Hidden treasure lies in Miami’s deal to support Tri-Rail

Lost in the numbers and other technical features of a Tri-Rail connection to downtown Miami was a hidden detail that bodes well for mass transportation in our metropolis.

Quantitatively, it constituted just $1 million — less than 2 percent of the total package of $69 million. Yet it was a key component since it allows the Tri-Rail trains to use not only the right of way, but also thenew passenger track being built by FEC along the vital eastern seaboard.

There is a lot of serendipity at work here, but we could end up with a private railroad using existing right-of-way to provide private passenger rail service linking four important cities — Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, Palm Beach and Orlando. Nowhere else in the nation is a private railroad company making its new intercity passenger railway (“All Aboard”) available for a commuter train (“Coastal Link”). And nowhere in the world would such a new passenger track be so situated that it connects 28 mini-cities along a stretch of 85 miles (Miami to Palm Beach) currently served by a single, super-busy, super-congested, super highway (I-95).

Imagine being able to commute between Overtown and Aventura or between downtown Miami and Ft. Lauderdale using an affordable train that never gets stuck in traffic, never has to maneuver through complicated interchanges like Golden Glades and allows you to read or work on your laptop inside the security of a totally safe railcar. The key component of that dreamy commute is the word “affordable.”

Whereas All Aboard will be competing for passengers with airlines, which are intrinsically expensive, the Coastal Link will have to compete with relatively cheaper gas-consuming automobiles. So the key to affordable rail service is access to affordable passenger tracks.

That’s where the million-dollar component comes in, as we analyze the beauty of the Tri-Rail to downtown deal put together by Miami city commissioner Francis Suarez, Overtown-Park West CRA chairman Keon Hardemon and the mayors of Miami and Miami-Dade County.

The million dollars buy what is called a “perpetual easement” or, in plain English, the right to use the passenger track being built by the FEC for its All Aboard trains.

What Miami proposes to do, with enthusiastic county support, is to buy permanent rights to the use of a train track so that our residents can use the privately-owned train tracks forever. Ideally, there will be no fare at all. Hopefully, that will mean very affordable fares not only for Tri-Rail, but also for the Coastal Link trains slated to come into service in 2021.

Here’s hoping we can forever solve the north-south transit link that is so vital for the tri-county metropolis that we call South Florida.

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