High fives for the high sign in rare nine-way Tri-Rail deal
Written by Michael Lewis on June 7, 2016
In an achievement that took a rare degree of agreement among eight government bodies and a private corporation, three-county commuter rail service seems destined to roll into downtown Miami within 18 months.
It’s not final yet. Contracts may be tweaked, and in those details anything could derail a highly complex deal.
But everyone has agreed via formal government votes to pull their share of the load, including $70 million needed to build connections into All Aboard Florida’s MiamiCentral station now rising downtown.
Restoring a rail complex to the center of Miami is a huge mobility gain, with All Aboard’s Brightline trains offering rapid runs to Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach – and Orlando service, the ultimate aim, soon thereafter – and Tri-Rail’s commuter service to downtown Miami linking to the system’s existing 18 stops running up into Palm Beach County.
It doesn’t end our mobility crisis – no single advance could – but it should be an important transportation gain in the northern half of the county and the two counties to our north, even though Tri-Rail use now is regrettably small. Still, every automobile taken off the highways is a gain.
Tri-Rail is not a transportation giant. In its last fiscal year it carried just under 4.3 million passengers. To put that in perspective, that’s just over half as many riders as Miami-Dade County Transit carried in February alone. Tri-Rail’s yearly load is far fewer people than boarded just our buses in February.
Still, a link to downtown Miami is certain to build Tri-Rail use. We won’t know by how much until it’s being heavily promoted and operating to five other stations in Miami-Dade County and 13 more in Broward and Palm Beach.
True urban transportation of the kind we must have creates a web that links many starting points and destinations, with easy transfers to other links that run to other areas, all flowing frequently and predictably.
The harder and less predictable urban transportation becomes, the more attractive private cars remain – and the more congested roads are.
So give credit where it’s due. Credit the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority, which controls Tri-Rail, for pulling together the deal and funding part of it.
Credit the other governments that also chipped in their cooperation and money: the City of Miami, Miami-Dade County, the Citizens’ Independent Transportation Trust, the Southeast Overtown/Park West Community Redevelopment Agency, the Omni Community Redevelopment Agency, Miami’s Downtown Development Authority and the Bayfront Park Management Trust.
Credit too All Aboard Florida and its parent Florida East Coast Industries for finding a way to bring public rail into private rail’s new MiamiCentral home and linking transportation services.
It is not only good community service by All Aboard Florida but a smart step that could feed passengers into its own rail system while certainly enhancing the value of its massive downtown real estate investment with the connectivity and who knows how many added shoppers, diners and potential tenants with a Tri-Rail link.
As has historically been the case, rail transportation is a real estate business even more than a transportation enterprise. More passenger traffic is great for Florida East Coast Industries’ rent rolls.
The only black marks on the scorecard of this near-miraculous deal for a downtown link go to the Florida Legislature, which failed in its last session to clarify the legal liability for the track that the two rail services, one public and one private, will share. It took an April decision by the Florida Supreme Court to give the rail deal the high sign to proceed.
Barring contract snafus, commuter trains should roll into downtown by the end of 2017. Their success then will ride on quality and frequency of service, fare structure and, most important, heavy-duty marketing by Tri-Rail and its associates. It will be a sales job to get more of us out of cars and onto trains.
A new downtown Miami rail link should be a mighty powerful selling tool. Our congratulations.