PortMiami rail upgrade now on track

The digging of the PortMiami tunnel has ended. The dredging of the port’s cargo harbor is about to begin. What’s still pending is the third leg of the port’s modernization program: a rail line so trains can transport cargo directly from the seaport to other major U.S. cities.

That should begin to change within the next 45 days, PortMiami Director Bill Johnson said this week. That’s the schedule for starting delayed construction on the unfinished upgrade of the track within the port. Cargo trains likely will begin rolling on the track by October.

The port track upgrade is part of a broader $46.9 million project to refurbish the Florida East Coast Railway track in Miami. The track from just outside the port to 72nd Street was recently upgraded, connecting it to the existing FECR track to Jacksonville and the Hialeah Railyard.

The project is a partnership involving the port, FECR, the state and the federal government. Railway officials expressed satisfaction about the announcement.

“The Florida East Coast Railway is pleased to be granted the authority to award a contract for the design and permitting for the on-port rail at PortMiami,” said Robert Ledoux, FECR senior vice president. FECR is providing its expertise in rail construction management for this important on-port rail project, he said. Johnson said the notice to proceed likely will go out to FECR in late July.

The upgrade should have been finished months ago, but the project was delayed because of logistics related to tunnel excavation and shipping companies that were occupying the area where the track is to be rebuilt, Johnson said..

Modernization is aimed at making PortMiami the first port of call on the U.S. East Coast when giant freighters start using the Panama Canal once widening of the facility is completed in 2015.

Cargo trains are a key component of the port’s strategy because they will provide a direct link between the container ships that dock at the cargo harbor and cities to the north. The track runs north to Jacksonville, a major cargo distribution center that links up with rail lines serving Georgia, North Carolina, Illinois and Texas.

Dredging will deepen the cargo harbor to accommodate the larger container ships that will cross the canal once it’s widened.

The tunnel provides a direct link from the port to area expressways for cargo trucks, which currently have to meander through downtown streets to enter and exit the seaport.

Johnson said the contract for the upgrade was signed May 16 and construction is expected to start in 45 days, with completion by September.

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