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Front Page » Opinion » End of the line for long-promised Metrorail expansions

End of the line for long-promised Metrorail expansions

Written by on August 30, 2016
End of the line for long-promised Metrorail expansions

The first three of 136 cars to replace the entire Metrorail fleet are being built just as county officials tell us that forever-promised lines that would make the Metrorail fully functional have become mythical rather than practical.

Goodbye, Metrorail. Our transportation future is now officially light rail.

Metrorail, says Alice Bravo, the county’s transportation chief for one year, is just too expensive to add to. Besides, she says, even she has no idea what technology will be possible in just five years. Buses, she says, aren’t the answer. So the six transit corridors the county plans for our future will be some sort of light rail.

The 136 new cars to replace the original Metrorail trains are costing taxpayers nearly $376 million – nearing $3 million apiece. The first six were supposed to be running by last year and all by next year. But the trains – all 136 cars of them – are so late that we won’t get them until after we’ve kissed Metrorail growth goodbye.

Train Plant

One of the 136 new Metrorail cars being assembled in Medley to replace all current trains.

Plans are to continue to run the current system with the new cars. Ms. Bravo is convinced that light rail, whenever it finally comes, can connect to Metrorail. Those new cars, she says, can also be converted, at some unmentioned cost, to run on light rail once they are finally ready to run on Metrorail.

Metrorail is a $1.5 billion urban railroad that never really got a chance to succeed as planned. The rail line that opened in 1984 was just the first leg -– as much as the county could fund at the time. And government never did find the money to do more than the recently added link in Miami International Airport.

All the other grand plans depended on federal funds, getting county commissioners to agree where to build next, and getting commissioners not to divert the transportation tax that was passed in 2002.

The stars and planets never did align for all of those elements. Miami Today’s files are crammed with hundreds of articles detailing twists and turns on the road to Metrorail success. In the end, we always strayed from the path.

One problem is that feeder buses and Metromover never brought the robust on-time service needed to build Metrorail traffic. As early as September 1984 we were reporting that a new British-made light rail car might feed Metrorail in South Dade on Florida East Coast Railway tracks to build ridership. It never happened.

By October 1985 attorney Martin Fine was writing in Miami Today that “Metrorail is unfinished business. There are some ruts in the road: some little foxes are spoiling the vine.” In other words, key feeders were missing – as most still are today, as evident in the six planned light rail corridors.

A 1994 article details lobbying in Washington for the “six Metrorail extensions.” In a close parallel to today, a consultant had told the county it needed to seek all six extensions at once, which is the plan for pushing forward six light rail lines as a package today. But that imploded when commissioners insisted that their own corridor had to come first. In the end, the squabbling county got left out of the federal funding.

The 2002 tax kitty to add the missing legs of Metrorail was oversold – there would never have been enough money to do the job we were promised – and then raided. The $376 million for replacement rail cars came out of money that was to add track miles, because the county had never reserved funds for replacements.

We tried everything to finish Metrorail. Now it’s finished.

Metrorail, however, was never what critics quickly branded it: Metrofail. The system this June carried 67,800 riders on an average weekday – presumably 33,900 people taking round trips. But the June ridership of just under 1.7 million was down 4.8% from the prior June. While county transit as a whole has lost riders every month of 2016, however, Metrorail has held its own.

There are no plans to shut down what Metrorail we already have. Indeed, the new trains, when we get them, are supposed to last 30 years. Whether all 30 years will be on the current elevated system is unknown.

Meanwhile, the county plans concurrently for six new transit legs.

The key imperatives for growth remain the same: find the money, either federal or local or through a for-profit partner; keep commissioners on board on the county’s plan; and don’t overpromise or raid the funds when budgets get tight.

Look forward in several years to trying out those $3 million Metrorail cars. A Metrorail ride is still the best $2.25 congestion avoidance in town.

10 Responses to End of the line for long-promised Metrorail expansions

  1. Roy

    August 31, 2016 at 11:39 am

    That is why we need to recycle new folks to serve as county commisioners every 8 years instead of these lifers that can become stagnent with issues they dont want to be a part of of in case it fails. There needs to be a Metro-Rail!coridor to Aventura and one to FIU. Where is sanator Marco Rubio and sanator Nelson when it comes to helpting secured federal funds for Miami Dade’s transit expansion needs?

  2. Gerwyn Flax

    August 31, 2016 at 12:54 pm

    Marco Rubio is a Republican conservative. They don’t believe in trains. they’re stuck in the 17th century.

    • Tallaman

      September 22, 2016 at 9:36 am

      Really? Who did this?:

      “The 2002 tax kitty to add the missing legs of Metrorail was oversold – there would never have been enough money to do the job we were promised – and then raided.”

      I’ll bet it was not conservative Republicans. It was demoncrats who made promises and never followed through. Typical loonie liberals – Make promises, take people’s money, take more of people’s money, never deliver what was promised, blame someone else.

  3. DC Copeland

    August 31, 2016 at 1:09 pm

    Light rail is not the answer because it requires commandeering an existing lane of traffic. Light rail then becomes part of the problem. The correct solution is taking the mass transit answer and getting it off the grid. Like MetroRail does. I had hopes that Bravo would be a visionary but instead she disappoints with mass transit ideas that will fail to deliver on the first day they open. When I hear about light rail as the answer, I immedieatly think about this video compilation of cars crashing into Houston’s at-grade light rail system called “Metro’s Greatest Hits:”

  4. B

    August 31, 2016 at 8:06 pm

    At-grade light rail will be too slow for the realities of our across town commuting patterns, not to mention there is ZERO political capital to actually take away car lanes and left turns to make way for at grade rail. As far as “what technology will be available 5 years from now,” then why are we still building express lanes and expanding roads and building large parking garages?

  5. B

    August 31, 2016 at 8:27 pm

    OK, so $376M of PTP half penny tax had to be used for replacement trains. How about the rest of the $200M/year??? Absorbed in to the general fund budget for bus operations and used for highways, that’s what. That’s why we couldn’t build anything else besides Airport Link. But we still found the $Bns for express lanes, interchange rebuilds, plus $850M for a 1.4 mile expressway bridge where a perfectly functional one already exists (that’s over $600M per mile!).

  6. Gerwyn Flax

    August 31, 2016 at 8:44 pm

    Get rid of express lanes on I-95 and use these lanes to and from downtown to run a few metro rail cars from Aventura to down town and Coconut Grove. Just think how many rush hour cars would be removed from I-95. Much cheaper alternative than having to install all those concrete pilings to support overhead rails. They can possibly also run out west using the same plan.

  7. Omar

    September 1, 2016 at 7:38 pm

    Tri-Rail’s Coastal Link is going to cover the areas that run along 95 including Aventura, so no worries there. Better yet, the planned station is directly across from the mall. It’ll be a hassle having to walk from government station to MiamiCentral to transfer and more expensive as a result of taking two separate systems, but at least it’ll be possible.

  8. JS

    September 6, 2016 at 2:32 pm

    Such a ridiculous shame. Light rail, as other commenters noted, is useless if it’s just stuck in traffic. Even when separated in dedicated lanes, it can’t go as fast as the lightning fast Metrorail. “Too expensive” is bullsh*t. They blow money on all kinds of car-related junk that could have built 10 Metrorail extensions. Even the proposed East-West corridor, if ever built, will be an instant inadequacy. It should go THROUGH Little Havana and out to Sweetwater and up to Doral, not skirt the no-man’s land between the airport and the 836. Fracasados.

  9. Dale Hershman

    September 8, 2016 at 12:02 pm

    Its all obsolete with the coming of Uber. Between the core metro rail that already exists, trolleys, and the new augmentation of Tri-rail, anyone living in core Miami, and even some suburbs won’t need a car.

    Keep in mind that today’s Uber is still relatively expensive….within 5-10 years the drivers will be replaced altogether with self driving cars, and then costs will really sink to nothing.

    The general concept of public transport will be diminished.