Gary Fineout of the Associated Press reports:
The $200 million that Florida Gov. Rick Scott pledged this week to put toward a train depot at Orlando's busy international airport also will benefit a company that previously employed the governor's chief of staff.Florida's $2.6 billion high-speed project would have been paid for almost entirely by the feds. Washington had agreed to send Florida all but $280 million of its cost. And some companies vying to run the trains indicate they'd cover the state's share. They were willing to do that because they believe running the Orlando-Tampa route would give them a leg up on operating a second high-speed rail line from Orlando to Miami — and other fast trains outside Florida.
Adam Hollingsworth worked for companies connected to the company behind All Aboard Florida, a private passenger line that would link central and South Florida. All Aboard Florida stands to get a significant boost from the airport depot.
Text messages obtained by The Associated Press show Hollingsworth discussed the rail project with a top aide in the Scott administration while he was still working for Flagler Development Group and Parallel Infrastructure.
Three years ago, Scott scuttled a planned high-speed rail line linking Orlando and Tampa after he rejected billions in federal aid awarded to the state. He said the project was too risky and predicted the state would wind up subsidizing the project because ridership and revenue projections were "overly optimistic."
I think Rick Scott rejected the high-speed project so that it would project a badge of honor among this tea-bagging governors desire to curry favor with the conservative base. And also, because, well, President Obama is black.
Rick Scott has no such concerns with the Orlando Airport project.
Scott told the AP on Thursday that the request from the airport "made sense" because Orlando is growing and because he wants to attract more tourists to the state. He did not answer when asked if he had spoken to Hollingsworth about the project.All Aboard Florida's site states the project has economic and environmental benefits. I don't disagree that economic and environmental benefits will result, but for the economic benefits it sounds like it will be going to Rick Scotts friends, aides and contributors. This will be a massive project almost to the scale of the funds rejected by Scott previously. The difference is the high speed project President Obama offered was shovel ready and would have employed tens of thousands of workers who desperately needed the jobs.
Florida East Coast Industries announced in March 2012 that it would spend $1 billion to build the All Aboard Florida line by combining 200 miles of existing tracks and 40 miles of new track between Miami and Orlando.
At the time, Hollingsworth worked as CEO of Parallel Infrastructure, a subsidiary of Florida East Coast Industries. On his job application with the state, Hollingsworth said he was responsible for helping with sales, marketing and "growing the business into new markets."
Hollingsworth stepped in as chief of staff after Steve MacNamara abruptly resigned following a series of news stories detailing his job performance and handling of contracts. Hollingsworth, who spent time as chief of staff for then-Jacksonville Mayor John Peyton, had ties to Scott's campaign manager and had worked previously for the railroad company CSX.
Hollingsworth, who worked on Scott's transition team in late 2010, exchanged several text messages with Scott's deputy chief of staff shortly before the All Aboard Florida project was publicly announced.
Hours before the release came out he texted Carrie O'Rourke and told her she would get a copy of it in advance. "If you see any hiccups, let me know," Hollingsworth texted. "Thanks for all your help."
Last year, All Aboard Florida reached an agreement with Orlando International Airport to develop its central Florida rail station at the depot the airport wants to build south of the main terminal. The nearly $700 million project includes a people mover that will shuttle passengers between the rail station and the airport.
* Travel time: The new passenger rail service will transport passengers between downtown Miami and Orlando in approximately three hours.
* Schedule: All Aboard Florida will offer hourly service starting in the early morning with last departures in the evening. All Aboard Florida is also determining tailored schedules for special events and venues.
* Stations: Station design is advancing. The route will include stations in downtown Miami and Orlando, with intermediate stops in downtown Fort Lauderdale and downtown West Palm Beach. Stations will provide access to international airports, seaports and existing transit systems.
* Services and amenities: The new passenger rail service will provide premium amenities, including Wi-Fi internet service, gourmet meals, reserved seating, and will be fully equipped with easy-on/easy-off baggage compartments.
The approximately $1 billion project will operate on a regular schedule throughout the day, transporting passengers between South Florida and Orlando in approximately three hours. All Aboard Florida estimates it will create 6,000 direct jobs to construct the system and over 1,000 more jobs to operate and maintain it.