Currently viewing the tag: "Commuter Rail"

It’s always a fun experience to ride the Metrorail following a major community event, especially following the annual Corporate Run.

This year marked the run’s 27th anniversary. Apart from being a great community- and team-building event, the Corporate Run also never fails to highlight how convenient travelling via transit really is.

The picture below gives a glimpse of just how packed the train was following the 5-kilometer run.

It's always nice to see our Metrorail at maximum capacity. More rail please . . .

People realize that when roads are packed, the most viable and efficient way to move around the city is with trains and buses. And these days, it’s rare to find streets in our community that aren’t congested.

Let’s stop wasting our tax dollars on expanding highway and road systems that leave us trapped in metallic boxes on four wheels and start investing our tax dollars in rail and public transit systems.

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The South Florida Regional Transportation Authority approved a plan yesterday to move forward with a local and express commuter rail along the famed corridor that once carried Flager’s train to Key West. The decision by the board will advance a “fast start” plan proposed by Tri-Rail administrators to leverage existing administrative costs and recently purchased locomotives to run service along the FEC line from Jupiter to Miami within 3-5 years.

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The plan is an answer to FDOT officials who had previously proposed giving the concession to run trains directly to the FEC company in an effort to privatize the system. Tri-rail planners, though, say this is not necessary as they are already 80% privatized and can run the service for half the price as the proposed FEC plan. “For the same [capital] cost as the FEC- FDOT plan, we can provide 56 trains on the FEC between downtown Ft Lauderdale and downtown Miami, while also providing connectivity with the rest of the region,” said Joe Quinty, Transportation Planning Manager with the SFRTA.

Under the “fast track” proposal, which will now go to the tri-county MPO’s for approval and further cost feasibility, trains would use the FEC line from Ft. Lauderdale to Miami, with 7 stops in Miami-Dade County. Stops include 163 Street, 125 Street, 79 street, 54 Street, 36 Street, 11 Street/Overtown, and Government Center. As currently envisioned the plan would cost Tri-Rail an extra $15 million a year in operations costs by expanding existing contracts with Bombardier and Veolia. The FDOT plan would have cost $25 million a year and provided fewer stops in Miami-Dade County.

The project was approved 6-1, with the lone exception being FDOT District 6 representative Gus Pego. The plan envisions several types of service along the line, beginning with direct service between Ft. Lauderdale and downtown Miami. Regional service beyond Ft.Lauderdale will be established at Atlantic Boulevard, where a line connects the existing Tri-Rail tracks with the FEC service.

FDOT has been studying rail service along the FEC for years, with the latest SFECC Study looking at an integrated service, similar to what is being proposed, at a cost of over $2billion for the tri-county area. This plan hit a wall this spring when the Miami-Dade County MPO balked at moving forward with the study because of concerns over cost.

Tri-rail planners say that the fast track project is a way to get service running on the line as the South Florida East Coast Corridor study advances and addresses the MPO concerns. As currently planned, the service would not require any county or federal funds for operations or construction.

One third of the additional operational costs will come from farebox revenue from the new line, while the rest will come from a combination of Tri-Rail service adjustments, and yearly contributions from each of the 17 cities that will have stations of between $350,000 - $550,000. The capital cost to build the line is approximately $270 million, which will come from the Florida Department of Transportation.

Quinty went on to say,  “We believe this new SFRTA is superior to FDOT’s approach, as it can be implemented quickly (by avoiding the Federal project development process), provides better regional service coverage, and will not require any additional county or FDOT operating funds.”

In the fall of 2008, Tri-Rail was running near record ridership corresponding to higher gas prices. They never beat the record of over 18,000 riders from Miami Heat’s victory parade in 2006, though. While we came close to another Heat victory this year but didn’t quite make it, Tri-Rail still scored a ridership victory. On June 16, with free Tri-Rail rides for Dump the Pump day, Tri-Rail smashed their all time record. 19,731 people rode the commuter rail yesterday. Check their press release here. Let us hope many will continue to ride even when they have to pay the fare.

SunRail was defeated in the State Legislature Friday, 23-16. With it goes the $2 rental car surcharge for Tri-Rail, which most of the South Florida Senators ended up voting against because they said they were worried that local voters might overturn the surcharge. It’s uncertain whether they considered that most locals will not be paying this “tax”, but will definitely benefit from it. Read more at the Palm Beach Post.

Also check out an article at The Ledger that includes Senator Mike Bennet of Bradenton suggesting that the money spent on SunRail would be better spent buying a car for each of the 3,500 riders predicted to ride SunRail the first few years. I know the government is now in the auto business, but really now—how ignorant can you get?

Don’t vote for these guys in the next election.

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The Transit Advocates of Florida recently submitted this editorial.  If you have any comments, suggestions, or articles you would like to submit, feel free to contact us: movemiami@gmail.com.

Passenger Rail in Florida is vital to the economic future of this state. The federal government has presented a tremendous opportunity for states to leverage their money for rail corridors. Locally in the Miami metropolitan area both Tri-Rail and Metro Rail are both suffering from a lack of support for maintenance and new corridor development. Statewide rail corridors have been studied since Governor Lawton Chiles’ administration before being undercut by the Bush administration.

I urge you to support dedicated funding for Florida’s passenger rail service through the state legislature. This includes existing services such as Tri-Rail that have shown that passenger rail service in Florida is vital to the economy of a region. Tri-Rail ridership has surged as facilities have been upgraded and double tracking allows consistent train schedules and capacity upgrades. The state would never build a one-lane road and ask cars to please wait on the side every few miles to allow others to pass.

Regional rail is not for the local transit agencies to fund or run. These are regional systems using different technologies over larger areas. Additionally a state agency similar to the Turnpike Enterprise should be formed to create the Florida High Speed Rail network. Lastly local transit projects should be prioritized to link into these systems and create an interconnected grid of passenger rail for Floridians.

Please support dedicated funding for RAIL IN FLORIDA. Our state and localities competitive future depends on it.

Send a message of support for dedicated funding to your elected officials in Tallahassee, log onto www.tri-rail.com/FundOrFail

Sincerely,

Transit Advocates of Florida

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This is a really cool transit system. Leave it to those hip northwesterners to come up with a functional way of building and operating a regional transit system. The Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority – or Sound Transit – serves over 3 million people in an area of 3,300 square miles in and around Seattle, Washington. (In comparison, Miami-Dade County has a population of 2.4 million, and an area of 1,900 square miles).

Sound Transit, much like our own MPO and MDX, is a state authorized board that is responsible for connecting King, Snohomish and Pierce Counties using express buses, light rail and commuter rail (among other methods). This regional system is in addition to the local transit options throughtout the three county area (including the Seattle/King County Metro Transit System).

Sound Move: The Plan

I guess they have a similar problem in Washington State as we do in South Florida: accountability. They asked themselves: how can we invest loads of money into public infrastructure projects and not be hampered by political infighting, cost overruns or ineffectual management. Sound Move was their answer.

“In May 1996, the Sound Transit Board adopted Sound Move . The plan includes a mix of transportation improvements: high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lane access improvements, ST Express bus routes, Sounder commuter rail and Link light rail. The plan includes new community “gateways” — connections in urban and suburban areas for communities to connect to the rest of the region. Sound Move is a comprehensive regional transit plan made up of almost 100 separate but interrelated capital and service projects. The plan also contains commitments to:

  • Equitable revenue distribution. Local tax revenues will be used to benefit the five subareas of the Sound Transit District (Snohomish County, North King County, South King County, East King County and Pierce County) based on the share of revenues each subarea generates.
  • Simultaneous work on projects in all subareas. Work will begin on projects in each of the subareas so benefits will be realized throughout the region as soon as possible. Projects likely to be implemented in the latter part of the first phase are those requiring extensive engineering and community planning.
  • Coordinated services and integrated fares. Regional and local transit services will be coordinated and an integrated fare structure developed.
  • System expansion or tax rollback. Any second phase capital program that continues using local taxes for financing will require voter approval.  In the absence of voter approval of any plan to expand the system, Sound Transit will roll back the tax rate to a level sufficient to pay off outstanding debt, and operate and maintain the investments made as part of Sound Move.
  • Annexations and extensions of service outside the Sound Transit District. Sound Transit may provide services outside taxing district by contracting with local agencies. Areas that would benefit from Sound Transit services may be annexed into the Sound Transit District if citizens within those areas vote for annexation.
  • Public accountability. Sound Transit will hire independent auditors and appoint a citizen committee to monitor Sound Transit’s performance in carrying out its public commitments. Citizens will be directly involved in the placement, design and implementation of facilities in their communities.”

Sound Move Phase 1 planned for 80 miles of Commuter rail, and 25 miles of electric light rail, along with necessary park and ride facilities. They allowed the plan to change over time, but always aggressively pushed the development of the transit system. They followed through on these commitments and came back to voters in 2005 to establish a second phase of projects, called Sound Move Phase 2. This plan was sent to voters in 2007 bundled with a road building measure and was defeated. It has since been put back on the ballot for voters this November, and promises to build 53 new miles of light rail within 15 years at a cost of $13 billion. All using Federal DOT money and local sales tax.

In three weeks our commissioners will meet once again to make decisions on the future of our transit system. They will be considering funding for the Orange Line, fare increases, and the viability of the People’s Transportation Plan. They need to study the way that other cities and regions around the country are dealing with the challenges posed by mass transit (funding, management, operations…etc.) Look at Sound Transit: it serves a population comparable to our own, but in twice the area!

Sounds like a lesson our commissioners need to hear.

Imagine the kind of reaction we’d see if I-95 and Florida’s Turnpike were to be closed in the Tri-County area on weekends, holidays, late nights, and you could only drive on them a handful of times during weekdays. Sound crazy? This is what Tri-Rail is facing.

While we all stand to lose tremendously from the proposed Tri-Rail service cuts, it may not be entirely clear who stands to lose the most. I’ve outlined below the stakeholders who should be fighting tooth and nail to save Tri-Rail:

-> Commuters traveling north-south in all three counties: Of course this is a no-brainer, but it has to be mentioned. Tri-Rail is currently averaging 14,000-15,000 weekday boardings, which translates to maybe 6,500 round-trips and roughly 1,500 one-way trips. Cuts in service would alienate these thousands of commuters, not to mention stifle anticipated future growth. As gas prices continue to rise (forever), more and more people would switch to commuter rail at current service levels. The service cuts could compromise this, forcing commuters to suffer in traffic congestion and definitely in the wallet.

-> Airport users of FLL: This is probably the second most popular use of Tri-Rail other than commuting to work. Tri-Rail provides great service to FLL. I use it almost every time I fly (what can I say, FLL has great deals to NYC and Philly) and I save a ton of money on airport parking and don’t have to worry about paying off friends to drive 40 miles round trip…twice. Also, let’s not forget about the thousands of employees at FLL (and MIA for that matter), that could use Tri-Rail to get to work. Airports are major employment centers — they should be served by reliable transit.

-> The City of Miami Beach and its’ residents: As it currently stands, tourists flying into oft-cheaper FLL en route to Miami Beach can use Tri-Rail instead of renting a car. This saves tourists money, which will be spent on the Beach. More importantly, it means less traffic congestion on South Beach. Given the current levels of congestion there and forecasts for increases in the future, Beach residents and officials should be doing whatever they can to keep cars out, which means supporting Tri-Rail.

-> Anyone who commutes on I-95 or Florida’s Turnpike: That’s right — if you drive north-south on I-95 or Florida’s Turnpike to and from work each weekday, you definitely stand to lose big with Tri-Rail service cuts. The Tri-County area continues its explosive population growth, which means those traffic jams you face everyday are only going to get worse. Tri-Rail is currently averaging between 14,000-15,000 weekday boardings, and ridership continues to grow. This offsets the effect of population growth on north-south highway congestion. If a significant number of these 6,000 people or so decided to abandon poor service on Tri-Rail and get behind the wheel, you’d notice your daily commute sucking even more.

-> Low-income households that rely on Tri-Rail: Believe it or not people with low-incomes have a right to travel between counties in the metro area. It just so happens that it’s likely weekends and holidays that they would be most likely to make this travel, whether it’s to see family, friends, or just for travel. Eliminating this service would frankly be discriminatory.

If the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority is forced to cut trains, the authority — and even the state, Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties — could face a $275 million lawsuit by the Federal Transit Administration, Tri-Rail officials fear.

Only in Miami/South Florida does a transit agency face a lawsuit from the Federal Transit Administration for reduced local funding for transit.  How do we think this decision will affect Miami-Dade’s attempts to secure funding for the north corridor?  Let’s ask “Pepe” Diaz what he thinks:

“If we’re cutting routes locally,” [“Pepe” Diaz] said, “where are going to get the funding for Tri-Rail?”

That’s the spirit, justify the Tri-Rail cuts with our own local stumbles.

Follow this link to send emails to our local senators in support of Tri-Rail…

In case you haven’t heard, Tri-Rail is in big trouble.

Larry Lebowitz wrote a piece a couple days ago (sorry for the tardiness in reporting) outlining the impending doom for the Tri-County commuter rail line:

Tri-Rail may be facing no weekend service and a 60 percent cut in weekday trains in the fall after the state Legislature failed Friday to pass a major commuter rail bill that jeopardizes funding for the South Florida train.

Tri-Rail has been battling for years to get the Legislature to approve a dedicated funding source so it doesn’t have to seek money annually from Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach Counties.

Without dedicated funding, the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority (SFRTA), which operates Tri-Rail, is preparing for massive service cuts starting in October.

Tri-Rail executive director Joseph Giulietti said the agency would have to kill its entire Saturday, Sunday, and holiday service — about 15 trains a day — and reduce weekday commuter service from 50 trains down to 20.

SFRTA had been hoping two years ago that the Legislature would pass a measure that would allow Tri-Rail counties to hold a referendum on initiating a $2 a day fee on most rental cars that would provide a dedicated funding source to Tri-Rail. The result? Transit-hater Jeb Bush vetoed the bill. This year, two more bills pushing the $2 rental car fee passed the House, but died in the Senate without a vote a few days ago.

So this is how it will likely go down now: Palm Beach County will cut its share of funding down to the legal limit of $4.23 million. Of course, Miami-Dade and Broward will follow suit, resulting in an $18 million dollar loss for Tri-Rail.

This is almost unfathomable considering the following:

  • Tri-Rail is one of the fastest growing transit systems in America
  • A $440 million doubling-tracking project was completed less than two years ago
  • Ridership is up 28% from this time last year, largely stemming from service increase
  • Tri-Rail provides the only regional north-south transit service between Palm Beach and Miami-Dade Counties

Can it get much worse for transit in South Florida? We finally have a successful transit system that serves a critical role in the regional transportation network, it’s seeing rapid growth every year, and that’s not even good enough? Shameful, embarrassing, moronic — these words that immediately come to mind don’t even do justice here.

Photo: Johnnyjet.com

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A few of this weeks news:

  • A bill to authorize a major deal between CSX Railways and the State of Florida to provide 61 miles of commuter rail around Orlando is trying to get through the State legislature today before the session ends. This would be a great move in the right direction for Central Florida. It also revives hope of a statewide rail system that could connect major urban centers and connect to local commuter rail. It is a boon for regional transit, and a great opportunity for rail lines throughout the state to really consider the benefits of public-private partnerships with municipalities as a way of providing mass transit. I for one want to see a line along the FEC corridor from downtown Miami to Ft. Lauderdale and points beyond. Then we’ll be cooking with gas.
  • Surprise surprise, we are again in the top 5 cities with the worst traffic. It’s no wonder Miami is the cleanest city in the country, nothing gets dirty if everyone stays in their car…
  • Not to beat a dead horse….I was trying to make this UDB fight a little less frustrating by being optimistic about the future of planning in Dade County when I read a couple of letters in the Herald today from Katy Sorenson and Natasha Seijas. Kudos to Commissioner Sorenson! You really get what this is about. Shame on you Commissioner Seijas! Your blatant disregard for the environment is clear from your leadership record on this issue. You claim that the UDB has been around since 1983, but according the Planning Department documents, the UDB was an implied line that was enforced by land use policies and maps since 1974. According to these same documents, based on an influx of 30,000 people a year, we have enough residential capacity until 2018, enough commercial until 2025, and industrial until 2029. I find it hard to understand why, given the best judgment of the county planning department, basic good planning principles, and negative recommendations from two different regulatory bodies, you wold move forward with this obviously backward decision. If, as you say, you are awaiting a report from the EPA, why not delay these decisions until then? Please save your platitudes for your constituents, and don’t patronize us by pointing out that the land use policy outside the UDB is just as bad as it is in. Thanks. If you really were really interested in solving these issues you would work on fixing these issues, and not touch the UDB. Here’s a suggestion, how about some creative thinking about our agricultural land and where we get our food. For example, if local agricultural interests worked to supply Dade County Public Schools with part of their dietary needs, you would find reduced shipping costs, and increased demand for local produce. I’m sure if you put your thinking cap on you could think of some win-win solutions (to quote Kordor). Incidentally, I made a little graphic that shows how commission votes were divided geographically across the county (green is against expansion and pink is pro), and what it shows is that the commissioners who voted no are predominantly in areas that are at risk of facing future UDB fights (Districts 8 and 9) or facing a backlash of overdevelopment (District 4). Commissioners Sorenson and Moss cover a great part of the developable land outside of the UDB. Interesting…

Photo by Flickr user jimfrazier
We already pointed out the resurgence of freight rail in this post in February, but now the rail boom is in the news again. This time a Harvard professor, John R. Stilgoe, is predicting the revival of rail for both freight and passengers. He points to indicators such as Warren Buffet buying stock in a freight railroad company, high gas prices driving people away from cars, and success of commuter rail systems.

We can point to our own indicators of a boom. The Florida House of Representatives’ budget includes $700,000 for a feasibility study for a freight rail corridor from South Bay to West Miami, which the Miami Herald referred to as the “Sugar Train“; the House also gave their support for a commuter rail system in Orlando. This is at a time when the state is cutting the budget everywhere else. The number of Transit-Oriented Developments (TODs) being proposed around Tri-Rail stations seems to be increasing weekly. Sheridan Stationside Village, Deerfield Beach, Boca Raton, and Delray Beach TODs are all pushing forward at a time when the housing market is dismal and even general development is being pulled down with it. Fort Lauderdale is funding their new streetcar system despite the property tax amendment cutting their revenues.

Overall, rail is looking up while the economy looks down. The argument that you cannot get Americans out of their cars is no longer valid. Now is the time to get people out of their cars and onto the rails. Wake up or miss the train.

Tri-Rail Commuter Train, originally uploaded by jmdspk.
Due to the volume of e-mails, I know when we are running behind on a given topic (sorry!) but hey, you can always count on us to cover every transit/development related story sometime within the given week.

This week’s topic is how FDOT, like every other DOT across the country (I guess the Feds set the precedent here), is trying to raid the public transit funds for more road expansion projects in the Greater Miami Area (get used to it folks, we don’t fly with the “South Florida” nomenclature around here.)

On one end is the Florida Department of Transportation, or DOT, trying to keep money it uses to build and improve state roads. At the other is Tri-Rail, struggling to find money to fund the commuter train’s operations and pay for new projects.

Let us analyze this statement briefly. The Florida Department of TRANSPORTATION (not too aptly named, eh?) is trying to raid the nation’s fastest growing public transportation system (tri-rail) of hundreds of Millions of Dollars over the next 5 years for various road widening schemes? Jeff Koons of the Palm Beach MPO and Tri-Rail governing board has the right idea:
“I wish we had more dollars, but by [giving Tri-Rail] the $2, I hope they realize this is a crisis,” he said. “The state needs to take a look at adding some funding sources for regional mass transit.”
Without this dedicated funding source, Tri-Rail, like all of the sprawl inducing road projects, would be dead in the water. The Agency would have until October to come up with $17 million or else shut down in the midst of 2 years of solid growth, capacity expansion, and recent train dispatch control.
If Tri-Rail doesn’t get a dedicated funding source and if the three counties cut their funding next year as expected, Tri-Rail officials say they’ll have to drastically reduce service. Under that scenario, Tri-Rail could default on a $334 million federal grant used to construct a second track because the money was awarded based on the agency’s pledge to operate at least 48 trains a day weekdays.

The troubling aspect of this issue is not only how we continue to heavily subsidize our roadways at an uncontrollable rate, but that our state transportation agency is attempting to financially dismantle our commuter rail system in order to expand congestion. The State continues to battle itself, by working on projects that contradict themselves: Tri-Rail, Road expansion, HOT Lanes, etc. The FDOT epitomizes a transportation agency and policy that is anything but; eager to shift resources away from reasonable solutions and further legitimizing the misconceptions often encouraged by people like Gregg Fields:

But is it streetcars we desire? The mass transit message is decidedly mixed. One day earlier this month, Tri-Rail celebrated ridership hitting a whopping 15,000. There are Burger Kings with more traffic at their drive-thru windows — and they serve food.

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The last time I was in Berlin the new Hauptbahnhof was still under construction and a year or so away from the May 2006 grand opening. The Berlin Hauptbahnhof now handles over 1,800 trains and 350,000 passengers per day. This digital representation provides a good example of what Europe’s largest train station is like and the type of rail catalyst the MIC should become for our region…

Boca Raton Residents are calling for the replacement of Tri-Rail tracks at a couple of intersections along the corridor… To make Tri-Rail a better commuting option you ask? Nope, so that their drive across the tracks won’t be as bumpy… Watch the video for yourself…

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