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A sample of reality needed in train vs. river debate

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By Capt. Chuck Limroth

There are four major flaws in the computer simulation display for vessel traffic on the New River that All Aboard Florida presented at a recent public meeting:

  1. The large vessels depicted are too small. Vessels of 100 feet or more need at least three-quarters of the width of the bridge opening to pass. The large vessels depicted took up less than a quarter of the width and were shown passing through the bridge simultaneously.
  2. There were no examples of the reality of all other vessels having to wait at least several hundred feet away from the bridge while one large vessel passes through it.
  3. When lined up waiting for the railroad bridge to open, vessels were depicted to line up single file “bumper-to-bumper” like automobiles. Boats simply cannot do this due to wind, current, and the inherent lack of maneuverability of floating vessels.

For example, 10 40-foot vessels waiting at the bridge would need at least 600 feet of river in perfect conditions. Add in a few larger boats and the total is well over 1,000 feet. This distance far exceeds the distance from the railroad bridge to the Andrews Avenue bridge.

  1. Due to the significant amount of linear space required for vessels waiting to pass through the bridge, the time for those vessels to pass will be significantly longer than depicted. Immense traffic jams will develop when several large vessels are required to wait for the railroad and/or vehicular bridges to open.

With these serious flaws, the simulation gives an unfair depiction of the impact on marine traffic. That’s significant because seeing it this way, the non-boating public can’t understand our concerns.

These are all important factors to consider in determining the reality of how river traffic will be affected when the number of freight and passenger trains doubles from the current amount. And for all of those who have no sympathy for boaters and other marine traffic that will be ‘inconvenienced’, there is far more to it than that. The New River is the lifeblood of thousands of working residents and hundreds of local companies.

The marine industry in South Florida is now an $11.5 billion a year revenue generator and provides jobs for more than 136,000 local residents. It is larger than the states’ entire citrus industry, among others. From a cost-benefit analysis point of view, how many local residents do the railroad company’s employ and how many local businesses exist for the sole purpose of servicing the railroad companies? How many residents will ride the passenger trains versus those that will be adversely affected by them and the additional freight trains?

All of this is crucially important to South Florida and we need to know all of the effects, costs, and benefits before committing. A computer simulation is a good start, but why not a real-life simulation? It could easily be accomplished and it would answer both the proponents and the opponent’s questions if executed properly.

A real-life simulation would not only reveal the effect on marine traffic, it will show the effect on vehicular traffic, an effect that is not being given enough importance. Anyone who travels to and from downtown Ft. Lauderdale, on the east-west arteries in particular, will tell you large traffic jams are now common during rush hours. Additional trains and longer vehicular bridge openings to accommodate the inevitable logjam of vessels will only compound the problem.

A simulation along these lines should be considered:

* The simulation could be conducted in Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties separately, or simultaneously.

* In Broward County, for example, daily for one week, the New River railroad bridge and street crossing gates could be sequentially lowered according to the proposed train schedules to simulate the increased rail traffic schedule.

* These once-a-month, week-long simulations should be conducted over at least three months, preferably during the height of marine and vehicular traffic season in order to establish a worst-case scenario.

* During these simulations, extensive monitoring of the effects should be observed by law enforcement, Coast Guard, emergency services, and other government and non-government entities. Afterward, all should report their findings, and input should be taken from affected residents.

The results and findings of a real-life simulation are our only chance to accurately represent the true effect of increased rail traffic and the costs and benefits of the proposal. If it shows that everyone benefits, then all parties should be happy and we should proceed.

If, however, the costs are too high, such as extensive vessel and/or vehicular traffic jams and the potential loss of jobs, business income, and quality of life for local residents, then an alternate plan should be developed.

Let’s try reality first; it is the only way to truly know.

Capt. Chuck Limroth is a megayacht captain and downtown Ft. Lauderdale resident. Comments on this essay are welcome at editorial@the-triton.com.

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