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Front Page » Transportation » Downtown passenger rail has just one shot

Downtown passenger rail has just one shot

Written by on February 11, 2015
Downtown passenger rail has just one shot

Plans to expand a passenger train’s service area to downtown Miami depend on obtaining $69 million in public funding within two months.

The South Florida Regional Transportation Authority (SFRTA), the public agency that runs Tri-Rail passengers trains, wants to expand Tri-Rail service to downtown Miami.

The issue: The expansion would cost about $69 million. The authority, which says it doesn’t have the money, has about two months at the most to solidify funding options. If plans don’t pan out, the authority says it would have missed the one-time opportunity to provide service to downtown Miami.

“It scares me to death,” said Jack Stephens, authority executive director.

“I don’t know what we do if we fail in this effort,” he added. “I don’t see another way to get into downtown Miami other than in the same spot that All Aboard Florida has determined we can share with them at our expense.”

All Aboard Florida, a subsidiary of Coral Gables-based Florida East Coast Industries, plans to run an express passenger train to link Miami and Orlando. All Aboard is building a major train station, Miami Central, in downtown Miami.

It has said it can accommodate Tri-Rail trains at that station. But public funding is needed to cover the $69 million cost.

Of the $69 million infrastructure cost, about $20 million is needed specifically for rail infrastructure, or to cover the cost of work on the actual tracks. That includes upgrades at crossings, warning signals and dispatch upgrades. Another $1 million of the $69 million overall cost is needed to allow SFRTA to use the Florida East Coast Railway corridor, meaning the same FEC tracks All Aboard Florida will use in Miami-Dade County.

Mr. Stephens said that the authority is to seek this $21 million funding from the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT).

“We think that’s a legitimate role for FDOT to assume,” Mr. Stephens said.

What’s left? About $48 million needed specifically for infrastructure upgrades at Miami Central station. The upgrades are needed in order for Tri-Rail trains to pull into the station.

So far, the most feasible option has been tax-increment financing from the Southeast Overtown/ Park West Community Redevelopment Agency.

The CRA includes the area where Miami Central is to be built. Under tax-increment financing, future property tax yields, which are expected to increase once the Miami Central station rises in downtown, would be dedicated to reimbursing the infrastructure cost for accommodating Tri-Rail trains at All Aboard’s station.

Mr. Stephens said that All Aboard Florida could build the infrastructure needed for Tri-Rail trains at Miami Central and then be reimbursed over time.

Infrastructure Tri-Rail needs in order for trains to stop at Miami Central includes escalators, walls, ceilings, ticket booths, and a platform designated just for Tri-Rail trains.

Mr. Stephens said he has been meeting with Miami-Dade County, City of Miami and CRA voting officials to discuss funding options.

“In terms of understanding the vision and what we’re trying to accomplish, almost all of them were able to see the value,” Mr. Stephens said. “The problem is when we start carving up resources. The issue is this is a one-time good deal.”

Miami City Commissioner Keon Hardemon, who is also the Southeast Overtown/Park West CRA board chair, didn’t return a call from Miami Today requesting comment on the issue.

The push to expand Tri-Rail service began recently, perhaps as a result of a state-funded track upgrade. The upgrade allows trains running on CSX tracks in West Miami-Dade to switch onto FEC tracks that run in the eastern part of the county. The switch would occur at Northwest 71st Street. While CSX and FEC tracks meet there, only recently was the infrastructure added that would allow a train to switch from one set of tracks onto the other.

In Miami-Dade County, Tri-Rail trains currently run on CSX tracks in the western part of the county.

Supporters of the initiative to bring Tri-Rail trains to downtown Miami say that it would provide passengers a one-seat ride from as far north as Palm Beach County to downtown Miami. In addition, they say the $69 million cost is much less than what would be needed if SFRTA were doing the expansion on its own, as SFRTA doesn’t have to acquire land for this expansion.

If plans pan out, the authority would divert about every second train toward downtown Miami.

If he had to put a deadline for obtaining the $49 million needed for the Tri-Rail expansion, Mr. Stephens said it’s between six and eight weeks.

“And I’m government. I’m not used to moving this fast,” he said.

At some point, he added, All Aboard Florida is “going to have to make a decision and either have a level of comfort that all these partners will provide the funding or they’re going to have to take care of their investment. They can’t hold off forever.”

18 Responses to Downtown passenger rail has just one shot

  1. marc

    February 11, 2015 at 11:21 am

    It is imperative this gets done.


    February 11, 2015 at 11:50 am

    One question. What happens if All Aboard Florida turns out to be nonprofitable and unsustainable?

  3. marc

    February 11, 2015 at 12:32 pm

    Don’t know but the local commuter, Tri-Rail Coastal Link, will have its much needed terminus in the middle of Downtown Miami.

  4. Sprouseman

    February 11, 2015 at 12:41 pm

    let’s get this done please

  5. Luis Sanchez

    February 11, 2015 at 3:32 pm

    this is the cheapest alternative for mass transit up and down the most populated corridor in south florida. it would be a grave mistake if our elected official don’t take this opportunity to enhance mass transit at a fraction of the cost.


    February 11, 2015 at 3:34 pm

    AAF’s dream. If Tri Rail is tied to their station, the taxpayers will forever be required to support their station. This will drive the real cost of TriRail sky high. Before it is over AAF will (and should) offer to cover the cost of the TriRail connection then the taxpayers will have to support their passenger boondoggle/real estate endeaver forever.

    Miami/Dade will be bankrupted by this adventure eventually.

    • marc

      February 11, 2015 at 4:59 pm

      So screw mass transit down the FEC corridor! Bahhh, no one needs it, no one would use it anyway.

      • eze

        February 11, 2015 at 9:48 pm

        No, you are right, everyone loves spending more than an hour in rush hour at i95. Nothing beats mass trasportation!! Please lets fund it, it would save so much money!!

  7. VHoo

    February 11, 2015 at 5:57 pm

    You all get this right? AAF is NOT using their money to “upgrade” the tracks for Tri-Rail, or the station for that matter. Miami Central is not even built yet so how on God’s green earth is this classified as an “upgrade” to something that is not there,and it doesn’t exist?!

    I understand that the platform height is not the same for Tri-Rail and AAF, but the darn “Miami Central” is not even built yet! AAF is going to be running on the same tracks as Tri-Rail – at $1 million trackage lease. Is this $1 million lease per year for the use of the FEC/AAF trackage?

    “A fool and his money is easily parted.” THAT’S what AAF is hoping you don’t see. Smoke and mirrors. AAF wants their grand “Miami Central” at the public’s expense – even though they have touted it as a “private venture.”

  8. Julian

    February 11, 2015 at 6:08 pm

    Sounds like a big price tag, but considering the costs of building larger highways in densely populated areas while increasing traffic congestion and higher costs of maintenance, this is best deal we can get for moving people though south Florida.

  9. NotAllAboard Supporter

    February 11, 2015 at 6:45 pm

    Good question ITSJUSTMONEY. While not knowledgeable about all the specific AAF issues affecting Miami, I see there are many unknowns for taxpayers as far as viability, funding and ROI.

    Many of us on the Treasure Coast vehemently oppose and resent this project. Once the trains reach West Palm Beach, instead of turning west towards the I-95/Turnpike corridor on their way to Orlando, the trains are planned to split through the middle of our beautiful, coastal downtowns at high speed WITH NOT ONE STOP! Our small towns gain NO BENEFIT. We will endure an increase in noise, more dangerous crossings, lengthier traffic backups, increased time for EMS arrival, decreased property values, and the list goes on.

    Our towns and citizens will bear the brunt of the expenses that will accrue as a result of these negative impacts on the character of our communities. Additionally, we have seen no convincing formula indicating how Tri Rail can be financially viable. We therefore view this as an AAF deception with the ultimate goal of running more and more FEC freight trains through the heart of our downtowns. These trains need to move west of the Treasure Coast along the I-95/Turnpike corridor!!

  10. VICTOR

    February 11, 2015 at 10:21 pm

    Miami dade has the money, for the past few years, they been collecting a 1/2 penny tax which was meant just for that reason, and they haven’t spent a dime on expanding the rail, even though our roads are exploding at the seams.

  11. CalleOchogringo

    February 12, 2015 at 1:32 am

    They plan on sending every other train down the new line to downtown…. lolwut?

    How about sending every 10th train down the existing airport line and ALL THE REST OF THEM to downtown… since that’s going to be what the typical commuting pattern demands.

    There’s a reason everyone gets off at trirail-metrorail transfer. And it’s not cause they all wanna be in some crappy warehouse district. It’s cause 99% of tri-rail users ultimate destination is one of 4 metrorail stops… Civic, Overtown, Govt Center, or Brickell. It doesn’t take a genius or traffic engineer to know this, just an observant person with common sense.

  12. janice

    February 12, 2015 at 10:21 am

    Simply put, it is the FUTURE!

  13. Frank McCluskey

    February 13, 2015 at 1:27 pm

    First All Aboard Florida needed 1.5 billion is tax payer backed loans, next Palm Beach and Broward Counties have kicked in dough to make the crossing for them quiet. Now another 65 million for an “upgrade”? Here is the bad news for taxpayers, this is just the beginning.

  14. john mckenzie

    February 13, 2015 at 8:34 pm

    Why can’t the new train use the same station as amtrak in Miami? It would be better if amtrak, tri-rail, and all aboard Florida used the same station.

  15. Quinn Kasal

    February 17, 2015 at 1:21 pm

    This is huge. It needs to happen. $69 million is nothing for what we’re getting, a once in a lifetime opportunity to get Tri-Rail where it should have been all along, downtown. If we don’t do it now we’ll never get Tri-Rail to Gov Center and even if we found a way it’d surely cost at least $500 million and another 20 years. The county spent $1 billion on the Dolphin/Palmetto interchange! And we need $69 million. Come on.

  16. Mark Rejhon

    April 9, 2015 at 11:07 am

    I’m writing from Toronto, Canada where these trains (Bombardier BiLevels) were invented for our GO Transit commuter rail system. We have a downtown station for them & almost 90% of the operating expenses are reimbursed by the farebox. For TriRail, it is only 15%.

    Here in Toronto, I know I would not be riding an identical commuter train (Bombardier BiLevel) to Toronto if there wasn’t a downtown station in Toronto! I really think that a downtown station would massively improve TriRail’s farebox reimbursement situation as far more people would now choose to ride TriRail if there was a downtown station.