The future is almost here.
The first six of 136 new Metrorail cars from an Italian company should have been running by now high above Miami-Dade. But a design change requested by county commissioners, who wanted the new vehicles to have more of a sleek look, has held things up a bit.
With the tweaks, Miami-Dade leaders say the first cars will begin test runs by the end of the year and go into service between 2017 and 2019.
Despite delays, the project is on track and on budget, officials say.
“We are very excited that the new Metrorail cars are almost here,” said Alice Bravo, director of the county’s Department of Transportation and Public Works. “It is tied into our mission to make our system clean, safe and reliable and we want more and more people to know they can rely on the system to go to work or to go to the airport or for anything they’re doing.”
The design change to look more aerodynamic features a slightly sloped front end.
“They just look great, exterior and interior,” Bravo said. “We will have more space for bicycles.”
Other changes include installation of a new Metrorail management system, high-definition cameras and extra screen monitors in each car.
Other possibilities for the delay in getting the cars up and running: The facility where the cars are assembled did not open until March. And the original Italian firm’s rail components, AnsaldoBreda and Ansaldo STS, were sold to Hitachi in 2015.
Now that the assembly facility is operating in Medley, the project is going forward, according to Miami-Dade officials.
“The testing of the rail cars will be done here in Miami-Dade County,” a county statement said. “This will give the department a significant advantage in terms of the introduction of the new rail cars to department staff, and in the training of staff for the operation and maintenance of the vehicles.”
Though the delays did not ultimately disrupt the $313.8 million project, it did cause some concern among people who monitor transit projects because of prior delays involving AnsaldoBreda projects in other cities.
As outlined in a Miami-Dade Transit statement Nov. 8, 2012, the contract with AnsaldoBreda called for 136 new Metrorail cars to replace the current aging fleet. Metrorail started operations in May 1984.
The new cars will feature digital signs to display the name of the next station, digital displays for advertising, time and news, high-quality audio for announcements and high-efficiency air conditioning.
It was that statement that also mentioned the original delivery schedule for the new cars.
Delivery of the first six cars was expected in 2015, with delivery of the last six two years later.
Now, the first new pilot vehicles are expected to be completed by the fourth quarter of 2016. Delivery is scheduled in 2017.
While there have been glitches in Metrorail service over the years, it has generally continued to perform relatively smoothly since service began in 1984.
“For everyone that’s sitting in traffic and looks up and sees that Metrorail zip by we invite them to give it a try one day,” Bravo said.
When Metrorail opened, its elevated trains ran only 11 miles, stopping at 10 stations from Overtown to Dadeland South. At the time, county officials promised a 52- or 54-mile system that would go to Miami International Airport, Miami Beach and other destinations, and carry more than 200,000 riders a day.
After three decades of operation, the system grew to 25 miles and did add one major new line — to MIA — but never carried 200,000 riders daily — though today it boasts more than 77,000 daily weekday boardings. Its last major addition, the line to MIA, opened in 2012.