$40 million grant would send rail rolling back to Port of Miami
By Ashley D. Torres
Plans to return rail service to the Port of Miami are underway as RailAmerica seeks millions in federal grants.
With completion of Panama Canal widening set for 2014, the port could have the opportunity to grow. A rail link from Dodge Island to the Hialeah Rail Yard, 6875 NW 58th St., proponents say, would prepare the port for growth and make it more competitive.
"The port is currently at a competitive disadvantage to other Florida east coast ports because they don't have on dock or near dock rail service at the moment," said David Arganbright, RailAmerica vice president of government affairs.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which listed creating and preserving jobs and supporting transportation projects that offer economic benefits as its objectives, designated $1.5 billion for Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery Discretionary grants.
If awarded the grant, RailAmerica looks to receive about $40 million, Mr. Arganbright said. Funding would also come from the Florida East Coast Railway, which has agreed to fund 20% of the project cost up to $10 million, and possibly the Florida Department of Transportation.
A rail link would "allow us to market to the major shipping lines, who might want to reach places like Atlanta and places north of that," said Kevin T. Lynskey, assistant Port of Miami director.
Currently in the grant application process, RailAmerica has won support of the City of Miami, Downtown Development Authority, Miami-Dade County and the county's Metropolitan Planning Organization. The application is due Aug. 27.
The port is the number-two employer in Miami-Dade and number one for the highest-paid jobs, said Marc Sarnoff, Miami city commission chairman. He added that restoring rail service to the port is a great opportunity to expand jobs that are well-paid and well-compensated.
The port rail project is to rehabilitate tracks on Dodge Island and renovate an out-of-service bascule bridge, which is to provide rail access from the island to downtown and then onward to the Hialeah yard, Mr. Lynskey said.
Much of the port's cargo business is trucked to the Hialeah yard. With rail access, roughly 250 trucks would be off the road per train trip, Mr. Lynskey said. Currently, 15% of port containers either come to the area by rail and then are trucked to the port or are trucked off the port and then leave the area by rail.
A port rail link would also give the Hialeah yard and Miami International Airport opportunities to grow.
The tracks originally served passenger trains to Government Center, Mr. Arganbright said. If freight moved to one side of the railway corridor it would free the other side for commuter rails.
In addition, the Hialeah yard could be turned into an inland port and logistics yard for warehousing and distribution, Mr. Arganbright said.
In this scenario, the yard's rail portion would relocate to Medley. Its proximity to the airport could also permit the airport's freight forwarders and cargo shipments to expand, Mr. Arganbright said.
Vibration and noise studies are to be conducted as well as grade crossing studies, which determine how long it takes trains to cross an intersection.
"Almost everybody," Mr. Lynskey said, "has rail access and highway access, which are two keys to a major port."