Two trains idled at the new Tri-Rail Miami Airport station Wednesday, five days before the opening of the new facility built within a $2-billion massive transportation hub just east of Miami International Airport.
The trains, devoid of passengers, were testing the tracks and other systems that the regional commuter rail service will use once regular runs begin early Sunday between MIA and Tri-Rail’s northern terminus at Mangonia Park station in Palm Beach County.
Though passenger service from the airport station marks a major achievement for Tri-Rail, it also serves as a milestone in the near completion of the transportation hub known as the Miami Intermodal Center, or MIC.
After Tri-Rail passenger service begins at 5:17 a.m. Sunday out of the airport station, it will be the next-to-last facility of the Miami Central Station pending completion. Amtrak, the intercity rail service, is expected to open its station there sometime in 2016, and Greyhound is expected to move in later this year.
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Officials for the Florida Department of Transportation, which designed and built the MIC and all its components including the Miami Central Station, say the start of Tri-Rail service marks the first time that all major transit systems in Miami-Dade County are housed under one roof. This will give commuters wider choices in transportation and fast connections among transit services. Once Amtrak starts operating out of the Miami Central Station in 2016 it will be the only place in South Florida where all of the forms of ground transportation come together.
“This is a big deal,” said Ric Katz, spokesman for the MIC project. “Linking Tri-Rail, Metrorail and Metrobus is the lion’s share of the connectivity we’ve been promising for years, and the reason FDOT created the Miami Central Station in the first place.”
Once Tri-Rail is operating out of its new MIA station, passengers traveling from Mangonia Park station can travel all the way to Florida City without driving or calling a cab. They can switch to Metrorail at the MIC’s Miami Central Station and then travel on the elevated train to the Dadeland South station and transfer to a Metrobus.
Katz said the new “connectivity” will not solve the county’s congestion overnight, but it will provide a starting point, enabling people to leave their cars at home.
“This is not the ultimate solution to Miami-Dade’s transportation quagmire, but it is the beginning of the solution,” said Katz.
Tri-Rail running out of the airport comes at a particularly significant time when the service is also pushing a plan to provide commuter rail service from downtown Miami. Tri-Rail officials have asked the state, Miami-Dade, the City of Miami and Miami redevelopment agencies for the bulk of $69 million to make the downtown service project reality.
Last week, Miami city commissioners committed at least $5.5 million in transportation taxes toward the project and asked the city manage to negotiate the $69 million funding package to bring Tri-Rail trains downtown. If the project becomes reality, Tri-Rail would operate out of a massive elevated station now being built for the planned Miami-Orlando express passenger train, All Aboard Florida, near the County Hall building downtown.
Tri-Rail closed its old MIA station in 2011 to enable workers to build the new Miami Central Station. Since then, shuttle bus service has been provided from Tri-Rail’s Hialeah Market station to the airport.
“This is another significant milestone, which is symbolic of our vital role to connect South Florida to the world,” said Miami-Dade Commissioner Bruno Barreiro, chairman of the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority, which operates Tri-Rail. “Our loyal passengers, plus the thousands of new riders that we anticipate to travel in and out of Miami International Airport, will greatly enjoy this state-of-the art facility that we expect will become an international transit hub of which we can all be proud.”