Miami Beach

Miami Beach commission sticks with its first choice for light rail

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

Miami Beach will continue fast-tracking the $400 million light rail project that represents one third of a train system that connects to downtown Miami commonly known as Bay Link.

Commissioner John Elizabeth Alemán withdrew her request to reconsider last week’s vote to negotiate a preliminary contract with the top bidder for the project, a consortium of firms that includes French rail company Alstom.

All the consortium, Greater Miami Tramlink Partners, had to do to was make a promise in writing that its loop could connect with another train operator’s system and it would pursue eligibility for federal money — assurances tied directly to Miami-Dade and the city of Miami’s wish to take more time and secure federal subsidies for their portions of the Bay Link.

“Please accept our assurances that as any federally-funded expansions of the Project move forward, GMTP’s rolling-stock provider, Alstom, will take appropriate actions to pursue eligibility for these federally-funded expansions of the Project,” read the letter.

The concerns stem from Alstom’s inexperience in the U.S. and its proprietary, ground-powered light rail technology. If it successfully lands the deal with the Beach, the French company would be installing its system on American soil for the first time.

The letter states Alstom’s system is “open-source” and can be used by other trains with adaptive equipment sold by third parties.

But it remains unclear what impact that kind of adaptation would have on the cost of a future expansion. Both the county and Miami have said they prefer to have one operator running a seamless connection across the bay with no transfer points, which means the Beach’s choice would have an advantage when the other portions of the line go out to bid.

Alemán said she was comfortable with the letter’s assurances.

“They’ve committed to [compatibility] and federal funding,” she said. “And if those things are not resolved during the interim agreement, then there’s room to go at that point to the second and third bidders.”

Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez was alone in her opposition to fast-tracking the project, saying the city should negotiate with all three bidding teams so they could compare prices and technologies across the board.

“I don’t understand why we’re rushing this,” she said.

Joey Flechas: 305-376-3602, @joeflech