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Front Page » Transportation » East-west passenger rail for Miami?

East-west passenger rail for Miami?

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Written by on December 23, 2014

In an effort to alleviate traffic in the county, a Miami-Dade transportation planning organization is looking into whether existing freight tracks could be used for a future passenger train.

The Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) is studying whether passenger trains could run on existing CSX freight tracks that run east-west in Central Miami-Dade.

The MPO board, comprised of county and municipal elected officials, OK’d the study to move forward at its meeting last Thursday.

“The idea is to allow the folks in the western part of the county to have an alternative,” said County Commissioner Juan Zapata, an MPO board member who sponsored the initiative for the study. “I think the study would be able to shed a light on the feasibility and, again, looking at all these different assets, being able to have a much more comprehensive solution to the traffic problems out in the western part of the county.”

The study would look at the feasibility of reactivating the CSX line, which runs more or less parallel to Northwest 12th Street, from Northwest 37th Avenue west to 137th Avenue, county records show.

The eastern portion of the track is just south of Miami International Airport and runs parallel to the Dolphin Expressway. It ends at the existing Miami Intermodal Center, a transportation hub just east of the airport where Metrorail, Tri-Rail and buses stop.

The idea of using existing freight tracks, either operating or inactive, to run passenger trains isn’t new.

Among numerous studies looking into this was a 2004 Rail Convertibility Study, which identified the CSX Dolphin Corridor as having “strong potential as a transit corridor.” The tracks could accommodate a Metrorail or a light rail type of service, according to the study.

Supporters of using existing rail tracks for passenger rail have touted this initiative as a fiscally conservative way to expand mass transit.

“The idea of having that rail, at-grade light rail, is extremely inexpensive capitalwise, and if we have the right vehicles that are attractive to people, this could be an amazing thing for Dade County,” said County Commissioner Xavier L. Suarez, an MPO board member.

Mr. Suarez, too, has pushed for reactivating the CSX track as a passenger railroad. Earlier this month, he asked the Florida legislature to consider rerouting money Miami-Dade drivers pay to the state back to the county to fund four mass transit projects, including running passenger trains on the CSX tracks.

Annually, Miami-Dade drivers pay the state about $160 million in license tag renewal fees, according to calculations by staff at Mr. Suarez’s office based on state records. If this money is rerouted back to Miami-Dade, it could be used to cover the cost of the CSX track reactivation as well as three additional projects.

According to records Mr. Suarez provided Miami Today, this project would cost $144 million.

Separately from Mr. Suarez’s push at the legislature level, Mr. Zapata put the feasibility study in front of the MPO board.

“We had discussed this in the long-range plan and this would be a step forward creating that scope of work and budget for that CSX east-west rail line,” Mr. Zapata said at the MPO meeting after Mr. Suarez inquired about what prompted the legislation seeking the study. “I think this makes a lot of sense.”

Mr. Suarez added that he has spoken with the local Florida Department of Transportation representative about whether the state could buy part of the east-west CSX corridor that exists in Miami-Dade County.

When a commuter rail system in Central Florida, SunRail, was being planned, CSX sold a segment of the corridor to the state. CSX, however, retained the ability to run freight trains in that corridor, according to the company’s website.

CSX, a private company based in Jacksonville, provides rail-based transportation services in 23 states as well as in the District of Columbia and Canada.

The MPO-approved study won’t cost more than $125,000, which includes a 10% contingency. The cost is to be funded by $100,000 in federally allocated money, $12,500 in state money and a local match of $12,500 for the state allocation, records show.

21 Responses to East-west passenger rail for Miami?

  1. Malcolm Jr.

    December 25, 2014 at 4:04 am

    We need a reliable balanced transportation system. Our transportation is heavy focused on improving mobility while transit gets the short end of the stick. We need to educate people and promote the use of using alternate transportation. An east west line should be a priority. We should have extended metrorail in the median along I-75 in Broward instead of the expresslanes

  2. global reach

    December 27, 2014 at 12:02 pm

    I say run it down those tracks then elevate it again so it could connect to international mall, then go south via 107th Ave to FIU.

  3. Hugh J.

    December 27, 2014 at 8:02 pm

    Metrofail still isn’t carrying the projected passengers voters were told and that was 30 years ago when our county’s residents were significantly lower. And you want to blow $50 million a mile or more on extending it up the middle of I-75 to west Broward? Most folks don’t have extra hours per day to waste on public transportation that often doesn’t go where they need to go on one end or the other or both.

    We need more expressways, starting from the one that would have run from the east side of Miami International Airport over the CSX tracks up to the Gratigny Parkway with an additional leg that continued on to the Golden Glades interchange to reduce take some of the burden off the Palmetto Expressway and I-95.

    • Malcolm Jr.

      December 29, 2014 at 10:42 am

      I have to disagree with you on this. The main reason why Metro-rail hasn’t reached it’s projected is because the original design was never completed. The county ran out of money to expand the rest. Also expanding expressway will not resolve traffic issues in Miami Dade County. We have been expanding the Palmetto since the 70’s and traffic has not improved. We added expresslanes to I-95 a few years back and the price had to be increased already due to congestion. We need a balanced transportation system that will give people options to get around. people need to be educated and imformed

      • Fredric G

        December 29, 2014 at 4:20 pm

        The residents of Miami and South Florida are already surprisingly well-educated on the issue of rail transit and transportation issues in general. They are much more aware than those living in many other metropolitan areas around the country.

        Heretofore it has been the politicians and government officials who have been behind the curve on this issue. Sometimes the government officials have been worse than that, they have been downright incompetent or even corrupt with the funding for public transit. “The funds you Miami-Dade voters approved to expand Metrorail? Uh, we need those just to maintain the system.” Yeah, right.

        The voices across South Florida who are increasingly demanding more and better public transit are growing louder and finally the politicians are scrambling to try to do something more than just adding express-toll lanes on I-95 or suggesting yet more expressways, etc.

    • Ben Grimm

      January 9, 2015 at 9:37 pm

      @Hugh J
      They should just build an overhead highway for every major arterial road in the county. Sorry, my suggestion still doesn’t sound as wasteful as yours. They can build a 20 lane highway yesterday and it will be congested tomorrow. The remaining cars will simply fill up every surface street. It’s a proven fact since 1936 when New York’s Triborough Bridge, promising to relieve congestion, opened and was immediately clogged up.

      No matter how many arterials are built in a metropolitan area they will always be congested. Not even tolling alleviates the problem. That is a fact. What it does do is keep the residents in their respective areas. Removing cars from the road is the answer. Especially single-occupant vehicles. Transit, ride-sharing, carpooling, walking, cycling, and motorcycles/scooters. The last three options for people who live close to work and necessary services.

  4. Mitch

    December 28, 2014 at 4:47 pm

    This is great, I have been thinking about this for more than a year now. The east – west line start at the new Intermodal Station and runs parallel to 12st NW all the way to 137 ave. This line would provide a convenient east – west connection with downtown by transferring in the intermodal station to Metrorail. It could have stations on 57ave (Blue Lagoon) – 72ave – 87ave (by the Walmart shopping center) – 107ave (by International Mall) – 114 ave (by Dolphin Mall) – 127ave (lots of people live back there, traffic is terrible) and last station could be in 137ave and 8St. There is also a line that runs south from this same line between 57ave and 72ave and it goes down all the way to the MetroZoo, this could be a great alternative to connect the South-West county to downtown, lots of stations along the way and last station could be part of the new 20th Century Fox Theme Park Near Zoo Miami.

    • gregory

      December 29, 2014 at 1:46 pm

      I agree plus it will be cheaper because much of the rail line already exists.

    • Ben Grimm

      January 9, 2015 at 9:58 pm

      The ridership numbers aren’t there to justify the cost. A trial could be attempted if they did that sorta thing. But they don’t. Even a trial would need permission from the line’s owner, a couple of vehicles, possible double tracking to avoid disrupting freight movement, and operational funds for the trial period. Even then it’s already known the ridership numbers aren’t there.

  5. MIAMI CITIZEN

    December 29, 2014 at 4:48 pm

    I’m still amazed how this hadn’t been studied before. We definitely need more options. Building more highways wont help. As someone who actually uses transit everyday I would welcome another route to get from Kendall to Downtown. BTW our transit system works pretty well, I rarely experience late buses and the metro rail runs well for the most part…cant wait for the new cars to come online. Does anyone know what ever happened to the transit study using the rail line that passes next to the Don Shula expressway?

  6. Ben Grimm

    December 30, 2014 at 11:06 am

    WHY BOTHER? The same MPO that’s proposing this also created the MDX. A monster that has grown three-fold since then. It’s not only made every state highway into a cashbox but made toll highways the only alternative to traveling from one end of the county to the other. At no point did the MPO give serious thought to running transit (rail or bus) along those corridors.

    In the minds of Miamians this has sealed the fate of countywide express transit routes. Sealed the coffin is more like it. The message is clear that it’s about generating money for [autonomous] public agencies and NOT about managing congestion.

    Anyway, moving more freight via train can reduce heavy vehicles from our roads while moving more people onto transit can do more than any toll road ever could.

  7. Some random guy

    January 2, 2015 at 1:29 pm

    You have to find a way to get it to FIU.

    • Angel M.

      January 8, 2015 at 11:25 pm

      Indeed. FIU-Sweetwater area is one of the densest, full of people that don’t have the money for fancy new cars, and would rather ride transit. Many already depend on the unreliable bus system to get them back and forth from work. And many students ride bikes, which can easily fit into the train. A station at FIU is logical and would probably be one of the busiest. BTW, this was examined in the past, but the Feds denied Metro the money because, in som any words, they implied the agency was inefficient and wasteful. i.e., corrupt.

      • Ben Grimm

        January 9, 2015 at 10:02 pm

        That area isn’t that dense, mostly single family homes and it’s very spread out. It’s a bad location for fixed rail transit. When the County Fair gets thrown out there will be less incentive to make it a choice destination.

  8. Tolga E.

    January 8, 2015 at 11:42 pm

    This is much needed. 836 and every east west street are incredibly difficult to get around especially at peak hours. The most efficient and streamlined, consistent way would be to incorporate Tri-Rail service. I even made a fan page a while back on Facebook of citizen support for such an expansion (look up: “South Floridians for Expanded Tri-Rail Service”) The stations I demonstrated with a Train simulator reflect off of locations with available parking space, the access each station can provide, transit connectivity, and such.

    How could this work? Two seat access to Downtown Miami for a lot of people out west. One on Tri-Rail and one on Metrorail. Why not metrorail all the way? Metrorail expansion would be costly and a boondoggle so it’s more efficient to have people board on ground level and interchange at Miami airport. Or it can even be one seat to Fort Lauderdale and WPB on the Tri-Rail system. Freight can have second hand benefits from raised speed limits. Even an inland hub can be made by the industrial parks out west if by chance port traffic is normally trucked west.

    For FIU, since I do study there, that is a concern as well. There is right of way by the Turnpike that can be used to hop over. If not, it’s as easy as a shuttle bus that can even be streamlined to get to campus in minimum time. Maybe they can even build a dedicated lane along the TPK for shuttle service. It might even help students connect to BBC along the FEC tracks once Coastal link kicks in.

    We need to get moving and make efficient use out of underutilized railroad tracks. Heck, it’s the only infrastructure that is empty in rush hour.

  9. Luiz

    February 11, 2015 at 5:05 pm

    If there was a rail connecting Aventura to downtown Miami, I would gladly leave the car at home or at a parking garage at the train station.

    • Angel M.

      February 11, 2015 at 9:11 pm

      Luiz, The Tri-Rail is in negotiations with All Aboard Florida to share the high speed rail tracks that parallel Biscayne Blvd for an East Tri-Rail commuter service with local stops from downtown all the way to West Palm Beach, including one in Aventura. Service is expected to begin by 2017. Fingers crossed.

    • Ben Grimm

      February 24, 2015 at 3:05 pm

      PREACH!

  10. Michael

    March 5, 2015 at 11:51 am

    Running a fixed guideway next to a elevated arterial has seldom produced good results. It’s almost always suggested because it’s cheaper, but that’s being penny-wise, pound-foolish. What many people don’t understand is that land use and transportation need to be linked. In order for premium transit to be successful, there has to at least some density (generally 7,000 people/sq. mile or 20 du’s/acre).
    The building pattern also needs to be be pedestrian friendly and mixed use. When you have a system of people driving to stations and then taking the train, it generally only generates traffic at peak hour. A successful system depends on having stations in mixed-use, pedestrian-oriented neighborhoods.

    • AngelM

      March 6, 2015 at 9:31 pm

      Agreed, Michael. Coordinated land use-transport is a foundation of good urban planning, with mixed use transit oriented development as a good strategy, but TOD is not a panacea. The Doral Downtown mixed use development was a great opportunity for a TOD. But no one thought of or allowed a train station there. Therefore, the traffic on 87 & 36 Street, which is already hell, is going to be even worse.

      This is the old chicken and egg argument of what comes first: density or transportation that fosters density. Well, let’s remember that the whole highway system was built on open land that then got built up as people followed the roads. And that NYC expanded northward following the elevated train line in Manhattan. The same can be done today incrementally with new trains and incentivizing mixed use development. Running trains where people already live gets into all kinds of NIMBY political battles that end up in compromises and not having the real kind of transport reform needed. Not to mention the cost of retrofitting already developed land.

      What we need is leadership and vision for the coordinated effort you talk about. Unfortunately, no one in MDC has it. Instead, we keep going backwards.

  11. Michael

    March 9, 2015 at 2:54 am

    Agreed 100% Angel. In fact, there is no panacea at all. People are unfortunately resistant to change and transforming Miami for the better takes political courage.

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