Sonia Dillon, a visitor who had just arrived from the Dominican Republic, became the first regular passenger to ride on the new Metrorail Orange Line from Miami International Airport to Dadeland South in Kendall.
She got a slice of cake and was welcomed on the train by several high-ranking county officials who also rode on the first train that departed from MIA station minutes after Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez cut the inaugural ribbon and declared the new line open to service.
“Now Miami-Dade joins other great cities like Paris and Tokyo and London in connecting their airports to the urban core,” Gimenez said soon after he used a pair of giant scissors to cut the ribbon strung in front of escalators leading from an airport transit hub to the futuristic new MIA Metrorail station.
It was a historic moment when Dillon, who was carrying two small bags, boarded the first train that departed from the station heading south at 12:02 p.m. Ever since Metrorail opened its first line in 1984, county transit authorities had wanted to add the airport route. But the plan only materialized when county voters 10 years ago approved a half penny sales tax for transportation projects. The line, which took three years to build, was largely funded with tax revenue. About $404.7 million of the $506-million cost came from tax revenue and the rest from the Florida Department of Transportation.
Though the vast majority of passengers on the first train were county and state transportation officials, one of the riders out of the MIA station was Dillon, the first paying passenger. She said she had just arrived on a flight from the Dominican Republic when someone told her there was a ceremony going on at the new Metrorail station and that the first train was about to depart and could take her to her destination in Kendall.
“I’m here to visit some friends who live in Kendall, and when they told me that the train served the Dadeland North station I decided to give it a try,” she said. “Now every time I fly here I’ll take the train. It’s better than paying $40 for a cab.”
After she sat down in one of the cars, someone gave her a slice of the cake in the shape of a Metrorail train that transit officials were serving guests.
The second train that left the station some 30 minutes later was also largely filled with transportation officials. But among them was the second paying passenger, Jacqueline Medina, who had just arrived from Nicaragua to visit relatives in Miami. She was headed for the Vizcaya station.
“This seems better than waiting for the bus that I used to take on previous visits to Miami,” said Medina.
Regular service began after the opening ceremony which went on for almost two hours with speeches by Gimenez, Miami-Dade Transit director Ysela Llort and visiting congressional leaders like Cuban-American Republican Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mario Diaz-Balart and David Rivera.
Toward the end of the ceremony, Ros-Lehtinen, Diaz-Balart and Rivera staged a protest walkout when Gilberto Neves, president and chief executive officer of Odebrecht USA, the project contractor, rose to speak.
Afterward, Ros-Lehtinen told El Nuevo Herald that she and her colleagues walked out because a subsidiary of the parent company is upgrading the Cuban Port of Mariel.
“I’m hopeful that under Mayor Gimenez’s leadership, the taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars will not further flow into the pockets of a company that refuses to sever its economic ties with the blood-soaked Castro regime,” Ros-Lehtinen told El Nuevo Herald after the ceremony. “Along with my congressional colleagues, I walked out in protest of the company’s business dealings with a tyrannical dictator. Using taxpayers’ money to pay companies that deal with Castro’s dictatorship means that Americans are being forced to fund unethical behavior against their will.”