By Barbara Liston
ORLANDO Fla. (Reuters) - A privately financed high-speed train connection linking Orlando and Miami is facing mounting opposition in Florida from communities the train will pass without stopping.
Almost a dozen small towns and counties on Florida’s east coast, mainly in the route's middle section, have passed or are considering resolutions or letters of concern about the All Aboard Florida rail link, citing traffic, environmental and financial concerns.
“It’s kind of hard to envision there is an upside to this train,” said Paula Lewis, a commissioner in St. Lucie County, one of four counties along the 240-mile non-stop route.
The trains are to use 195 miles of existing track along the state's east coast and then travel northwest on newly built tracks to Orlando's international airport, according to All Aboard Florida's website.
All Aboard President Michael Reininger said in an interview on Tuesday that the company turned down numerous requests for stops in the corridor, where the train is expected to reach speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour to keep the Orlando-Miami trip to under three hours.
Reininger predicted a federal environmental impact assessment of the project expected by early July will alleviate most concerns.
“At the end of the day we’re building a business which is a consumer product ... We think we will wind up with a very positive reception,” Reininger said.
The protests prompted Florida Governor Rick Scott, a strong supporter of All Aboard, to publicly release a letter this week asking Reininger to listen to local concerns.
Election year politics could be playing a part in the opposition. A group called Florida Not All Aboard, which claims almost 16,000 signatures on its petition against the project, posts candidates’ positions on the train.
One of the main complaints about the train include traffic delays at grade crossings caused by All Aboard’s 32 trains per day.
Reininger said a federal environmental assessment of the highest-density leg of the train from Miami to West Palm Beach found no significant impact on surrounding traffic.
Noise concerns could be alleviated by $10 million approved by the state legislature for communities requesting help to pay for quiet zones, where certain safety measures are used to replace loud horn soundings.
Florida Not All Aboard raised concerns that taxpayers could get stuck paying off a $1.5 billion federal train infrastructure loan that All Aboard is requesting. Reininger said the loan will be fully collateralized by the company’s land, stations and track improvements.
(Editing by David Adams and Steve Orlofsky)