Fabiola Santiago

There’s no excuse for filthy Metrorail trains

Metrorail’s 30-year-old cars need a good cleaning.
Metrorail’s 30-year-old cars need a good cleaning. Miami Herald file photo

I’m a fan of public transportation.

I ride subways, buses and trains abroad and in major U.S. cities without much trepidation.

But when it comes to Miami-Dade County, I brace myself for the shenanigans: The guy who sits across from you, opens his legs and stares. The guy who stands too close behind you to read your iPad. The punks from rival gangs who find each other on a train and go at it right there in front of a Saturday afternoon crowd returning home from the Women’s March in downtown Miami.

Name the Metrorail trip and I have a story for you. Riding the rails is just not something that happens smoothly in this town. Delays, curtailed hours, and escalators and elevators that don’t work are a routine thing.

But this past Saturday’s ride takes the cake.

The train cars were so filthy that all of us — the Goth girl on her way to meet friends, the man clasping a brown-bagged meal on his way to work, and my 8-year-old grandson and I, plus all the other riders joining us along the way to downtown Miami from the Palmetto Station — piled into one car where a guy was soundly sleeping.

Ours was a dirty car, too, but it was the least offensive. I had peeked into the others to find not only trash, food leftovers and general grime — but also vomit. It must have been quite a night or early morning on this train.

A fleet of sleek, new Metrorail cars will replace the 30-year-old cars now running but not until 2019. The cost is $376 million.

I almost went back to my car and drove to the new Frost Museum of Science, except I had looked at the traffic map: Red lines all over downtown, as usual. I held my nose and spent the entire ride scolding Dev: “Don’t touch!” Not to mention that, once I got to my destination on the cleaner Metromover, I gave the two of us a wash down in the bathroom.

There’s no excuse for filthy Metrorail trains.

Trains are supposed to be thoroughly cleaned and deodorized overnight, from midnight to 5 a.m., and spot-cleaned as needed during the day when they arrive at the southernmost and northernmost stations of Dadeland and Palmetto, transit officials tell me. There is also a Miami-Dade Transit Watch app now where riders can report issues and, at least in theory, that’s supposed to lead to cleaner and safer trains.

“They’re read in actual time,” a transit official tells me.

But obviously it’s not always working; it’s not enough. And I’m hardly alone in my complaints. Search “dirty Metrorail” and read plenty of tweets and social media postings from people complaining on Miami-Dade Department of Transportation and Public Works sites.

“I understand your frustration because I ride that train every day,” says Michael Hernández, director of communications for Miami-Dade County and spokesman for the mayor.

Hernández and others are hoping a fleet of sleek, modern new Metrorail cars will provide relief to our woefully underfunded transportation system. But that $376 million project to equip the county with 136 rail cars to replace the 1984 oldies won’t be completed until 2019.

MYH17 MetroRail News rk
Protoype of the new Metrorail cars that are due in 2019. Roberto Koltun rkoltun@elnuevoherald.com

Miami-Dade Transit — which has a perennial message on its website that says it is aware of the problems, takes them seriously, and continues to “diligently address these issues” — says relief will come “very soon.” But that’s two new cars with a delivery date of November. The rest will be “phased in,” I’m told.

That’s hardly a solution for something that amounts to a public health issue now. What are we supposed to do until 2019? Arm ourselves with anti-bacterial body gear? Hand sanitizer only goes so far. Besides, if the problem were age of the trains alone, the seats would also be cut up and broken, but they’re not. I’m talking about grime, nasty stuff that you can tell has been allowed to stay there by neglect.

Time to end the excuses and properly supervise the hygiene of cars now — and launch a high-profile public awareness campaign against littering in the trains.

“Part of the problem is that Miamians are pigs,” a former transit employee who used to ride the trains to work writes me. “The new trains … are beautiful and modern, but I predict they won’t stay beautiful for very long.”

Whatever the reasons for the dirty trains, Miami-Dade can hardly afford the bad experiences of riders at a time when people do have other options like Uber and Lyft, and when ridership is so important to the county’s ambitious expansion plans. And I would add that just because Miami-Dade employees also have to endure the filth with the rest of us, it doesn’t make us feel any better about the experience of riding in grimy cars.

“Drive Less. Live More,” Miami-Dade Transit advertises.

I’d like that, but it’s not happening with the way Metrorail is run now.

Just ask the riders who start out their day in disgust.

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