Brightline and Tri-Rail may both roll in downtown Miami this year
Brightline is targeting late 2021 to resume passenger trips at MiamiCentral station in downtown Miami, which by then could also host Tri-Rail.
Since halting service in March just after the pandemic hit South Florida, high-speed Brightline has been recalibrating its rail systems and testing new technology. That includes adjusting its positive train control (PTC) system to welcome intercounty commuter line Tri-Rail onto its tracks.
“We’ve taken advantage of this time to implement PTC technology and software, which requires a [Federal Railroad Administration] review,” Brightline spokesman Ben Porritt said. “We’re aiming for the fourth quarter of 2021 [to reopen, and] at the same time we relaunch operations, we think it’s possible for Tri-Rail to begin testing and launching operations into MiamiCentral.” Downtown interests have long sought that Tri-Rail commuter link to the north.
The PTC system aims to automatically stop trains to avoid derailments, collisions and work zone accidents.
Congress in 2008 required all rail lines to use PTC by December 2020. Each railroad had to develop its own system from scratch, according to the Association of American Railroads, which called it “an unprecedented technological undertaking … comprised of hundreds of thousands of components that must work across an interconnected network … [of] railroads.”
Brightline and Tri-Rail use different PTC systems. They can interoperate with adjustments, which can be made only once both use the same tracks.
Tri-Rail spokesman Victor Garcia confirmed that late 2021 is the time the two rail lines set to begin work toward joint service from MiamiCentral, but how long it takes Tri-Rail to get up and running there depends on Brightline’s further cooperation.
It takes six months to test and calibrate the PTC system. Tri-Rail asked to do its tests alongside Brightline. If it doesn’t, it could take another year for Tri-Rail to start rolling there.
Brightline has not yet responded to that request, Mr. Garcia said.
“Unfortunately, this technology is kind of new for us,” he said. “With all this technical stuff that’s involved, we were trying to see if we can speed it up a bit.”
The comingling of Brightline and Tri-Rail – owned by Florida East Coast Industries and the Florida Department of Transportation, respectively – in Miami has been an unrealized promise of a 2015 agreement by Miami-Dade County, the City of Miami and Tri-Rail to invest nearly $70 million to fund 26 trains and nine miles of new infrastructure to bring commuter rail downtown.
Once Tri-Rail begins rolling from Miami, its 450-passenger trains will be able to provide a one-seat ride to nearly 20 stops up to Magnolia Park in Palm Beach County, according to a system map.
Prior computer simulations predicted that a downtown stop would add 2,000 riders from Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, half of whom would be new riders.
Post-pandemic rider numbers will likely be different. Brightline expects as much for its own service, Mr. Porritt said, but if traffic is any indication, commuters should see the railway as an attractive alternative to the road.
“Everything’s going to come back gradually,” he said. “But we’ve already started to see certain signs of congestion on I-95 getting back to pre-Covid levels, where none of us feel comfortable.”