All Aboard Florida plagued by a few who aren’t onboard

Jun 30, 2014

Have you heard of All Aboard Florida? Unless you’re living in one of the locations where the project is taking place, the phrase might not be familiar. But All Aboard isn’t just a phrase, it’s an initiative that is shaping up to become the first privately owned and operated public railway in the United States.

Owned by Florida East Coast Industries, All Aboard is seeking to create a railway between Miami and Orlando, with two more stops along the way in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. The website for the project states that the aim is to “provide Floridians and visitors [with] a viable transportation alternative to congested highways and airport terminals.”

It sounds great, but the jury is still out on some of the costs and logistics of the project, and the company’s hasty attempts to shut down a recent public records request isn’t doing their public image any favors.

Last month, Orlando developer Matthew Falconer was about to be granted his public records request by the state to look at the project’s federal loan application, economic impact statements, and even a ridership satisfaction survey the company itself had conducted.

At the last minute, however, All Aboard Florida filed a lawsuit blocking the request, in which it named Falconer, along with the Florida Department of Transportation and other relevant travel authorities in the state.

Falconer says that he simply wants the information surrounding the project to get published, considering that “the Florida taxpayer is being asked to pay millions of dollars on related projects and at the heart of it all is the viability of All Aboard Florida.”

Right now, it’s not fully clear what Falconer means by “related projects,” as the All Aboard Florida website claims that $0 of their funding comes from taxpayer money. Instead, the site highlights the potential increased revenue and job creation potential for the state of Florida. It may, however, be safe to assume that future maintenance or alteration projects to areas affected by the railway could be publicly funded.

In the lawsuit, the company cites that “trade secrets” are held within the requested documents; trade secrets are exempt from Freedom of Information Act requests under Florida law.

If this scenario sounds familiar, that’s because it is. Roughly a month ago, the state was in hot water for its transportation dealings with a company contracted to install highway guardrails. When scrutiny fell onto the deal, and specifically the integrity and safety of the products, that company also halted a public records request process by claiming the documents requested contained trade secrets and that it did not want them to be released.

While frustrating, Floridians should know that they do have a right to both access and reproduce these types of documents under the Freedom of Information Act. If you’re curious about a government contract, bill, or representative, you need only to contact the relevant office to submit a request for your records. There can be a fee associated with retrieval, though this cannot be excessive as a ploy to prevent records retrieval. Many public records requests can now also be filed entirely online.