Miami Beach

Miami Beach commissioner wants city to rethink light rail choice

This is a rendering of Greater Miami Tramlink Partners’ streetcar. Alstom is part of this team.
This is a rendering of Greater Miami Tramlink Partners’ streetcar. Alstom is part of this team. Greater Miami Tramlink Partners

As plans for a light rail loop around South Beach speed through the approval process with unusual ease, there are concerns about the train’s compatibility with a future rail system connecting to the mainland.

Just days after the Miami Beach City Commission voted to negotiate a preliminary contract with the top bidder for a local train system, Commissioner John Elizabeth Alemán — who voted with the majority — has placed an item on Wednesday’s agenda to reconsider that vote.

The city is negotiating with a consortium of firms called Greater Miami Tramlink Parnters. The team includes French rail company Alstom, which would supply a train that would run on proprietary technology — tracks that are powered by electrified rails underneath.

Alemán told the Miami Herald she wants Alstom to assert that its technology could be easily connected with a future rail system (commonly known as Bay Link) that would cross Biscayne Bay along the MacArthur Causeway, even if a different train company made the trains. She said the issue of compatibility is of utmost importance.

“If this is just a Miami Beach solution, then that’s not what I’m looking for,” she said. “The endgame is a connection between Miami and Miami Beach.”

The Alstom group, which sparked the call for train proposals when it submitted an unsolicited bid last fall, was deemed the top bidder in a solicitation process that evaluated three teams based on their designs and not price. Last week, a majority of the commission agreed to negotiate with only Tramlink Partners on price instead taking more time to talk with more than one bidder.

Alstom’s team has insisted its technology won’t pose connectivity issues, saying that it would provide documentation on how to fit another type of light rail car with adaptive equipment so other vendors could run their trains on South Beach’s tracks.

Still, it is unclear what impact that would have on time and cost. Alstom has never built a train on U.S. soil, which means it would be applying for federal and state approvals for the first time.

Officials from the county and the city of Miami have already expressed a preference for using one vendor so the system could operate on one schedule without a transfer point. If the Beach finalizes a deal with Alstom, it could lay the groundwork for Alstom to bid for rest of the Bay Link project.

Although I understand the sense of urgency by the Beach, we feel they’re moving faster than we believe they should have.

Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado

The county and city of Miami are watching the Beach’s moves as it pushes its piece of Bay Link forward.

On Monday, Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado said he’s worried about the Beach’s decision to move faster than the county and Miami on its portion of a larger rail system that could apply for a significant federal subsidy if it was all one project.

“Our main concerns are not only the technology and the compatibility, but also the potential loss of state and federal funding,” he said.

Alberto Parjus, the Miami assistant city manager who oversees the city’s transportation affairs, is scheduled to appear before the Beach commission Wednesday evening.

Joey Flechas: 305-376-3602, @joeflech