The proposed All Aboard Florida passenger train service bears little resemblance to a theme park monorail system, but the project’s leadership has strong ties to The Walt Disney Co.

A new passenger line linking the Orlando International Airport with the three major cities in urban Southeastern Florida is expected to increase attendance at the Disney theme parks and other attractions in Orlando by making it easier for tourists to travel between Florida’s most popular vacation destinations.

Four former Disney executives are on the nine-person team leading the efforts to develop the All Aboard Florida passenger service, including the two top officers.

Despite the links, Disney is not an investor in the $2.25 billion initiative, nor is the hospitality giant expected to participate financially in the future, said AAF President and Chief Operating Officer Don Robinson, who served as a Disney senior executive for three decades.

“Disney has nothing to do with the project whatsoever,” Robinson said. “They’ll be a beneficiary of the people we bring into Orlando, but they have nothing to do with the project.”

Disney Neutral

A Walt Disney World spokeswoman, Andrea Finger, said the company is “neutral” on the proposed All Aboard Florida rail project and is not involved in its development.

The other Disney veterans playing important roles for AAF are President and Chief Development Officer P. Michael Reininger, Vice President of Design and Construction Eric Claussen and Chief Marketing Officer Julie Edwards. Robinson said he worked with Reininger, Claussen and Edwards at Disney before they all went their separate ways working for different companies.

“When you work in the state of Florida, there are lot of people who’ve worked with Disney,” Robinson said.

AAF’s plans call for the development and operation of a passenger rail line on nearly 200 miles of existing Florida East Coast railway tracks along the coast and almost 50 miles of new tracks in Central Florida.

Investment funds managed by the Fortress Investment Group LLC own AAF’s parent company, Florida East Coast Industries, as well as its freight hauling sister company, Florida East Coast Railway, Robinson said.

Fortress is a publicly traded company based in New York City that oversees $61.8 billion in assets and has 1,074 employees. It makes money through management fees, incentive income and investment income.

Florida East Coast Industries Deal

A Fortress-managed fund acquired Florida East Coast Industries in 2007 in a transaction valued at $3.5 billion.

Florida East Coast Industries also owns another company that could benefit from the new AAF passenger line and the increasingly valuable land near future train stations.

Flagler is a commercial real estate company with an interest in more than 7 million square feet of office and industrial space as well as approvals for 14 million more square feet of space throughout Florida.

Disney and AAF/Florida East Coast Industries are not the only large companies that some of the top passenger rail executives have in common.

Reininger, Claussen and Executive Vice President of Development and Construction Scott Sanders also formerly worked for the St. Joe Company, the largest land owner in Florida. The St. Joe Company owned Florida East Coast Industries from 1960 through 2000.

Two other top AAF executives — Chief Financial Officer Jason Bewley and Chief Information Officer Ted Hutchins — worked for AirTran Airways.


Key Roles

Former Disney executives play leading roles in All Aboard Florida passenger train project.

–President and Chief Operating Officer Don Robinson worked as a senior executive for The Walt Disney Company for three decades. His titles included group managing director/executive vice president for Hong Kong Disneyland, senior vice president for Walt Disney World Operations and senior vice president for Walt Disney World Resorts.

–AAF President and Chief Development Officer P. Michael Reininger managed several major projects during his 12 years with Disney subsidiaries. They include Disney Vacation Club, Disneyland Paris and Disney Cruise Line.

–AAF Vice President of Design and Construction Eric Claussen began his development career with Walt Disney Imagineering. Projects he managed include Disney Vacation Club products in Vero Beach and Orlando, support facilities for Disney’s Animal Kingdom and golf and other recreational facilities in the Town of Celebration.

–AAF Chief Marketing Officer Julie Edwards has lead “cross marketing efforts” at Walt Disney Parks and Resorts.


Corporate Structure

Fortress Investment Group LLC: A diversified global investment manager with approximately $62.5 billion of assets under management as of March 31. It was founded in 1998 and is involved in asset based investing, capital markets, operations management and corporate mergers and acquisitions. Funds managed by Fortress own Florida East Coast Industries and Florida East Coast Railway.

Florida East Coast Industries: One of Florida’s oldest and largest commercial real estate, transportation and infrastructure companies. Henry Flagler first established a predecessor company in 1892, which became a pioneer in the development of Florida’s eastern coast.

Florida East Coast Railway: A 351-mile freight rail system that transports a mix of containers and trailers, crushed rock, automobiles, food and industrial products. It serves South Florida’s sea ports and connects with other railway systems to move freight throughout the country.

All Aboard Florida: A subsidiary of FECI, AAF will connect Miami to Orlando and feature stations in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. ___

Photo Credit: Disney veterans Donald C. Robinson (left) is All Aboard Florida’s President and Chief Operating Officer, and P. Michael Reininger is President and Chief Development Officer. All Aboard Florida