Miami-Orlando train track may host Tri-Rail commuter trains to downtown.
Tri-Rail, the commuter service that has been running trains on the CSX track west of Interstate 95 between Palm Beach County and Miami since late last century, is now working on a major new plan: to run trains into downtown Miami beginning in late 2016 or early 2017.
Jack Stephens, executive director of the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority, said the plan calls for running the trains on a stretch of the same track that would be used by a planned Miami-Orlando passenger service.
The plan requires construction of a spur connecting the CSX track that Tri-Rail uses to the Florida East Coast Railway track. Though the spur is slated to be built by the Florida Department of Transportation, Tri-Rail is seeking an additional $69 million — money that would be needed within eight weeks to mesh with the construction schedule set for the Miami-Orlando service, known as All Aboard Florida. The money would be used to build Tri-Rail train platforms plus other enhancements such as ticket-vending machines.
Stephens said this is the best chance Tri-Rail has to run trains straight into downtown Miami. He said if transportation authorities miss this opportunity, Tri-Rail may never be able to operate trains into downtown Miami because costs would be prohibitive in the future. At most, he added, Tri-Rail would only be able to set up a station in mid-town Miami, but not downtown.
One Local 10 Viewer is fed up with the loud noise from trains running outside her home in the middle of the night. She decided to bring her concerns to Local 10 News investigative reporter Christina Vazquez.
The viewer said she has lived near the train tracks by Broward General Hospital and Davie Boulevard for three years now. She never had a problem with noise until a few weeks ago.
“I noticed that more trains pass our area and blow their horns which is so disturbing,” she said. “During the day of course (it) is okay. They can blow their horns all they want but during the night (it) is too bad.”
On Friday, the viewer told Call Christina that the first trains pass through around 9 or 10 p.m., again at midnight and once more a few hours later.
“I understand the noise cannot be avoided, but why suddenly that the trains have schedules at night?” She said. “It is even worse (than) fire trucks and police sirens headed to the hospital.”
According to a spokesman for Florida East Coast Railway (FEC), she is not alone in her complaint. In December 2014, the FEC said they started running new trains on their regular routes.
These recently added trains have new horns. A decibel (dB) test found the horns to be emitting a lower sound than the older model trains they replaced, which means they should be less of a disturbance. However, the FEC said they have received enough complaints to recognize there may be an issue with the new horns. They have asked the manufacturer of the horns to take a look at them and evaluate the situation.
Mariner Versus Train Fight Could Have Easy Solution, Coast Guard Says
The US Coast Guard isn’t expecting major problems in negotiating the needs of boaters and the Florida East Coast Railway after finishing a review of thousands of mariner concerns about three aging drawbridges.
Barry Dragon, director of the district bridge program for the Seventh Coast Guard District, said he is meeting with FEC officials March 6 to learn how often they believe the bridges need to be closed to usher freight trains across busy Intracoastal waterways.
“They will present to us their needs, just like the mariners did,” Dragon said. “Then we will come up with a schedule that will be adequate for both. I personally think it will be fine and we’ll be able to work everyone’s issues out.”
The meeting is not open to the public.
All Aboard Florida, which plans to run 32 passenger trains per day on the same FEC tracks now used by rail, will also attend next month’s meeting. Although boater concerns about future impacts of All Aboard Florida weren’t considered in the Coast Guard’s review, Dragon said he wanted representatives there to point out any “glaring problems.”
About 3,000 comments were submitted to the Coast Guard in the fall by South Florida boaters bemoaning the wait times, dangerous boater backups and overall deterioration of railroad drawbridges that cross the New River, Loxahatchee River and St. Lucie River.
The complaints aren’t new, but didn’t crescendo until All Aboard Florida’s plans became known to the marine industry. The St. Lucie and Loxahatchee bridges are nearly 90 years old.
Dragon said boaters generally need reasonable access to the waterway during daytime and weekend hours. Because the type of traffic differs by bridge, the schedules may not be the same.
But some wary mariners aren’t sure a train timetable will be enough to keep boats flowing.
The Marine Industry Association of Palm Beach County and other groups have asked that the bridges be replaced or rebuilt to sit higher above the water line and allow for more boats to pass under.
“We want to make sure the boater traffic isn’t impacted negatively and I’m not sure just changing the schedule will be enough,” said Michael Kennedy, president of the Marine Industries Association of Palm Beach County. “Vessels like barges need to have more than predictability, they need access during the right tide.”
After finding out the needs of FEC, all of the issues will be taken to the captain of the Port Miami to come up with a schedule. The schedule will be tested for up to 120 days, before a proposed rule is considered.
“After 120 days, or sooner if everyone is happy, we will proceed with rulemaking,” Dragon said.
All Aboard Florida has pledged bridge upgrades will reduce the length of time it takes to lower and raise a bridge for a train, but the total length of closings per day will increase.
The private company also has said it will provide train schedules so boaters can plan trips around closings, and make it so two trains pass at once to reduce the number of closings.
PortMiami has been efficiently connecting this city to the rest of the nation ever since its rail system was expanded, say port officials.
“We have up to two double-stacked trains that can take between 50 and 150 containers leaving the port every day,” said Eric Olafson, manager of cargo development. “Each train has the capacity to take up to 150 trucks off the road.”
Prior to the reopening of the rail line, PortMiami had not had on-dock rail service since 2006, leaving trucks as the sole mode of domestic cargo transportation in and out of the seaport.
Jackson-based Florida East Coast Railway and PortMiami formed an alliance to rebuild the railway, with the railway adding 9,000 feet of processing track, according to Debra Phillips, vice president for the railway’s corporate communications.
“Every mode of transportation is involved in the shipping of a product,” Ms. Phillips said. “In today’s marketplace, customers are going beyond US borders and need efficient transfer from ship to rail.”
Mr. Olafson said the port is shipping a wide variety of products by rail, including seed corn grown and harvested in Chile in March, shipped through the Panama Canal, offloaded at PortMiami and – using the FEC Intermodal Rail – offloaded in Chicago and then transported to the heartland to be planted for the spring harvest.
Cotton and yarn travels by rail from Charlotte, NC, to PortMiami and then is shipped to Honduras and Guatemala, with finished goods then shipped from Central America to the US distribution centers via PortMiami.
The Thread Express, an intermodal stacktrain service operated by the FEC and CSX Intermodal, runs between PortMiami and a rail hub in Charlotte, NC. Mr. Olafson said before the Thread Express, companies like Hanes would truck their containers over streets and highways.
The trains leaving PortMiami’s rail system also transport alcohol for major distributors in Australia, auto parts from the Nissan plant in Tennessee to St. Petersburg, Russia, and recycled paper from a large plant in Orlando to China.
In addition, trains leave the port with empty containers from the shipping lines and carry them as far as California, Mr. Olafson said.
PortMiami invested $50 million in the restoration of its on-port freight rail system, creating a connection to the national rail system and expediting the movement of goods throughout Florida and the continental US, according to a PortMiami press release. The release also states that with the port being the closest one in the US to Latin America, improving the rail system gives PortMiami the advantage of transferring South American grain to the rest of the US faster and more efficiently than any other port in the country.
PortMiami is to be the first port of call on the Asia-America trade route via the expanded Panama Canal. Products that move through the port include fresh citrus from Florida, produce, electronics, household goods and building supplies delivered from Asia and South America.
According to PortMiami’s website, the seamless ship-to-rail transfer through the Sunshine Gateway service allows the port to handle additional volumes and ensures that shipments move more quickly and efficiently with the potential to reach 70% of the US population in four days or less.