Port Rail Chugs Toward Two Runs Daily
By Scott Blake
When freight trains begin running in and out of Port Miami later this year, the service is expected to start off slowly but eventually increase in the number of crossings over busy Biscayne Boulevard, according to a project official.
The rail line, previously expected to start operating July 1, is now scheduled to go into service Oct. 1, said Florida East Coast Railway Vice President Bob Ledoux.
At first, the service will operating on a limited capacity but is expected to go to full capacity in September 2014, Mr. Ledoux said.
Although trains again will be crossing Biscayne Boulevard — downtown Miami’s main thoroughfare — it shouldn’t cause significant traffic disruptions because the trains can’t be longer than 1,400 to 1,500 feet due to lack of track space inside the seaport, Mr. Ledoux said.
Eventually, the tracks inside the port will be lengthened up to 3,000 feet, allowing a corresponding increase in the length of the trains, he said.
Still, the trains will be moving at about 25 to 30 mph over Biscayne Boulevard, so traffic will only be held up for several minutes at a time, he said.
"It’s not like the trains will be crawling across the street," he added. "The traffic lights [on Biscayne Boulevard] also will be synchronized with the trains to limit disruptions."
At first, only two trains a day — probably one in the morning and one in the afternoon — are expected to use the service, for a total of four crossings total a day. Eventually, one or two more trains a day could use the tracks — and maybe up to several more a day, but those extra trips could be scheduled overnight when there’s less traffic, Mr. Ledoux said.
"It will be driven by the number of customers who want to use it," he said.
There’s also other traffic factors to consider: the freight trains will decrease the number of freight trucks currently using the port’s entrance road off Biscayne Boulevard. Also, the truck traffic should further decrease when the port’s twin tunnels open in 2014, diverting more port traffic to the MacArthur Causeway.
The port’s freight rail was deactivated several years ago after usage of the line had decreased and it suffered some hurricane damage.
Florida East Coast Railway recently selected Gonzalez & Sons to rebuild the tracks inside the seaport — a contract worth roughly $20 million, according to Mr. Ledoux.
The dockside tracks are the last leg of the project to restore rail service to the port. The first leg involved improving the company’s tracks into downtown Miami along US 1 and the second leg involved renovating the rail bridge into the port.
Overall, the project so far has been a $53 million investment for Jacksonville-based Florida East Coast Railway, Mr. Ledoux said.
The port freight tracks will be limited in length at first to make room for the tunnel construction, but once that is out of the way the tracks can be lengthened, Mr. Ledoux said.
The trains will be capable of carrying 20 or more containers and be able to transport nonperishable and perishable items. Some trains will come to and from the company’s railyard in Hialeah, and others will come directly to and from the company’s freight line along US 1 all the way up the state’s East Coast, he said.
Shipping companies will have the option of using the rail service at the port through long-term contracts or short-term use or pay-as-you-go agreements. Companies using the service frequently, however, will be encouraged to sign long-term agreements, which will offer lower rates, Mr. Ledoux said.
"There are a handful of anchor tenants at the port that we know will want to use it," he said.
In order for the service to succeed, the freight trains will have to offer cost or time savings for shipping companies compared with using trucks, he said.
For example, he said, expected to use the service is a North Carolina firm that now ships sheets of cotton by truck to Miami to be transported by sea to Honduras, where the cotton is used to make underwear. The underwear is then shipped back by sea to Port Miami, then is trucked back to North Carolina.
The new rail service will allow the company to eliminate use of dozens of trucks for the interstate trips, transporting its cotton and underwear to and from Port Miami by rail, he said.
In addition, the port freight rail project will include operation of a dockside loading facility, where cargo will be taken on and off trains. The port’s county administration will handle that part of the project, probably by handing over operation of the facility to a third party, perhaps a stevedore or shipping company currently at the port, Mr. Ledoux said.
Port Miami shipping company Seaboard Marine is expected to give up some land it uses inside the port to make room for the tracks and the facility, but the company is expected to get some other land at the port to make up for it, he said.
In recent years, the only way to move cargo in and out of Port Miami by land has been by truck. The cargo rail is part of a wide-ranging plan spearheaded by seaport and county officials to make Port Miami a major cargo container destination to coincide with the opening of the expanded Panama Canal in 2015.
In addition, the port’s shipping channel will be dredged and deepened to accommodate larger container vessels and the port tunnels are designed to alleviate downtown traffic.To read the entire issue of Miami Today online, subscribe to e-MIAMI TODAY, an exact digital replica of the printed edition.