Plan revisited to run a rail loop through Miami-Dade County
By Ashley Hopkins
In light of Commissioner Xavier Suarez's plans to beef up Miami-Dade's transit system by using existing rail lines to connect Midtown to downtown Miami, commission Chairman Joe Martinez is revisiting his own plans to connect Miami-Dade's transit system.
In 2002 Mr. Martinez pushed to allow the county to upgrade its existing rail system to provide a link from Florida City to Miami's airports. The line would run from the Kendall-Tamiami Executive Airport, past Metrozoo, past the Snapper Creek rest area of the Florida Turnpike and through the Miami-Dade College-Kendall campus to Tri-Rail's Miami Airport station.
"What is wrong with our mass transit system?" Mr. Martinez asked at a Tuesday sunshine meeting to discuss the initiative. "It doesn't loop and it doesn't connectů This goes where people live to where they work."
While the commission didn't agree to move the project forward in 2004 amid protests from "Not In My Backyard" residents, Mr. Martinez said, he continued his push.
When he further explored the upgrade in 2006, he said, the county was able to secure a Diesel Multiple Unit [DMU] railcar to test the feasibility of operating the cars on county lines with the help of US Rep. John Mica. While the state purchased the cars to expand Orlando's rail service across four counties, it agreed to lend them to Miami-Dade through 2009.
Mr. Martinez said he intends to reach out to state officials to determine whether the multiple-unit cars are in use and if Florida plans to get more soon. If the state has no plans for the cars, he said, Miami-Dade could work to secure them.
"We'll take trains that have not been used if they're given to us," he said, adding that the cars are currently collecting dust.
While obtaining the cars would reduce project costs, the initiative carries a heavy price tag. During Mr. Martinez's 2006 push, finance officials determined it would cost $300 million for county employees to upgrade existing rail beds to handle 60 mile-per-hour DMUs.
While Commissioner Lynda Bell has asked that transit officials determine how much the project would cost today, Mr. Martinez said he intends to reach out to officials in Orlando to determine the likelihood of bringing a DMU car to Miami-Dade to once again demonstrate how the upgrades could benefit the county.
But Mr. Martinez isn't the only commissioner considering large-scale changes to the county's transit system. Mr. Suarez is revisiting a study of using the county's portion of the Florida East Coast rail lines to connect Midtown and downtown Miami.
Mr. Suarez is recommending the county consider running a dual mode electric transit car system on FEC lines. The cars would connect Midtown with downtown, allowing residents to better traverse the city.
According to Mr. Suarez, by using rubberized wheels, the cars could transition directly from rail tracks onto Biscayne Boulevard near the Northeast Second Avenue and 36th Street intersection.
Mr. Suarez began working on plans for the dual-rail system in 1998, when the county created a committee to study the project. He said that since the rails are already in place and renderings are complete, the only costs would stem from the rail cars.
While Miami-Dade would have to find a way to cover costs, Mr. Suarez said the federal government encourages existing infrastructure use and that the county could work to get funding to finance its push.
Mr. Martinez agreed, saying, "The rail's already there. Why not take advantage of it?"
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