More trains rumbling through South Florida neighborhoods could be coming soon, and with them drivers sitting longer at railroad crossings.
The number of freight trains could more than double after a widened Panama Canal opens. The wider canal and new shipping lane will allow a massive new line of mega-ships to pass through in early 2016, increasing the amount of freight heading to South Florida ports.
After that, the ports likely would be expanded to handle the larger ships. And the goods from those ships would be transported by train.
Some projections estimate that 24 to 28 freight trains a day will travel on railroads in South Florida in the next five years compared to about eight to 11 riding the rails now.
That has many folks worrying about trains blocking roads as they drive to and from work, take their children to school or drive for any reason.
“Some of those freight trains seem extremely long,” said Glenn Smith, of Wilton Manors, who lives three blocks from the Florida East Coast Railroad tracks. “You can back up an intersection real fast with a big train.”
All those lowered railroad gates would back up traffic more often. With passenger trains such as the upcoming All Aboard Florida Miami-to-Orlando passenger service added to the mix, there could be as many 32 trains a day starting in 2016. Tri-Rail has proposed a commuter service on the Florida East Coast Railroad’s freight tracks that could bring as many as 26 to 50 trains a day. It’s unclear when Tri-Rail trains will be on the East Coast Railroad tracks, as the two sides are still negotiating.
To get ready for all those potential trains and delays, the Florida Department of Transportation already is looking at ways to ease the starting and stopping. Minor delays could be fixed with new technology to coordinate gate closings. The department also could align oncoming trains with traffic-signal patterns.
The transportation department is asking railroads to run freight trains at more varied times of the day or double-stack train cars to shorten them, said Jeff Weidner, a strategic development manager for the transportation department.