Miami-Dade County

Scrapped plan would have cut most Orange Line stops on Metrorail

A Metrorail car leaving downtown Miami’s Government Center in this 2012 file photo.
A Metrorail car leaving downtown Miami’s Government Center in this 2012 file photo. El Nuevo Herald

Miami-Dade’s Orange Line, which connects 15 Metrorail stations with Miami International Airport, was poised for a significant downsizing last month before the plan was scrapped days before it was to be implemented, according to interviews and documents.

Senior transit officials went so far as to design a brochure with the slimmed-down Orange Line route, which would have shrunk from a 15-mile route to a single leg between the Earlington Heights station and MIA. Alice Bravo, the county’s transportation chief, said she vetoed the change before it was to take effect on Sept. 25, forcing her agency to scrap shift assignments recently completed with union leaders to adjust for the lighter Orange Line needs.

“I guess they were pretty excited about it,” Bravo said of the schedule changes that her agency was in the process of implementing last month before scrapping the plan. “And assumed I would say yes.”

She said she vetoed the plan because of the disruption it would have brought passengers, even though it would have meant quicker station arrivals to Metrorail stations north of Earlington, thanks to a beefed-up Green Line.

The change would have returned most of the Metrorail system back to where it was before Miami-Dade opened the Orange Line in 2012, a 2.4-mile extension that cost about $500 million to build between Earlington Heights and MIA.

We’re always evaluating routes

Alice Bravo, Miami-Dade Transporation director

Currently, the Orange Line parallels the Green Line from Dadeland South to Earlington, giving passengers two options when wanting to head north. At Earlington, the Orange Line continues to its final stop at MIA while the Green Line heads north and then west through Hialeah to the end at Palmetto station.

Under the scrapped change, the existing Green Line would have been the only option through Earlington Heights. From there, passengers wanting to go to MIA would leave the train and take the condensed Orange Line to the airport.

The change would have returned most of the Metrorail system back to where it was before Miami-Dade opened the Orange Line in 2012, a 2.4-mile extension that cost about $500 million to build between Earlington Heights and MIA.

Transit created a brochure with a reworked Metrorail map, which would have been the biggest change to the system since the Orange Line’s debut in 2012. Union members signed up for the new shifts required by the changes, which included adding extra hours after midnight for Metrorail during the weekend.

A July 29 email from senior transit scheduler Anthony Cotto described the change as a done deal, saying the “Orange Line will be replaced by a Shuttle between the Airport and Earlington Heights Stations. The Green Line will remain as is.”

Bravo said the change would have meant less waiting for trains north of Earlington, since the Green Line would run more often under the scrapped plan. But union leaders linked the strategy to chronic maintenance issues with Miami-Dade’s Metrorail fleet, which is scheduled to be replaced with new cars in the coming months.

“We couldn’t keep up with the car [needs] on a daily basis. They were breaking down,” said Jeffrey Mitchell, head of the rail arm of Miami-Dade’s Transit union. “We were running out of parts.”

Internal Transit documents obtained through a public-records request show the scrapped Orange Line plan would have required significantly fewer rail cars, with the current requirement of 84 for running both lines dropping to between 60 and 72 cars during weekdays.

Without the Orange Line, waits for trains would increase by about a minute or two for stations south of Earlington, according to a summary sent Aug. 23 by Gregory Robinson, the county’s rail superintendent. For the trip to MIA, trains running every 10 minutes could instead run every 5 to 10 minutes. A written introduction described “potential efficiencies” from the change, “with a minimal increase” in the time between rail cars and “a reduction in resource requirements.”

But while stations with Orange and Green line stops would see a slight increase in waits, stations north of Earlington would see trains come quicker. That’s because the Green Line would run more often to compensate for the missing Orange Line, leaving a station every six or seven minutes instead of every 10 minutes during peak times under the current schedule.

One element of the scrapped plan is surviving: On Sept. 26, Miami-Dade announced it planned to extend Metrorail’s Friday and Saturday closing from midnight to 2 a.m.

Bravo said the scuttled effort to rework the Orange Line does not signal big changes are coming to the Metorail route in the future. Mayor Carlos Gimenez is running for reelection in November in part on promises to improve and expand the county’s rail service. Challenger Raquel Regalado has claimed the mayor’s tenure has starved transit of resources needed to deliver good service.

“We’re always evaluating routes,” Bravo said. But Miami-Dade is “not contemplating Orange Line changes.”

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