“It has now passed the point of no return. Bonds have been sold, ground has been broken. The project will go forward, and Florida will soon find out whether passenger rail . . . can again turn a profit.”
That sentence is from the last paragraph of “On the Right Track” (National Review, January 26, 2015). Stephen Smith, the author, had every reason for this conclusion after being charmed by Wes Edens, founder and co-chairman of Fortress Investment Group, which owns All Aboard Florida (AAF), whose plan is to institute a Miami-to-Orlando high-speed passenger rail service with 32 trains a day.
National Review can be thanked for galvanizing Martin, St. Lucie, and Indian River counties into opposition on the grounds that the train would pose risk, injury, and delay to emergency traffic. The people have heard the words of Thomas Jefferson: “When the legislative or executive functionaries act unconstitutionally, they are responsible to the people.”
President Obama, the U.S. Department of Transportation (Federal Railroad Administration), Homeland Security (the U.S. Coast Guard), the governor of Florida and all of the state’s departments, 27 of the 29 Florida U.S. representatives and senators, 64 of 67 counties and their state representatives and senators, and the majority of Florida’s 19.5 million (less the 600,000 residents of the Treasure Coast): All are in favor of this epitome of political and corporate cronyism.
Yes, “bonds have been sold”: In July 2014, $405 million, five-year, 12 percent were purchased. The question is whether AAF can now sell $1.75 billion of bonds at a reasonable rate. “The project will go forward”: If AAF and the “government” can sustain the legal onslaught that the three objecting counties have begun.
History shows that AAF cannot be profitable, as every passenger train in the world requires a government subsidy to cover operating and capital costs. Therefore, if the project is built, Wes Edens will soon beckon the governor of Florida to Miami: “The engines are idling, the fuel gauges read empty, please hurry, and, governor, bring your checkbook.”
Vero Beach, Fla.
Stephen Smith responds: Mr. Schaus should alert the authorities responsible for securities fraud in Japan, because if he’s correct that every passenger train in the world requires a government subsidy to cover not only capital but also operating costs, then Japan’s dizzying array of private railroads has been defrauding investors and the public about its profitability for years. He might also consider alerting the authorities in Western Europe, where a few of the state-owned railroads claim to operate with varying degrees of profitability, especially on the continent’s high-speed railways.