The Sun Sentinel – Tri-Rail link to downtown Miami needs $69 million in funds to happen

Posted on February 2, 2015

By Michael Turnbell


Tri-Rail could run to downtown Miami as early as late 2016.


Tri-Rail plan to run downtown Miami’s All Aboard Florida station depends on $69 million in funding.

In less than two years, commuters might be able to take Tri-Rail all the way to downtown Miami – without switching to Metrorail.


The plan would get passengers downtown quicker and save them money on fares by giving them a “one seat ride” on Tri-Rail.


But first, passenger platforms must be built for Tri-Rail in a giant new rail hub soon to be under construction for All Aboard Florida, a Miami-Orlando express passenger service to set to begin running in late 2016.

Tri-Rail needs to come up with about $69 million in the next two months to make it happen.


If it doesn’t come up with the money, Tri-Rail won’t likely ever run to downtown Miami because of the high cost of shoehorning its own station in a densely populated area where land costs are expensive.


“If we don’t build it now, it will not be built. I don’t see any other way to get into downtown Miami, without cutting up the local grid to build a station,” said Jack Stephens, executive director of the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority, which runs Tri-Rail.


The cost includes about $60 million to build 50-foot tall platforms above the streets to connect Tri-Rail to All Aboard Florida’s trains, Metrorail, the bus system and a downtown automated train called Metromover.


About $9.2 million is needed to upgrade a spur track connecting Tri-Rail’s tracks in Hialeah to the Florida East Coast Railway downtown so it can handle passenger trains.


Tri-Rail wants to split its existing 50 weekday trains – 26 would go to downtown Miami, 24 would go to its new station at Miami International Airport that is slated to open in late March or early April after numerous delays.


To get to downtown, trains would split from the existing Tri-Rail tracks south of the Metrorail station in Hialeah and run along the upgraded FEC spur.


Tri-Rail officials see the link as a way of connecting its trains from Palm Beach County directly into downtown Miami. The downtown link could be a precursor to a much bigger plan to run commuter trains on the coastal Florida East Coast Railway tracks from downtown Miami to Jupiter.


About 2,000 to 4,000 passengers a day are projected to ride Tri-Rail to downtown Miami. The entire 72-mile line, which runs from Miami to Mangonia Park, just north of West Palm Beach, on tracks mostly west of Interstate 95, carries about 15,000 passengers weekdays.


Officials are courting the city of Miami, Miami-Dade County and the Florida Department of Transportation to come up with the funds. Another possibility is tapping the area’s community redevelopment agency for a portion of the $163 million in increased tax revenues that All Aboard Florida expected to generate between 2017 and 2030.


Stephens said he expects Tri-Rail has about eight weeks to get funding in place before the design and construction of All Aboard Florida’s station will advance without Tri-Rail.


The 9-acre site for the Miami station, located in mostly vacant area between Government Center and Metrorail’s Overtown stop, was cleared in November and December. Pilings and foundation work for the station and the adjoining towers is underway and expected to take about four months. Vertical construction should start by the end of March.


Tri-Rail passengers can currently get to downtown Miami, but must transfer to Metrorail to finish their trip.


By running Tri-Rail directly to downtown, Stephens said passengers would save money on fares and get there about 5 minutes faster. They would save even more time on top of that by not having to get off one train, climb stairs or use an escalator to get to the other train.


Metrorail makes 10 stops between Tri-Rail and downtown. Tri-Rail would run directly to downtown with no stops. And passengers wouldn’t have to pay a separate transfer fee or fare like they do now if they switch trains.


Despite the obstacles to obtaining funding, Stephens is optimistic something can be worked out.


“People will look back one day and say you missed the opportunity to put all these modes of transportation together. They would think, “Where was your head?’ ” Stephens said. “Our position is very clear. We are going to try as hard as we can to make it happen.”