By Debbie Carson, Online Editor
VERO BEACH — Indian River County residents could have an alternative to driving and flying when traveling between Miami and Jacksonville in the coming years. Amtrak is looking to provide passenger rail service along the Florida East Coast Rail line by October 2012.
The company is working in partnership with the Florida Department of Transportation to secure approval for the $70- to $80-million project. The department plans to apply for federal economic recovery act funds to cover the majority of the costs.
“I think the stars are starting to align,” said Robert Lee, administrator of rail planning and safety with the Florida Department of Transportation.
The Vero Beach City Council heard an update to the proposed project last week. City staff is working with project leaders to determine where best to establish a station within the city.
They are considering a site located between Old Dixie Highway and Commerce Avenue (to the north and south) and between 17th Place and 20th Street (to the west and east).
“It has a better chance of coming to life than in past years,” said Amtrak spokeswoman Karina Romero. “We’re definitely hopeful.”
One potential snag to locating a station in Vero Beach is the city’s request that the trains not block cross streets while passengers board and disembark. The trains are expected to be between 1,000 and 1,200 feet long.
“That does occasionally happen,” Romero said of trains blocking roads while loading and unloading passengers, but that Amtrak strives to minimize that time as much as possible.
FDOT’s Lee said that they plan to have two trains making two round-trips daily between Miami and Jacksonville.
FDOT plans to establish eight new train stations along the way, which include Vero Beach, Fort Pierce, Stuart, Melbourne, Cocoa, Titusville, Daytona Beach, and St. Augustine.
The stops will join four existing stations located in Jacksonville, West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami.
Each of the cities is expected to “participate in development of the stations,” Lee said, explaining that the cities may kick in some or all of the construction costs of their respective stations, donating the land where the stations are to be located or some other form of cost splitting.
What exactly Vero Beach may be asked to contribute has not yet been determined.