Over the past year, Tri-Rail executives and local politicians fought to cobble together $45 million in public funds to connect commuter trains to downtown Miami, where frustration over traffic and sparse mass transit is at a tipping point. But now they’re worried those efforts may implode in Tallahassee.
With the legislative session ending Friday, the Florida Senate has yet to pass legislation that Tri-Rail representatives say is crucial to their plans to run public passenger trains along the Florida East Coast Railway and into a terminus for All Aboard Florida’s express, inter-city Brightline cars.
Representatives of the two rail services say they need legislation clarifying who is liable should a crash occur on rail lines shared by public and private passenger cars in order to safely operate on the same line. Otherwise, All Aboard and Tri-Rail worry they might be held liable for a crash in which they had no involvement.
A sweeping transportation bill including the railway liability legislation passed weeks ago in the House of Representatives. But with just one day left in the session, Tri-Rail representatives still need to tack the language onto a companion bill in the Senate and hope the bill passes. If it doesn’t, there probably won’t be a next year, since All Aboard’s MiamiCentral station is already under construction.
We’re at the end of the legislative session, and I’m struggling to figure out a way to move forward. If this fails, in all honesty, I can’t figure out how that would work.
Jack Stephens, executive director South Florida Regional Transportation Authority
“With this [legislation] in jeopardy, it throws the entire project — as far as I’m concerned — in jeopardy,” said Jack Stephens, executive director of the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority, the public entity that oversees Tri-Rail. “We’re at the end of the legislative session, and I’m struggling to figure out a way to move forward. If this fails, in all honesty, I can’t figure out how that would work.”
On Thursday, Tri-Rail’s social-media team took to Facebook and Twitter to ask supporters to contact Senate President Andy Gardiner to support their legislation. Local politicians also called Gardiner, concerned that a project with millions in public support from Miami-Dade agencies could fall apart seemingly over a technicality.
This is a project that’s extremely important to our community.