Miami-Orlando train plans gain steam

Managers of the project to operate a premium Miami-Orlando passenger train service say they are close to putting out bids to design the railroad corridor stretching from downtown Miami to the Orlando International Airport.

“We will be awarding design packages for the West Palm Beach to Miami segment August or September,” Husein Cumber, executive vice president for corporate development for Florida East Coast Industries, told a meeting Thursday in Coral Gables of the Florida Transportation Commission.

After the meeting, Cumber went further and said the design packages are for the Miami-Orlando corridor.

“The design and engineering packages we plan to release are for varying segments of the 240-mile corridor,” Cumber said later. “We anticipate beginning construction on the rail infrastructure between Miami and West Palm Beach by the end of this year.”

Florida East Coast Industries is the parent company of All Aboard Florida, the official name of the planned Miami-Orlando passenger train service.

Cumber’s announcement marked yet another milestone in the highly-anticipated train service that aims to lure passengers with luxury service. Project managers hope to draw passengers with high-end offers on trains and in stations where brand name shops will be featured. The service will have four stations: Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and Orlando. The rail infrastructure is expected to cost more than $1.5 billion.

Originally announced in March 2012, All Aboard Florida is expected to launch by the end of 2015, Cumber told commission members that the project is on track. Sixteen daily trains would leave from each of the two terminus stations, at Orlando International Airport and downtown Miami, between early morning and the evening with intermediate stations in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. Trains would take about three hours to complete each one-way trip.

Cumber’s presentation was one of the highlights of the commission’s meeting, held every other month in different cities around Florida. The previous meeting in May was held in Palm Beach County and the next meeting Sept. 25-26 will take place in Panama City.

The other highlight of the meeting was a presentation by the Secretary of the Florida Department of Transportation, Ananth Prasad.

He told the commission that the PortMiami tunnel, on track to open to traffic in May 2014, is a “great success” story along with the development of a large network of toll express lanes in South Florida.

The original express lanes system is now fully operational in Miami from State Road 112, the Airport Expressway, to the Golden Glades interchange. An extension is now under construction into Broward. Express lanes are also under construction on Interstate 595 and later will be built on I-75 and the Palmetto Expressway.

Prassad called the reconstruction of 595 “a tremendous achievement” because it was an example of a public-private partnership in massive transportation projects.

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