Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
December 5, 2017 1:40 p.m.
After years of discussion and debate, Fernandina Beach City Commissioners were notified by email today that all parties have agreed to open the Alachua Rail Crossing. Implementation discussions will begin in January.
A series of email exchanges between FDOT and the railroad between October 11-December 4, 2017 show that the parties have cleared up outstanding questions and issues, allowing work to proceed.
Laura Regalado, FDOT’s Rail Contract & Signal Program Engineer, is the only official in FDOT handling Rail Crossing Opening/Closure throughout the state of Florida. Her emails with Joe Arbona, Assistant Vice President, Government Affairs Genesee & Wyoming Railroad Services, Inc., show that legal obstacles have been removed. Genesee and Wyoming is the parent company of First Coast Railroad, the company that operates in Fernandina Beach.
There is no requirement to close other railroad crossings locally, although Regalado has agreed to consider the railroad’s interest in closing three other crossings in the Panhandle.
In her email to Arbano dated October 17, 2017, Regalado wrote:
My recollection from our meeting in Fernandina Beach in May is the following:
1. FDOT to issue a letter of understanding to establish that the railroad and the City plan to enter into an agreement to open a crossing at Alachua street – contingent on the railroad approving engineering drawings for the crossing and Front Street. This is the draft you reviewed. If your legal would like the letter to include different or additional information, please provide that to me.
Once the letter is issued and the railroad has reviewed the engineering drawings:
2. Sign a Stipulation of Parties between the FDOT, City of Fernandina and G & W (First Coast railroad) including:
a. a new crossing at Alachua Street (either one-way or two-way traffic – to be determined) b. Improving the existing crossings at Ash and Center Streets to provide better signalization – including pedestrian gates c. Coordination between the City and the railroad on the redesign of Front Street to include pedestrian channelization to lessen trespassing on the railroad track
I offered to pursue any closures that G & W might be interested in across the state in an effort to offset this opening, but not as part of the agreement. The closures would need to be handled separately and incentivized by the department and the railroad. It is not the state’s practice to ask one local government to give a closure to another local government (unless they are in the same county and the closure is used to offset an opening that benefits the County as a whole).
On December 4, Arbano replied:
I was able to connect with the right folks on the letter of understanding and we are good with it.
We count on your support and action in seeking the other crossing closures.
With this agreement, the city is poised to open the crossing next year and include this element in plans for both the waterfront park and the Community Redevelopment Area (CRA).
For a history of the starts and stops of previous attempts to open this crossing see an earlier Fernandina Observer piece from February 2017: https://fernandinaobserver.com/2017/02/18/alachua-street-rail-crossing-a-brief-history/
Editor’s Note: Suanne Z. Thamm is a native of Chautauqua County, NY, who moved to Fernandina Beach from Alexandria,VA, in 1994. As a long time city resident and city watcher, she provides interesting insight into the many issues that impact our city. We are grateful for Suanne’s many contributions to the Fernandina Observer.