As the PortMiami tunnel gets built to take trucks off Biscayne Boulevard and rail lines get spiffed up to bring port cargo to the Hialeah area for distribution centers north, there’s an exciting new passenger rail project in the works that will add to downtown Miami’s resurgence without weighing down our roadways with more cars.
All Aboard Florida, the proposed passenger rail service from Miami to Orlando, with stops in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, promises to add a new dimension to downtown Miami’s vitality. Florida East Coast Industries, the company that began as Henry Flagler’s railroad, has big plans to connect two major tourist destinations as early as 2014.
In an environmental report to federal regulators, the FEC details a 21st century station on nine acres in downtown Miami that eventually would include residential and office towers and a hotel, lots of shops and parking for about 1,000 cars. The elevated tracks would stop four stories high, connecting to rail lines on Northwest Eighth Street, an area now used mostly as a parking lot between Government Center and the Overtown Metrorail stations.
With the platform and a portion of the tracks built in the air there would be open access to busy local traffic going east-west without train interruptions, and it would offer an eye-popping view for arriving passengers who would travel on the FEC above the existing Metromover at Northwest Fifth Street.
Unlike previous fast-train proposals, this is a private, for-profit endeavor that won’t require state or federal funding. The FEC trains wouldn’t travel as fast as the high-speed rail proposal that Gov. Rick Scott turned down from the federal government two years ago, but the travel time — at three hours between Miami and Orlando — would remain competitive, attracting tourists and locals alike.
Amtrak already provides train travel between Miami and Orlando twice a day, but its frequent stops make the trip a five-hour adventure. FEC plans to offer hourly service and shave the travel time by two hours.
Drivers need not worry about getting bogged down at train stops. The FEC passenger cars should take less than a minute — 52 seconds, according to the FEC report — to clear street crossings. That’s about what it takes to wait at a stoplight for the green.
There are steps to go to ensure the project gets the nod from regulators looking at environmental impacts, but, once approved, travelers can expect a topnotch experience, FEC officials told The Herald’s Editorial Board recently.
Taken together with the Tri-Rail commuter rail service between Palm Beach to a metro stop near Hialeah, and the potential for sharing tracks with FEC to add more stops to Tri-Rail, South Florida is heading in the right direction.