By Debbie Carson, Online Editor
VERO BEACH — Representatives from various city agencies and groups met Monday to discuss three potential sites for a proposed Amtrak station in Vero Beach. All three sites are located within Vero Beach’s downtown district and are on city-owned property.
The sites include the Historic Vero Beach Train Station, the Vero Beach Community Center, and the Old Diesel Plant, all of which are viable locations with what officials call minor snags.
Amtrak, with the Florida Department of Transportation and the City of Vero Beach and other such agencies, are seeking federal funding to bring passenger rail service to the area.
“It would create a level of mobility we haven’t had since the 1960s,” said Kim DeLaney, growth management coordinator for the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council. The project includes establishing eight train stations along the Florida East Coast Railway between Miami and Jacksonville and could cost between $90 million and $110 million.
The federal government has earmarked $8 billion for such transportation projects nationwide. And, according to DeLaney, there are already $120 billion worth of projects nationwide that have been proposed, making stiff competition for the Amtrak project.
The eight train stations proposed for what officials call the Amtrak/FEC Corridor Project are expected to draw passengers from as far as 30 miles away.
In terms of Indian River County, officials would expect that Fellsmere and Sebastian residents, along with those in the unincorporated part of the county would ride the rail.
But where those residents would catch the train remains to be decided.
Vero Beach Planning and Development Director Timothy McGarry said that the Historic Train Station would be a good location given its amount of parking, restrooms, and the ability to either use the train station itself or build a new, smaller structure on-site for train services.
He did caution that the train station is on the National Historic Register and that would have to be taken under consideration. Also, the Indian River County Historical Society has leased the train station building. That lease would have to be renegotiated.
McGarry said that the city has not approached the society yet about the possibility of using the historic station.
Also, the site would have to be reviewed for ADA compliance and brought up to those standards as needed.
The second proposed site is the Vero Beach Community Center, located immediately south of the Historic Train Station. McGarry said that the location appears to be viable but that the city has not looked at it closely enough.
He said that train-related building that would be needed could be easily established on site. Also, there would be enough parking.
Officials also said that having the train station at the community center would bring people to the Heritage Center and the parks and would also be close to the Indian River County Chamber of Commerce.
The Old Diesel Plant is seemingly the most problematic of the three, according to what officials said during the Monday meeting.
The site is under a lease agreement with a private entity that is redeveloping the site and looking for tenants. If selected, the lease would have to be renegotiated.
Also, there are environmental concerns due to the plant’s history with diesel. And, like the Historic Train Station, the building is on the National Historic Register and must be treated accordingly.
One of the considerations the agencies have to take into account is the length of the platform for the train.
Michael Latiff, of Amtrak, said that the company would like to have a 1,000-foot long platform that the train can pull alongside for easy loading and unloading of passengers. If the platform is too short, the train would have to pull in to load and unloading the front set of passengers, then pull up farther along the platform to load and unload the back set.
Another consideration in selecting the site is disruption to the local traffic on nearby roads. The Historic Train Station site is the only one that would block traffic while the train sits at the station, and even then it would be for a couple minutes, according to DeLaney.
No decision is expected to be made anytime soon on where the train station would be located, DeLaney said.
In the meantime, however, the Florida Department of Transportation is evaluating the sites for logistics to determine if any of the proposed sites can be ruled out.
FDOT has until Oct. 2 file its application to the federal government. The government, then, is expected to make a determination on the grant funds sometime in November and work could get started on agreements and engineering and planning as early as January 2010.
DeLaney said the goal is to have passenger rail service on Florida’s east coast by Oct. 2012 and it could happen, “if the planets remain in line.”