Regional transportation officials considering using FEC railroad tracks for commuter line
By Shannon Pettypiece
Commuters may one day be able to travel from Jupiter to downtown Miami on one train as transportation officials consider the Florida East Coast Railway tracks for new service.
The new Regional Transportation Authority has hired a consultant to study the feasibility of adding a commuter line to the FEC tracks, which run parallel to US 1 through Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties, said James A. Cummings of the board.
"It doesn't take a scientist to look at a map and see how the population goes and that the FEC railway is a terrific corridor," said Allen Harper, a member of both the RTA and the FEC board.
"I've heard there are as many as 18 different groups that want to do something on the FEC corridor from light rail to heavy rail to Metrorail," he said, "It is a transportation corridor that needs to be preserved and coordinated through the RTA or it will be a nightmare to go from one region to another."
The authority could buy or lease the Southeast Florida portion of the tracks and Bonnie Arnold of the RTA said Tri-Rail could run on the FEC tracks in addition to current routes.
The FEC tracks run through downtown Miami along Second Avenue to the Port of Miami. Because they run near Miami Beach causeways, the tracks could be connected to a potential rail link east.
To get to downtown Miami from outside the county, train riders must now transfer from the existing Tri-Rail to Metrorail. Tri-Rail shares state-owned tracks with the passenger Amtrak service, which runs along Interstate 95, west through Hialeah, ending at Miami International Airport.
The FEC is open to having commuter trains on its tracks if it doesn't interfere with its freight trains, spokesman Hussein Cumber said. Twenty-six freight trains travel from Miami to Jacksonville each day on the FEC line with an active link between Miami International Airport, Hialeah and the Port of Miami.
Expanding Tri-Rail along the FEC is also contingent on federal funds, Mr. Cummings said. Federal lawmakers were scheduled to vote on a transportation bill next month, but many say money won't be considered until next year.
Still, since the new line could run on existing FEC tracks, Mr. Harper said, it would not require the multiple years of environmental and community impact studies.
When Tri-Rail was created, planners considered the FEC, but ultimately worried it would add to west-to-east traffic and not ease I-95 congestion at a time the highway was undergoing major construction, Mr. Harper said. In 1988, the Florida Department of Transportation bought 81 miles of those tracks from the CSX Corp. for $264 million.
Now, the Regional Transportation Authority, created in June, is reconsidering the FEC option. The nine-member body has authority over all modes of transit in the tri-county area and the ability to issue bonds and eminent domain over Tri-Rail.
"Having an RTA to face these types of issues is one of the greatest steps that has ever happened in this area," Mr. Harper, "and it is going to lead to not only rail improvements but also bus improvements and other forms of transportation."