Costs hidden for in commuter rail line
Written by Samantha Joseph on September 18, 2013
A commuter train running through an 85-mile stretch of Florida’s East Coast between downtown Miami and Jupiter would be great.
It would be even better if Miami-Dade could offer this service using tracks mostly funded by Florida East Coast Industries and rented for a mass transit service.
So says Miami-Dade Commissioner Xavier Suarez, who welcomes the idea behind the Tri-Rail Coastal Link, a service that would run through 28 densely-populated municipalities in eastern Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.
Florida East Coast Industries, or FEC, is gearing to launch train service from Miami to Orlando in a privately funded venture.
The company also is in talks with regional and local transportation agencies about an offer to rent its infrastructure to provide mass transit to citizens of the tri-county area.
But Mr. Suarez says he’s worried that the public and private sector representatives haven’t settled on a rental rate for FEC’s tracks.
“FEC’s project is a great asset for any community to have. They would build it at their own cost,” said Mr. Suarez, who along with Commissioner Jean Monestime, sits on the Florida Regional Planning Council. “But as much as we like that one, what we’re particularly interested in is a community track. I haven’t heard anything about rates. That worries me. As far as I know there have been no negotiations toward settling the rates. But if we wait until [FEC gets] their project going to set the rates, we might lose the most important component toward mass transit for the general public in Dade County.”
But Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council strategic development coordinator Kim DeLaney suggested it might just be a matter of time before FEC and the agencies involved in the planning arrive at a rental rate or access fee for the tracks.
In May, the Metropolitan Planning Organization, South East Florida Transportation Council, regional planning councils, Florida Department of Transportation and the South Florida Regional Planning Authority, which runs Tri-Rail, unanimously approved a memorandum of understanding to allow negotiations to begin between the private and public sector groups.
They met several times over the summer and are scheduled to continue talks this fall “with the goal of establishing an access fee by the end of the year,” Ms. DeLaney said.
The dialogue is under way,” she said. “The goal is by the end of the year to answer those very important questions about the access fee, the necessary improvements to accommodate commuter rail and matters along those lines.”
Florida East Coast Industries would not comment.
The company is continuing work on its intercity passenger rail service to take passengers from Miami to Orlando for about $100 per trip.
Pricing is still in the works, but the plan is to compete with airlines, with the average trip between cities costing about $85. Passengers will pay just over $20 from Miami to West Palm Beach, according to Rusty Roberts, Florida East Coast’s vice president of corporate development.
Florida East Coast Industries will offer the service through its subsidiary, All Aboard Florida. Executives say it will be the first time a private company will offer intercity passenger rail service without public funds. It plans three-hour trips between Miami and Orlando with stops in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. The trains will run 16 times in each direction daily. They will run on tracks laid by Henry Flagler’s Florida East Coast Railway company and not used for passenger service since 1968. They’ll call into Flagler’s former Miami rail hub, a 9-acre site.
The trains offer hourly service starting around 6 a.m. with final departures at about 8 p.m. They’ll offer business- and coach-class services, Wi-Fi and gourmet meals.
“We have to compete with airlines that fly from Miami to Orlando,” Mr. Roberts said.
All Aboard Florida won’t position itself as a commuter service, he said.
The private line would complement Tri-Rail Coastal Link, which would charge about $3 per trip from Aventura to downtown Miami, Commissioner Suarez said.
And Tri-Rail Coastal Link would include several stations in Miami-Dade. Proposals include stops at 192nd Street in Aventura; 163rd and 125th streets in North Miami Beach; and Government Center, 11th, 36th, 54th and 79th streets in Miami.
Each station would create thousands of jobs and increase tax revenue, according to a report by the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority.
At 163rd Street, for instance, the Regional Transportation Authority said, the station “will connect Miami-Dade County’s largest northern roadway corridor to the broader region, supporting the redevelopment of North Miami Beach and continuing the transformation between US 1 and the Mall at 163rd Street into a walkable mixed-use destination.”
It predicts the creation of 3,090 jobs and $95 million in new development by 2025.
“This station will define North Miami Beach as the ‘crossroads of South Florida’ and will grow as a regional destination for shopping, dining and working,’” according to the report, which cites the city’s master plan and a 2012 South Florida East Coast corridor transit study.
But planners are also discussing an $800 investment that includes the cost of laying 10 to 20 miles of track to accommodate bridges, bypasses and other technical obstacles where FEC’s route would prevent service to cities along the proposed commuter route.