Vero Beach Council on board with Amtrak using historic site

VERO BEACH – The potential closure of 14th Avenue near US 1 for a train platform appears to be a non-issue for the Vero Beach City Council, who approved a resolution supporting the return of passenger rail through the city.

“That’s a trade-off,” regional planner Kim Delaney told the council Thursday. Delaney explained to the council that other cities are also weighing the option of closing roads to accommodate a train platform.

As a planner, she said, she and other planners tend to fight for keeping the existing road network intact. However, in this case, she believes the closure is worth it if it will mean being able to use the Historic Train Site property.

Vero Beach City Councilman Brian Heady asked if the city’s closure of 14th Avenue north of the site could be used as a bargaining chip with the Florida East Coast railway company, noting that railroad companies prefer to have closed crossings.

Delaney said that officials at the state level would be “leveraging” what it can to come up with an agreement between the state and FEC.

Amtrak officials estimate that ridership could be 225,000 people annually on the east coast between Miami and Jacksonville. How many would board or disembark at Vero Beach’s station remains unknown.

To start, Amtrak would offer two northbound and two southbound trips during daytime hours, seven days a week, Delaney said. If the rail service is the success planners and Amtrak hopes it will be, more trains could be added, providing more service.

Hilde Tripson, of the Indian River County Historical Society, told the council that the group is in support of having the Amtrak station co-located with the historic station.

“History has a way of repeating itself,” Tripson told the Vero Beach City Council. She explained that in the mid-1920s, the council bought the property the historic station currently sits in order to relocate a railroad station to that site.

In the mid-1980s, the Indian River County Historical Society bought the abandoned 1903 Vero Beach station and had it moved to the city-owned land.

Now, nearly 90 years later, the city could have rail service at the site the 1924 city council had envisioned for it.

“We are looking forward to working with the city,” Tripson said.

While the Historic Train Station site appears to be the top choice of planners, the public and the council, they had also considered the Historic Diesel Plant and a site across from the Vero Beach Community Center.

The community center site was discounted due to not having enough frontage to allow for a train platform.

The diesel plant, according to Delaney, could still be a viable location, and would not require any road closures. She added that the city would not have to build a station, because the station’s function could be housed in the first floor of the structure.

By comparison, the historic station location would require a separate building to be constructed that would be used for selling train tickets and providing other services.

“There is a delicacy” to the Historic Vero Beach Train Station building, Delaney told the council. She explained that the historic station would continue to operate as a museum and would not be directly used for the Amtrak rail service.

It remains unclear how much money the City of Vero Beach would have to pony up for the Amtrak passenger rail station, as engineering studies have not yet been conducted.

Delaney said that most cities are looking at a $3 million to $4 million contribution, based of figures from a few years ago when the project was first contemplated.

However, because Vero Beach already owns – either directly or indirectly – the properties at both the historic train station and the historic diesel plant, and there is ample parking at both sites, the city’s contribution could be under $3 million, Delaney said.

Delaney told the council that the other cities are looking for partnerships with private entities, organizations and other local governments to help come up with the funds and staff to man the station.

Such groups the City of Vero Beach could partner with could include the Indian River County Historical Society, the Indian River County Chamber of Commerce, and Main Street Vero Beach.

The Florida Department of Transportation has submitted a $268 million grant request to the federal government for funds that would be used to get passenger rail going again between Miami and Jacksonville. The 350-mile ride between the two cities would take less than seven hours by rail.

According to FDOT, if awarded, the rail project would create 2,100 jobs and take three years to complete.

New stations Amtrak wants:

Stuart

Ft. Pierce

Vero Beach

Melbourne

Cocoa

Titusville

Daytona Beach

St. Augustine

Existing stations to tie into:

Miami

Hollywood

Ft. Lauderdale

Deerfield Beach

Delray Beach

West Palm Beach

Jacksonville

Expected Amtrak service:

Connect Florida East Coast and CSW railways in West Palm Beach

2 trains running northbound and southbound – could grow to 4 or 6 trains daily

Trip between Miami and Jacksonville to take 6 hours

Amtrak Passenger Rail at a Glance:

Total Est. Cost: $268 million – Federal stimulus

Est. Cost/Mile: $750,000

Miles: 326

No. Stops: 15

Est. Jobs Created: 2,100

Est. Project Construction: 3 years

Est. Annual Ridership: 175,000-plus

 

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