Time for Tri-Rail to serve all of Miami-Dade County

Tri-Rail is a commuter rail line linking Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach. It is managed by the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority (SFRTA) along CSX Transportation’s former Miami Subdivision, now wholly owned by the Florida Department of Transportation (DOT).

The 70.9-mile-long system has 18 stations along the Southeast Florida coast. It connects directly to Amtrak at numerous stations and to Metrorail at the Tri-Rail and Metrorail Transfer Station and at Miami International Airport station. A second Tri-Rail line on the Florida East Coast Railway corridor, dubbed the “Coastal Link,” is being planned, to be operational by 2020. The planned line will operate between Jupiter and Government Center in Downtown Miami, and add passenger rail between the downtown areas of West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale, and Miami. Combined with the existing Tri-Rail line, the Tri-Rail system would have a daily passenger ridership of almost 30,000, or approximately 9 million passengers per annum, doubling Tri-Rail’s current ridership.

Homestead in 2016 is not the Homestead that was there when decisions were being made about where Tri-Rail, Metrorail and other forms of rail should go. Today Homestead is a thriving metropolitan area — yes, maintaining its rural components and its Hometown USA feeling — but those are the good parts of the community. One of the elements still missing for the growth of the community would be if Tri-Rail extended its reach to Homestead/Florida City. Isn’t it about time?

Talking to Tri-Rail officials, they tell us all we need are two things — legislators to champion the cause and the state to provide the money to purchase the rail line from CSX. Not completely insurmountable, but difficult. Nothing we’ve ever done in Homestead and Florida City has been easy. It wasn’t easy building a top quality motor sports track and bringing the NASCAR finals here, the world series of stock car racing. It’s like having a Super Bowl here, annually.

The Super Bowl never seems to lack legislative champions, so why not a commuter line connecting Homestead and Florida City to the rest of the region. CSX is proposing to sell its owned right of way south and west of Miami International Airport. With all the talk about rail in Florida right now, the timing couldn’t be better. With All Aboard Florida’s massive plan, isn’t it time we all really got on board in Florida and extended the rail network.

We’ve all followed what is happening with All Aboard Florida and the FEC.  Ownership by the state of the CSX rail line to Homestead would mean the potential of a major commuter line passing through suburbs containing hundreds of thousands of car-driving potential riders along the way. It should open up a large corridor for effective transit-oriented development and additional density for a growing metropolis.

Think about stops in Tropical Park, Miami Dade College’s Kendall Campus, Zoo Miami — yes even the Miami Executive Airport in West Kendall. Think how it makes the area more attractive to the Youth Fair if served by mass transit? Another way to leverage the corridor would be as a Rail-with-Trail. There are several hundred successful Rails-with-Trails projects in the United States. The co-location of trails with passenger rail would extend the reach and convenience of the service. Specifically, the addition of a trail would allow the fledgling Ludlam Trail to safely connect with the MIC where it would meet with numerous other modes, such as Metrorail, MIA, rental car companies and other bicycle and pedestrian connections. What a great feeder into the finally emerging and opening Seminole Theatre in Homestead and to events at the motor sports complex.

Additionally a Rail-with-Trail would bring a much-needed trail system the populations in western Miami-Dade County, which lack opportunities to connect with other countywide and regional trail systems. It can weave together community assets such as the Ludlam Trail, Tropical Park and the emerging Biscayne Everglades Greenway. Including a trail at the time of initial planning and in advance of improvements being made is vital in order to maximize savings and best connect with where people work, live and shop. A trail has been shown as an effective tool in increasing passenger convenience and as a contributing factor to reducing trespassing and improving safety.

It’s a win-win if legislators step forward and champion the second need — the state making the acquisition. It’s not much to ask from the stepchild community which is always ignored in the big picture of the county and repeatedly by the state.

Wake up and smell the Bustelo!

 


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