Infrastructure investment: The whole is greater than the sum of its parts

Monday, May 21, 2018 10:43 am EDT

By:

Marc Buncher, President, Siemens Mobility U.S.

For decades, people have studied, discussed and debated the implementation of a high speed rail system. So when it was announced in 2012 that a group in Florida was going to build Brightline, a new, privately owned and operated railway service to link major cities, many looked at this with great curiosity and the potential for national implications.

Yet here we are, a little more than six years later, with Brightline’s revenue service to MiamiCentral just launching this past weekend on May 19. This extension now links riders to and from Fort Lauderdale in 30 minutes and West Palm Beach in 60 minutes. The opening of MiamiCentral, Brightline’s 11-acre downtown mobility hub, is an impressive milestone on many different fronts. It is the first train that touts itself at the intersection of transportation and hospitality, and it’s the only passenger train in decades that is privately owned, operated and maintained.

As the manufacturer of the trains, we are very proud of the clean, quiet and reliable ride they provide to Brightline passengers. They are the first fully ADA-accessible trains in the country, and the modern features of the passenger coaches make rail travel in Florida a desirable choice for business and leisure travelers. They meet the highest emissions standards set by the federal government and are Tier IV compliant.

Moreover, Brightline’s operation expands beyond the rail line, attracting a fan base that includes downtown residents.  Spanning over six downtown city blocks, MiamiCentral is set to become a mixed-use development, anchored by the city’s first transportation hub connecting all of Miami’s public transportation offerings, including Tri-Rail, Metrorail and Metromover. When completed, it will feature over 800 residential units, office buildings with almost 300,000 square feet of space, and retail space with a food hall.

Early indicators that the rail investments will drive regional economic growth are good:  According to figures from the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance, Broward County’s official public-private partnership for economic development, more than $43 million has already been invested within a one-mile radius along its route in Broward County alone. This includes the construction of 2.5 million square feet of commercial space.

But perhaps the biggest indicator of future success is right under our noses: our own children. As many parents my age are now discovering:  our kids don’t want to drive anymore. According to data from the University of Michigan’s Monitoring the Future survey, the number of high school seniors who have a driver’s license dropped from 85.3 percent in 1996 to 71.5 percent in 2015. The next generation work force wants to be either living in or having access to the downtown city centers without having to use a car.

And it’s another reason why we need to invest smartly in new infrastructure – ensuring that it meets the needs of our connected society.  Just as our kids are changing the way we view transportation, we need to elevate the way we look at infrastructure investment and start taking advantage of its broader societal and economic benefits. We look forward to the start of this new passenger rail chapter in Florida and expect other regions will be watching closely too.

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