FRA approves Brightline Orlando extension; bond meeting cancelled

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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla.. – Brightline is going to Orlando. That’s the result of the Federal Railroad Administration issuing a record of decision Friday on the Final Environmental Impact Statement it released in 2015. The agency’s decision clears Brightline to begin construction north of West Palm Beach on its proposed Phase 2 extension to a new terminal at Orlando International Airport.

The line will utilize Florida East Coast tracks north to Cocoa, Fla., and a new rail line west to the airport. As with the route south of West Palm Beach that is supposed to host revenue trains as far south as Fort Lauderdale within the next few weeks; existing FEC single track segments will be upgraded with a second track and safety appliances in order to achieve a three hour travel time between Miami and Orlando. West Palm Beach-Cocoa speeds will top out at 110 mph, the upper FRA limit permitting highway grade crossings; Cocoa-Orlando will be on a sealed 125-mph corridor adjacent to the Beachline Expressway, which is Florida State Route 528.

Meanwhile, Brightline over the weekend abruptly cancelled its recent request to have the Florida Development Finance Corp. hold an emergency meeting Monday to consider issuing $1.15 billion of private activity bonds to help pay for the extension. In a statement Saturday, the company said it no longer needed the meeting, “due to the House and Senate agreeing on a tax reform bill that preserves private activity bonds,” the Palm Beach Post reports.

Brightline can now return to the bond market if necessary, but with the FRA record of decision, may now qualify for a Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing loan. If approved, the terms of repayment could be more favorable than a private activity bond conditions and an expected interest rate of more than 5.5 percent.

Brightline Executive Director Mike Reininger told Trains News Wire in March, 2015, “Rather than try to do a bad deal…we want to come back into the capital markets when we can get a better deal with respect to the cost of the long term financing that will ultimately be put in place.”
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