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The Silver Rail Blog

  • 27 Jun 2009 11:16 AM | Jackson McQuigg (Administrator)

    Tri-Rail votes to use gas tax money to keep trains running

    POMPANO BEACH - Tri-Rail will limp along for another year without any cuts to its schedule.

    The board that oversees the commuter train voted Friday morning to tap into $8 million in county gas tax money to avoid drastic cuts in service this fall.

    The money is normally used to pay for things like locomotives, new cars and station improvements. Instead, it will be spent just to keep the trains running.

    Tri-Rail's budget is taking a $9 million hit next year because Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties plan to cut their annual subsidies used to run the trains.

    Broward County Commissioner Josephus Eggelletion, Tri-Rail's board chairman, cast the lone "no" vote against using the gas tax money to fill the budget hole.

    Eggelletion said dipping into capital improvement money won't solve Tri-Rail's long-term funding needs. Doing so, he added, will give state lawmakers another excuse not to approve a dedicated funding source for the train, such as a $2 tax on rental cars.

    Only once in the past seven years has the Legislature approved dedicated funding for Tri-Rail, only to see then-Gov. Jeb Bush veto it.

    "All of a sudden you think next year [the Legislature] is going to say yes?" Eggelletion said. "You're going to get duped."

    Miami-Dade County Commissioner Bruno Barreiro said he couldn't vote to cut service, even if the choice to use capital improvement money for operations until permanent funding is found is hard to swallow. "The public perception is that there is money in the bank," he said. "You've got to use it all up."

    While riders don't want to lose service, they also say passenger cars need to be upgraded or replaced.

    "What I don't see anyone discussing is that the trains have been breaking down for the last couple of weeks because of the heat," said Steven Daun of Boca Raton, who rides the train on weekdays to Miami.

    "Many of the air conditioners in many of the cars either don't work or circulate warm air. Tri-Rail has become the epitome of what mass transit shouldn't be."

    Tri-Rail Executive Director Joseph Giulietti said next year's $161 million capital improvements budget is unaffected because the money that's being shifted to cover day-to-day operating expenses was never appropriated. That means projects such as a new parking garage at the Fort Lauderdale Airport Station and the purchase of new locomotives and cars will still go forward.

    But in future years, Tri-Rail can't continue raiding capital improvement money because it needs that cash to apply for state and federal grants for big capital projects.

    Without additional cash for operations, Tri-Rail faced slashing the number of weekday trains from 50 to 30 and canceling all service on weekends and holidays starting Oct. 5.

    Federal transit officials have warned Tri-Rail that it would lose a $256 million federal grant if service is reduced. Tri-Rail agreed to run at least 48 weekday trains and some rush-hour trains every 20 minutes when it received the grant to build a second track several years ago.

    Michael Turnbell can be reached at mturnbell@sunsentinel.com, 954-356-4155, 561-243-6550 or on Twitter @MikeTurnpike.

  • 22 Jun 2009 12:37 PM | Jackson McQuigg (Administrator)

    http://www2.tbo.com/content/2009/jun/22/silver-star-bucking-nationwide-drop-amtrak-ridersh/news-breaking/

  • 19 Jun 2009 3:26 PM | Anonymous

    Today is "Dump the Pump" day

    http://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/local/breakingnews/sfl-gas-transport-bn091809,0,7795632.story

     

  • 13 Jun 2009 10:48 PM | Jackson McQuigg (Administrator)

    SunSentinel.Com

    http://weblogs.sun-sentinel.com/news/politics/broward/blog/

    Congressional delegation demands Tri-Rail keep running

    By Michael Turnbell

    Eleven members of Florida’s congressional delegation say the livelihoods of thousands of workers and the future of high speed and commuter rail in Florida all rests on Tri-Rail’s ability to get dedicated funding.

    The delegation sent a letter Friday to Stephanie Kopelousos, secretary of the Florida Department of Transportation, urging that she “ensure the long-term survival of Tri-Rail by ensuring a dedicated source of funding for operations.”

    Tri-Rail faces service cuts in October, from 50 weekday trains to 30, rolling back to the same level as before a big federally-subsidized double-tracking project was completed in 2006.

    The only way cuts might be avoided is if Tri-Rail’s board decides to use local gas-tax money for operations instead of long-term capital expenses. A decision will be made at Tri-Rail’s board meeting on June 26.

    Without additional funding, Tri-Rail could completely shut down within two years.
    At least 350 Tri-Rail jobs with a payroll of $3 million will be lost if Tri-Rail service is eliminated, the delegation wrote to Kopelousos.

    Florida’s credibility to compete for federal transportation dollars also will be damaged as Congress considers a major transportation bill, the delegation added.

    The letter was signed by Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, Lincoln Diaz-Balart, Mario Diaz-Balart, Alcee Hastings, Ron Klein, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Kendrick Meek, Robert Wexler, Corrine Brown, Kathy Castor and Alan Grayson.

    Here is the letter: Download file

    POSTED IN: U.S. House (123)
  • 06 Jun 2009 10:50 AM | Jackson McQuigg (Administrator)

    South Florida Sun-Sentinel.com

    Failure to fund Tri-Rail hurts road and transit projects

    sun-sentinel.com/news/local/florida/sfl-tri-rail-funding-roads-f060509-copy,0,4904952.story

    By William E. Gibson

    South Florida Sun-Sentinel

    June 5, 2009

    WASHINGTON

    Florida has hurt its chances of luring additional federal dollars to help unclog roads and expand train service because the state has failed to put up enough money to keep Tri-Rail running, members of Congress warned this week.

    Florida's shortfall not only puts the commuter-rail service at risk, but it weakens the state's negotiating power in Congress to boost its share of federal highway and transit money.

    "I can tell you the rest of the country will clean our clock if we continue to stumble. It's just unconscionable," Rep. John Mica of Winter Park, the ranking Republican on the House transportation committee, told fellow Florida members.

    "Increasing Florida's share is going to be even more difficult this time," he said.

    Florida's attempt to get a bigger piece of the federal pie is intensifying now that Congress is preparing to renew a transportation bill that determines how gas-tax money will be divided among states for the next 10 years.

    All states face a potential squeeze because the federal transportation trust fund is expected to run short by August. Congress must pour more general-purpose tax money into the fund or raise the gas tax.

    Florida motorists pay their full share of federal gas taxes, 18.4 cents per gallon. But for every dollar contributed, the state gets back only about 87 cents for highways and 73 cents for buses and trains, according to state officials.

    This is the money that pays for such things as widening Interstate 95 and I-75 and adding a new interchange in Boca Raton.

    Florida members of Congress said it's hard to make the case for getting a bigger share when the state may be forced to return millions.

    Federal officials have threatened to force Tri-Rail to return $256 million if it fails to meet an obligation to provide full service.

    Declining contributions from the state and South Florida counties make service cutbacks almost inevitable. The Legislature's rejection of a $2 surcharge on rental cars to pay for rail systems leaves Tri-Rail without enough money to keep full service beyond October.

    South Florida riders are paying the consequences in the form of a 25-percent increase in Tri-Rail fares. The hike comes just as thousands of commuters are leaving their cars and jumping on trains to avoid fuel costs.

    "The higher fares you charge, the less people are going to use it," said Rep. Ron Klein, D-Boca Raton. "Now that gas prices are going up again, this has a real impact on people in Florida."

    Florida is pushing to increase its share of federal highway funds to 95 cents for every dollar it contributes in gas taxes.

    But some other states get back far more than they contribute.

    The biggest shares tend to go to vast rural states with small populations. Florida officials have long argued that growing Sunbelt states should get more to help absorb dense traffic.

    Using the latest available numbers, a 95 percent return on the state's gas taxes would have meant an additional $270 million for Florida in 2007, according to David Lee, director of policy planning at the state Department of Transportation.

    A 95-percent return since the trust fund began in 1956 would have brought an extra $4.5 billion to the state, Lee said.

    That additional spending would have made traveling through Florida a lot easier, said Doug Callaway, president of Floridians for Better Transportation, an advocacy group in Tallahassee.

    "If we had been getting our fair share for the last 20 years, we would have had additional lanes to ease capacity, and you probably would also not need so many toll lanes," Callaway said. "People would have a better quality of life with less stress and fewer tolls."

    The quest for future spending is unrelated to the $1.3 billion of transportation funds the state was allotted from the Economic Recovery Act, a one-shot deal designed to create jobs and help meet transportation needs. The state also is competing for a piece of the $8 billion provided for high-speed rail projects. U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, is rounding up support from other "donor states" -- those that get back less than they pay in taxes -- to change the way the money is divided.

    "We're talking about hundreds of millions of additional dollars that can go to Florida," Diaz-Balart said. "You are looking at potentially speeding up projects way down the road. I don't mean to say we would have clear highways. But we can make a substantial difference in keeping up with our growth and improving our capacity.

    "It could be a huge impact."

    William E. Gibson can be reached at wgibson@sunsentinel.com or 202-824-8256.

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