Caroline Junco and her boyfriend, Gustavo Ugarte, who had just arrived from Peru, found the Metrorail station at Miami International Airport and boarded the train waiting at the platform, along with their bulging suitcases.
Although they had never used Metrorail before, the couple knew what to do because a friend had recommended taking the train as they completed their journey to West Palm Beach.
“She told us it was cheaper to use the train,” said Ugarte, who works for a car dealership in Lima and was traveling with Junco, who runs a women’s clothing firm in the Peruvian capital.
Junco and Ugarte are the typical passengers of the new airport Metrorail route that began service on July 28 — the first new line to be inaugurated since the elevated trains began rolling in 1984.
Many of the passengers using the new route are international travelers like Junco and Ugarte, who flew to the United States for the wedding of their friend, Pamela Gallegos, in West Palm Beach.
They boarded Metrorail at the airport station then switched to another line at the Earlington Heights Station to reach the Tri-Rail connection.
Other travelers who use the MIA line are passengers like Pablo Rueda, a Spanish businessman who came from San Jose, Costa Rica, en route to Madrid and had a few hours to kill before boarding his next flight.
“I landed from San Jose and now I’m going to Madrid, but I took a few hours to go for a walk through downtown Miami,” Rueda at the MIA station. “Very convenient.”
Others have a specific goal at MIA. Mike Dwiggins had rented a car and had just returned it at MIA.
“I took Metrorail to the airport because it’s cheaper than a cab, only $2,” said Dwiggins. “The service is excellent.”
Still others who use the route are persons accompanying friends or relatives who are leaving on flights from MIA, and airport employees.
The new service has yet to draw large crowds, but it seems to be gaining popularity — at least among those who rely on it. According to figures supplied by Miami-Dade Transit, an average of about 1,750 riders pass through its MIA station on weekdays.
There have been a few complaints.
Some passengers who generally use only the original Green Line from Dadeland to the Palmetto station near the Palmetto Expressway in Northwest Miami-Dade said that after the MIA Orange Line service began, the Green Line trains were overloaded at peak times because they had been shortened to four cars from six.
Karla Damian, a Miami-Dade Transit spokeswoman, said the trains were shortened because the agency had to equip the new route with existing cars.
Damian said that while trains were shortened, the agency increased the frequency of service between Dadeland South and Earlington Heights. For example, she said, during weekday peak hours the trains’ frequency increased to every five minutes from the previous 10.
“In order to provide this service and the increased frequency, we had to shorten trains to four cars instead of six cars,” she said.
“At the same time, the department has under observation the use of cars to make sure they do not overfill” she added.
Metrorail cars will be replaced eventually under a contract with the Italian company AnsaldoBreda recommended recently by Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez. The company underbid the next-best offer by about $5 million, according to county officials.
The total contract price is estimated at $313 million.
On Thursday, when a photographer and a reporter from El Nuevo Herald traveled on different trains, cars during the evening rush were full but not overloaded.
“That probably happened just after the new route began,” said Wendy Smith, a passenger interviewed at the Government Center station in downtown Miami. “But they cars are not as overloaded now.”
Another passenger, however, said the number of passengers had remained the same.
“For me there is no change,” said Michael Ukwendu. “What is happening now is that the trains run more frequently and thus the service is more efficient because they do not have to wait as much between trains.”