Thursday, November 10, 2011

Train News: Passenger rail service on Miami’s FEC line faces funding barriers

From Biscayne Corridor: Passenger rail service on Miami’s FEC line faces funding barriers
Residents at a town hall meeting in the Upper Eastside Tuesday night were focused on an issue that has long been a priority for many in the neighborhood: adding passenger service to the Florida East Coast Railway line.

Florida Department of Transportation representatives believe the freight cargo route could also be used as a commuter option for residents living east of Tri-Rail—the problem is convincing residents and county politicians to sign off on the $300 million project.

“This will create a strong spine east-west to move in the tri-county area,” said Amie Goddeau, mobility development manager for FDOT, who brought a rendering of the proposed route during the hour-long meeting.

FDOT’s ultimate goal is to have a route from Miami to Jupiter—something which could take years to be achieved—but they’ve decided to divide the project into parts to see if they can seduce county politicians and residents faster this way.

“It’s a huge project. We are breaking it up so people can use it, taste it and want more,” Goddeau said.

The idea would be to start with a route from Miami to Fort Lauderdale. The Miami/Fort Lauderdale route would have six to eight stations; an extra track would have to be added to the FEC line line, at a cost of $160 million; $100 million to buy the passenger train cars; and roughly $50 million for infrastructure cost.

A total price tag of $300 million for a 30-mile trip.

While Broward and Palm Beach counties have shown support for the project, Miami-Dade County hasn’t gotten on board. The main concern of Miami-Dade officials isn’t funding the construction, which could be paid for by the federal government, but rather the day-to-day costs, which have to be paid for at the local level, Goddeau said.

People were engaged during Goddeau’s presentation.

Some of the 30-something Miami residents at the meeting argued whether the passenger train would have to adhere to the Miami’s quiet zone designation, which is expected to be acquired so that cargo freights on the FEC line won’t have to blow their whistles as the pass through crossings next year. Goddeau brushed it off saying passenger trains are much quieter.

Others were skeptical about whether the project will materialize any time soon.

“I’ve been hearing about this for 10 years,” said artist and former Biscayne Times publisher Skip Van Cel. “What do we have to do to light the fire to get the city started on this?”

FDOT will present a computerized model done in conjunction with the FEC and a study of the project to the Miami-Dade Metropolitan Planning Organization to get their approval by February.

The next step would be the Miami City Commission.

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