Amtrak passenger service to Vero Beach under attack as financial boondoggle

VERO BEACH — The Vero Beach City Council has been receiving enthusiastic and hopeful updates about proposed Amtrak passenger train service for nearly two years, but County Commission Chair Bob Solari thinks the idea is huge waste of money.

Solari called the project a “boondoggle” and cited that it would cost $250 million to get started, with unknown costs down the road.

In December, Solari asked the Florida Department of Transportation to provide an explanation of how the project might eventually turn a profit — or at least break even for the taxpayers. He’s received nothing concrete from the agency.

“This project has been brought before multiple groups and elected bodies with emotional pleas for support but with neither an investment grade business plan nor a clear picture of the amount of local financial support necessary for the project,” Solari wrote in a memo to the Board.

In December, Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council member Kim Delaney made a presentation to the Vero City Council complete with schematics of what the train station would look like and the City Council has set land aside for the Amtrak/FEC Corridor Project.

No details were given about the funding or the long-term viability of limited passenger rail on the east coast of Florida. It was also not disclosed who would pay for the upkeep of the station or for any attendants or other personnel that would be necessary to staff it and service passengers.

“Nearest I have been able to determine (and mine is a rough estimate but no one including FDOT has been able to come up with a better one) is that taxpayers will subsidize the project with nine dollars for every dollar generated in ticket revenue,” Solari wrote.

On Tuesday, Solari will propose that the Board of County Commissioners pass a resolution asking Gov. Rick Scott to stop the Amtrak/FEC passenger rail project.

This move — if commissioners approve it — is not expected to sit well with the City of Vero Beach. Vero Beach officials have praised the Amtrak/FEC concept and said they welcomed the passenger service that would take up residence at the historic train station site downtown on 14th Avenue.

Another item before the BCC on Tuesday will be a presentation by Dr. Stephen Faherty and CPA Glenn Heran presenting financial options for a possible regional water, sewer and irrigation water utility headed up by the County to serve not only County but Vero Beach and Indian River Shores ratepayers.

Click here for previous coverage of the Amtrak/FEC Corridor Project.

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