East-west passenger rail for Miami?
Written by Lidia Dinkova 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.