train in South Jacksonville
9 (1.1%) 19%
I'd prefer to catch the train in Baldwin
2 (0.2%) 4%
I'd prefer to catch the train in Orange Park/Yukon
10 (1.2%) 21%

All schedules should be Southbound in the AM and Northbound in the PM
3 (0.4%) 6%
All schedules should run in both directions throughout the daylight hours
11 (1.4%) 23%
All schedules should run in both directions both daylight and overnight
33 (4.1%) 70%
JTC>I like the JTA Jacksonville Transportation Center just like it is planned
6 (0.7%) 12%
JTC>I would like to see the Convention Center moved and a more condensed Transporation Center built
35 (4.3%) 74%
JTC>If the Convention Center can't be moved, we should redesign the Transportation Center for more compactness
15 (1.9%) 31%

INTERFACE> JTA should hub city buses, BRT and Express Bus services to meet Amtrak trains
29 (3.6%) 61%
INTERFACE> JTA Should expand the Skyway Downtown to better distribute the passengers from the trains
29 (3.6%) 61%
INTERFACE> JTA should run much longer hours, even 24/7 on main trunk routes as soon as the trains start rolling
22 (2.7%) 46%
INTERFACE> I believe JTA's Commuter Rail and Streetcar lines will benefit from the groundwork provided by Amtrak and Regional Rail
43 (5.3%) 91%
INTERFACE> I don't think Amtrak will mean a thing to JTA ridership, even if we become a major hub again.
2 (0.2%) 4%

TERMINAL PLANS> JTA/FDOT plan 3 tracks at our downtown station, I think that's more then enough
3 (0.4%) 6%
TERMINAL PLANS> JTA and FDOT plan 3 tracks at our station, I feel it is wholly inadequate
12 (1.5%) 25%
TERMINAL PLANS> JTA and FDOT plan 3 tracks at our station and I fear they foolishly plan to give the hub to Orlando or Sanford
22 (2.7%) 46%
TERMINAL PLANS> I believe a complete Railroad Terminal with all of the sundry support is a requirement in Jacksonville
28 (3.5%) 59%
TERMINAL PLANS> I think Jacksonville and JTA should be at the forefront of the efforts to improve rail services in NE Florida and South Georgia
41 (5.1%) 87%
TERMINAL PLANS> I would support the idea of a multi-city/multi-state coalition led by Jacksonville to push rail passenger service
35 (4.3%) 74%
TERMINAL PLANS> Should The Lakelander and Ocklawaha be appointed to lead the Jacksonville Rail Task Force?
33 (4.1%) 70%



So Jacksonville, has bought the Bus Rapid Transit sales pitch, hook, line, and sinker. For over a year I have been raving on about BRT being nothing more then a cafe of advanced "bus think". The parade of supposed success story's keeps changing:

Santiago De Chile
Curitiba Brasil
Los Angeles El Monte busway

Who are these people? Gentle Reader, these are the same highway boys that scrapped the nations streetcars and interurban's in favor of buses. Go figure, the rail industry has 7 large companies and dozens of small shortline businesses, but most private passenger traffic died in 1971 as Amtrak took over. The industry has ZERO real interest in running our government trains on their tracks unless there is a huge incentive in plant expansion.

Otherwise there are some 70 odd cities with at least a mile or two of streetcar or interurban tracks in North America. Most of these operations are less the 20 years old. While thousands of communities cashiered the streetcars in favor of supposedly "flexible bus transit."

States including Florida, once had laws on the book that every able bodied male MUST serve a week or so each year working on roads. Those same roads were largely paid for with railroad tax money. Once the roadways reached the point of saturation, most Americans shifted their loyalty to automobiles. So when the evil streetcar holocaust snatched the big trolleys from nearly every town on the continent, nobody seemed to care. So how loaded are the dice for the rail proponents such as this blog? Glad you asked:

State and Federal Highways, aka: roads and bridges, are in endless expansion within finite space. Tax Payers that support highways should look for the same return on investment that Airlines, buses or Amtrak gets. But we all know THAT won't happen.

In Jacksonville the same highway boys rolled out a 26 mile "Bus Rapid Transit" plan that in reality was a BILLION DOLLAR road project. The mantra went up from JTA that "highway=cheap", "rail=bad". So this blog, along with metrojacksonville.com, jaxoutloud.com, urbanjacksonville.com, started exposing this true boondoggle for what it's really worth. "Just like rail only cheaper..." Only someone forgot to look up the word CHEAPER in the dictionary:

brassy: tastelessly showy; "a flash car"; "a flashy ring"; "garish colors"; "a gaudy costume"; "loud sport shirts"; "a meretricious yet stylish book"; "tawdry ornaments"
bum: of very poor quality; flimsy; embarrassingly stingy
The term derives from the Latin miser, meaning "poor" or "wretched," comparable to the modern word "miserable"Low and/or reduced in price; Of poor quality; Of little worth

So what are the folks at JTA and Miami-Dade REALLY selling us? Let's try that slogan again and insert the meaning of the word into our sentence:

"BRT - Just like rail only wretched, of poor quality and little worth."
"BRT - Just like rail only flimsy, gaudy and embarrassingly stingy."

Ever wonder where the billions of development promised by BRT really happen. Everyone knows the meaning of "cheaper" and none of them are going to plunk down $100 million on a new office tower without fixed, permanent transit.

So are we surprised that Miami-Dade is taking a "perfect example" of BRT built on a former railroad from Miami to Kendall and a converting it to toll road? No! A BRT system that was to show all of Florida just how much better BRT is then rail. So now with the railroad long gone, and the busway empty of either buses or passengers we see our State going even farther backwards.

So our lessons for the day:

BRT should NEVER be built where rail is already in place.
BRT does not live up to its claim to be "As good as rail."
BRT does tend to live down to the word cheap.
Commuter Rail or Light Rail would have been more attractive in the first place
Once the rail is gone, we may never see it again in any given corridor.
Once the BRT is gone, all we have to show for our $ Billions are a few more highway lane miles and a collection of newer buses.

Those example BRT models? Let's see if this is just a Florida ghost or a true fleecing of the flock.

  • Cleveland - The Euclid corridor claims millions in development and nearly every cent is socialized federal, state and local offices and the BRT has fallen short in every survey, Light Rail may soon replace the mega bucks spent on this "system."
  • 1978 – Pittsburgh's South Busway, projected to carry 35,000 weekday rider-trips, actually attracted only 20,000 rider-trips initially, and that level has now dropped to about 14,500, less than pre-busway ridership in the affected corridor. Meanwhile, a parallel LRT upgrade has attracted approximately fifty percent more passengers.[Source: Port Authority Transit data]
  • Boston - The highly vaunted "Silver Line BRT" will not be expanded in fact it's roadway was the most expensive piece of highway work in history, rail will take it from here on.
  • Santiago De Chile - IF you manage to get on a bus, be ready to duck flying bricks (you can feel the hate for this BRT in the air) and of course they're now building a Subway.
  • Curitiba Brasil - These folks claimed the worlds most successful BRT operation, they even got the bus traffic to move at 12 mph. Now they are quickly building a rail system.
  • 1973 – The El Monte Busway in suburban Los Angeles, installed on a former interurban railway alignment in the median of I-10, has been moderately successful, peaking with a ridership of about 30,000 per day. However, influential planners, highway engineers, and political leaders, perceiving unused capacity between the buses, in the 1980s opened the facility up to use by car pools. With the buses now delayed by "HOV" automobile traffic, ridership has dropped to about 20,000, a reduction of 33 percent. Meanwhile, a commuter rail line constructed by California down the middle of the "BRT" alignment, implemented to speed person-movement in the corridor, has been quite successful - consistently gaining ridership. [Source: LACMTA data]
  • Bogota - Ever imagine 350 North Americans packed into a single bus? Bogota with 5 rail lines going to waste, is holding tight to BRT in the hopes they can still sell it to stupid Americans. Just imagine what they could do with a series of 8 car push-pull commuter trains, but if your not into riots, military police or sardines, better steer clear of this system. It's so good in fact that it's ILLEGAL for a US/EEUU citizen to ride it!

"BRT" - You Can Build it ... But Will They Come?
Light Rail Progress – Updated December 2002

Proponents of "BRT" (so-called "Bus Rapid Transit"), including the US Federal Transit Administration, assume that, service characteristics (like access time, total travel time, and cost) being equal, the ability of "BRT" service to attract riders is equivalent to that of LRT (light rail transit). Accordingly, the FTA mandates that in ridership forecasting models – such as those commonly used in Major investment Studies for federally funded new starts – bus and rail modes must be treated as virtually indistinguishable to passengers. in fact, speculative ridership models sometimes assign higher trip projections to a "BRT" system alternative, on the basis of input assumptions of supposed bus "flexibility", such as neighborhood access, "seamless", transfer-free trips, express services leapfrogging around local services, etc.

But do these theoretical projections jibe with reality? The empirical evidence would appear to suggest otherwise.
Altogether, analysis has shown that, for new starts installed in corridors serving the core areas of US cities, "BRT" busways have attracted only one-third of the rider-trips estimated for them by FTA-approved modelling. LRT has attracted 122 percent. The palpable effect of this is that, on most new LRT systems, parking lots are jammed, and riders are crowding on trains; in contrast, typical new "BRT" systems may experience modest increases in ridership, but certainly not the avalanche of passengers seen on LRT.

Denver's new LRT extension was overwhelmed with passengers, a Denver Business Journal reporter assured readers that "Packed light-rail cars, overflowing parking lots and passengers left behind on station platforms aren't unique to the Regional Transportation District's new Southwest light-rail line." On the contrary, "They are scenes repeated around the country as people flock to new rail transit lines in numbers far beyond initial projections."[Source: Denver Business Journal 26 January 2001]

Now this from the Miami Herald, "Oh the Humanity," looks like someone figured out how to build another turnpike with FTA mass transit funds.

South Miami-Dade Busway may give way to cars

Officials plan to vote on a controversial plan to convert South Miami-Dade's Busway into a highway with toll express lanes.

A proposed plan would convert the South Miami-Dade Busway into -- among other alternatives -- a four-lane highway with express toll lanes where private vehicles would share the road with buses.

For years, motorists in South Miami-Dade have longed to drive on the two-lane bus road on the west side of the chronically congested South Dixie Highway.
Now they might get their wish if county commissioners and other local elected officials approve a proposed plan to convert the Busway into -- among other alternatives -- a four-lane highway with express toll lanes where private vehicles would share the road with buses. The revenue would then be used to fund the cash-strapped county transit agency.
The July 23 vote by commissioners and mayors who are members of the Miami-Dade Metropolitan Planning Organization would enable the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority to obtain a detailed study on ways to convert the Busway.
It would bring dramatic change to the Dadeland-to-Florida City roadway, which was built to encourage motorists to take buses that travel more quickly because they benefit from green-light priority at intersections.
But the strategy didn't work out well because Miami-Dade Transit was never able to operate many buses on the roadway. Currently, between 10 to 27 buses per hour during rush periods serving some 20,000 passengers per day use the Busway. At times the north-south roadway is practically empty.
Transit advocates now fear that modifying the Busway to allow private vehicles would further discourage commuters from using public transportation and reward solo drivers.
Katy Sorenson, a county commissioner and MPO member, provided a hint of the looming controversy when at last month's MPO meeting she urged fellow board members not to take actions that would steer people away from public transit.
''When the issue was brought up a year ago, I had some reservations, because undermining transit is the last thing I would want to do,'' she said. ``This would not necessarily undermine transit and it could provide a funding mechanism for transit. But I want to make sure that in this effort, transit is priority one and secondarily congestion relief.''
Commissioner Carlos Gimenez, also an MPO member, suggested he was more interested in relieving congestion even if that means allowing private vehicles on a bus-exclusive roadway.
''I would support moving forward,'' Gimenez said, alluding to the coming vote on the conversion study. ``If it competes with Miami-Dade Transit, so be it.''
The majority of members at the May 28 meeting seemed to support the conversion study, but not all 22 members were present.
Three possible conversion alternatives were outlined to MPO members in May by an MPO staffer who said the options would be analyzed more in-depth in the Busway study.
Alternatives described by Larry Foutz, the MPO's transportation systems manager, included:
• Leaving the Busway as is, but allowing private vehicles to use it by paying a toll that would be deducted electronically via SunPass accounts.
• Adding one or two lanes, plus flyover bridges at certain or all intersections to ensure faster travel times for buses and toll-paying private vehicles.
• Building a four-lane elevated highway, moving traffic at expressway speeds along a totally rebuilt Busway from Mowry Drive in Homestead to the Dadeland South Metrorail station in Kendall.
Making no changes to the roadway and adding toll-paying traffic would cost almost nothing, Foutz said, but the option would only allow no more than 5,000 vehicles per day to use the facility and would likely slow the buses.
The other alternatives would add more vehicles to the roadway and range in cost from $228 million to $1.8 billion.
The most expensive, what Foutz called the ''Taj Mahal'' of the options, would be the elevated expressway-style alternative.
Under any option, Foutz said, toll rates would be relatively high because officials want to keep demand as low as possible to maintain fast travel times.
Tolls, in anticipated 2030 dollars, would range from $11.25 to $12.75 for travel from one end of the Busway to the other.
Depending on the toll rate and number of toll-paying vehicles, revenue would range between $11 million and $37 million per year.
The Busway was built along an old Florida East Coast railroad corridor that the Florida Department of Transportation acquired in 1988. Subsequently, the right-of-way ownership was transferred to Miami-Dade County.


The arguments rage to this date, "Should have never been built," "waste of taxpayer money," "Doesn't go anywhere," "Nobody rides it..." etc. Bottom line is we have it, and it is finally showing signs of life. Simple extensions to the Stadium, San Marco, and the area of Blue Cross in North Riverside would turn this little train around. Addition of Park and Ride garages and multimodal transit terminals at the end points would bring on the crowds. The video must have been shot on a Sunday Morning, as downtown is certainly as packed with life as any other major City on weekdays. Jacksonville is a city of Bikes, joggers, walkers, buses and cars, one almost wonders how the photographer managed to find this quiet moment.

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