It may not be long before you can catch a train in Midtown, ride the tracks through Wynwood, and then watch it convert into a rubber-wheeled trolley on Biscayne Boulevard as it approaches the Freedom Tower and then makes its way back north again.
This vision of a “dual-mode train” running through the heat of Miami is the brainchild of District 7 County Commissioner Xavier Suarez, who will try to convince his fellow commissioners to back the project at Monday’s county commission meeting.
“I was like wait a minute, we have a line that comes into downtown Miami that is in good shape, and somebody told me that there was a vehicle that could be bought that would be dual-mode,” Suarez said.
A dual-mode train car can transition from a rail line to asphalt due to a hydraulic system that lifts the vehicle when it leaves the tracks, allowing for wheels to pop out as it hits the road. Suarez said that since the rails are already there, the only cost would come from the rail cars, which he believes could be funded with part of the federal government money set aside for the trolley buses system.
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A dual-mode vehicle has an approximate cost of $250,000 each, while each trolley bus costs about $200,000.
But the dual-mode vehicle could be cheaper in the long run. Dual-mode train cars used in Japan that cost about $250,000, which is one-seventh of a diesel-powered rail car, had a fuel cost of about a quarter of that of a diesel vehicle, and a maintenance cost of about one-eight, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.
Suarez’s proposed system would use a section of the old FEC Port Lead line running from 36th St. and Second Ave. all the way to downtown Miami. The rail line doesn’t go straight south but angles slightly west, passing through Wynwood and Overtown’s Lyric Theatre, and then heading east to the Freedom Tower and Bayside.
The tracks were built in 1896 and provided passenger service until 1968, but have rarely been used since.
Suarez said he first got the idea to use the rail line toward the end of his last term as mayor of Miami (he held the office from 1985 to 1993 and briefly from November of 1997 until March of 1998) , but could not implement it because he was ousted from office after a court uncovered election fraud. He wasn’t accused of any wrongdoing, according to the Miami Herald.
“The only other train that would come down to downtown Miami using the FEC line at the time was once a year, it would be the circus that would come to the old Miami arena,” said Suarez referring back to his years as mayor.
Suarez explained that the system could be a short-term solution until 2016, when there are plans to double track the rails to accommodate a Tri-Rail-like system that would run from Palm Beach to downtown Miami.
The lower cost and efficiency of the dual-mode project compared to the proposed trolley bus system has started to seduce some city officials, including Mayor Regalado, City Manager Johnny Martinez, and Commissioners Francis Suarez—Xavier Suarez’s son—and Marc Sarnoff, whose district would be affected by the system, County Commissioner Suarez said.
“I think what we got from the city was a very enthusiastic vision of the project,” Suarez said.
He hasn’t convinced everyone.
Tony Garcia, the publisher of Transit Miami, a blog that focuses on transportation issues in the city, thinks there’s no need for all-terrain vehicles; regular cars would do just fine since FEC goes adjacent to urbanized areas.
“No need to be gimmicky here – just provide run of the mill fixed-premium transit service and people will ride!” Garcia wrote.
After this article was initially published, Transit Miami responded on its Facebook page: "Commissioner Suarez is wasting time talking about this when he could be advocating for real improvements. Calls from Transit Miami to the Commissioner's office were not returned."
Suarez will be presenting a draft of the project along with renderings and route maps at Monday’s meeting in hopes of getting more city official on board.
Open Media Miami will be live blogging the discussion of this proposal from the Stephen P. Clark Center on Monday.
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