Miami Beach

Miami Beach to weigh choices for SoBe streetcar

Rendering of Connect Miami Beach’s streetcar
Rendering of Connect Miami Beach’s streetcar Connect Miami Beach

In an effort to jumpstart a rail connection across Biscayne Bay, Miami Beach is expediting the process to build a nearly $400 million light rail loop in South Beach by first selecting a design and then negotiating a price.

The project would represent one-third of what is commonly known as Bay Link, a long-discussed but still-unrealized rail line connecting Miami to Miami Beach. Miami Beach is moving ahead without waiting for the county to make any decisions.

On Wednesday, City commissioners will consider City Manager Jimmy Morales’ recommendation to negotiate an interim agreement with a consortium of companies led by French rail firm Alstom — the team that submitted an unsolicited proposal last year, prompting the city to start this expedited competitive process.

Three teams have bid for the public-private partnership project by submitting design proposals for a wireless modern streetcar that would run along Fifth Street, up Washington Avenue, across 17th Street or Dade Boulevard and back down south along Alton Road. Their main difference: how the trains are powered.

 

“In making my recommendation, I note that each of the teams is competent, qualified, and each has substantial experience in delivering infrastructure projects throughout the world,” Morales wrote to the City Commission. “This is important to note because since there has been no competition with respect to cost, the presence of three capable teams as part of this procurement gives us the ability to negotiate from a position of strength with the first-ranked firm.”

These teams were not judged on price, which the city has decided it will negotiate after ranking the teams based on qualifications. Morales recommends that if a deal cannot be reached with Alstom, the city should negotiate with Connect Miami Beach, which would use Spanish rail car manufacturer CAF.

Working with consultants Kimley-Horn and Associates, the city estimates the South Beach streetcar will cost about $387 million to build and $16 million per year to operate.

In anticipation that the local loop would connect to a rail system across the MacArthur Causeway to downtown Miami, the South Beach system would be expected to carry a minimum daily ridership of about 20,000.

In December, the Beach commissioned an environmental study that would help the city qualify for state subsidies — but not federal money. Federal dollars could absorb half of a project’s cost, but the City Commission feels that the multi-year application process would take too long. The Beach’s study is expected to be done in the fall.

Earlier this year, commissioners voted to use the unsolicited bid from Alstom as a springboard to a fast bidding process. Alstom has been angling for a local contract for a few years. Officials at the county and city level have traveled to Bordeaux, France, to tour Alstom’s facilities.

The three teams pitched their designs to an evaluation committee made up of Beach officials earlier in June. Morales then ranked them in his recommendation to city commissioners, which was published Thursday. Listed in the order they were ranked by the manager, the teams are:

▪ Greater Miami Tramlink Partners: Alstom is the train provider.

▪ Connect Miami Beach: The U.S. subsidiary of Spanish rail company CAF is the train provider.

▪ Miami Beach Mobility Partners: Pennsylvania-based rail company Brookville is the train provider.

The three teams who bid offer different train technologies for the loop, which would occupy existing travel lanes and have no wires overhead. Trains would run every six to seven minutes.

POWERING THE TRAIN

Alstom, who is the train supplier for Greater Miami Tramlink Partners, is proposing building 106-foot street cars that would run on an electrified rail under the cars, a technology unique to the French company. These rails would be powered only when in contact with the vehicle.

A similarly sized train would run under Connect Miami Beach’s proposal, but it would run on super-capacitor batteries that would be located on top of the car and would recharge at stops in about 20 seconds as passengers board. The train would be manufactured by the U.S. subsidiary of Spanish rail company CAF.

The Mobility Partners trains, built by Brookville, would be 65 feet long. These vehicles would run on a different battery-powered system that would recharge at the middle, beginning and end of the routes. The battery also would be atop the car. The Brookville team maintains it can build the project for $40-$60 million less than the estimated budget.

With the Alstom train’s power unit at street level, concerns have been raised about the train’s ability to run in a flood-prone environment like Miami Beach. According to the proposal from the Alstom team, who declined to comment for this article, the third rail would be insulated to protect it from water intrusion.

In recommending Alstom, Morales noted the project would include infrastructure upgrades like raising streets. He also said he believes Alstom’s claim that the rail would be properly insulated.

“Alstom provided information about how their GPS would be resistant to seawater intrusion,” he wrote. “I have no reason to believe that the underground electric sources cannot be protected with appropriate technology, but that is something we certainly would need to achieve full comfort with prior to entering into any comprehensive agreement.”

Documentation states that if the ground power supply failed, the Alstom train could travel about 700 feet at 10 miles per hour.

Brookville’s team said its smaller cars are better suited for a tight urban environment like Miami Beach. Responding to the question of whether its cars would be able to carry enough people each day to meet the ridership goal, Mobility Partners team gave the Miami Herald this statement:

“The made-in-the-USA Brookville car can meet the 20,075 ridership requirement and in fact can carry as many as 45,000 per day with the same number of vehicles. No additional vehicles are required beyond the five operating vehicles we proposed.”

Both Brookville and CAF trains run on batteries, but the CAF team said its high-capacity batteries last longer.

“Supercap batteries can do 500 times the number of cycles that regular batteries can do,” said Pablo Borrego Walker, investment director for the CAF team’s lead investor Globalvia. “Therefore, the project is much better off by using supercaps.”

No matter what gets built, city officials say they want the system to be compatible with any future connection across the MacArthur Causeway. Given first-ranked Alstom’s proprietary technology, choosing that train could force Miami-Dade and the city of Miami to use Alstom. The county might want to avoid altering another vendor’s train to make it compatible with Alstom.

Even if the Beach is moving faster than Miami-Dade, county leaders have said they want a seamless connection between the systems.

Alstom’s proposal states that it has no patent protection for the equipment on its trains, and it would provide documentation on how to fit another car with adaptive equipment to another government agency if that agency chose another vendor.

Joey Flechas: 305-376-3602, @joeflech

Three bidders for South Beach streetcar

▪ Greater Miami Tramlink Partners: Includes French rail company Alstom, Jacobs Engineering Group, civil contractor Archer Western, InfraRed Capital Partners, Serco

▪ Connect Miami Beach: Includes the U.S. subsidiary of Spanish rail company CAF, multinational construction company OHL, infrastructure management firm Globalvia, contractor COMSA, engineering firm Atkins

▪ Miami Beach Mobility Partners: Includes multinational infrastructure firm Sacyr, Pennsylvania-based rail company Brookville, engineering firm AECOM

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