Currently viewing the category: "FEC"

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.

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.”

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An unreliable* Transit Miami source has informed us that an “unofficial and temporary” FEC Greenway has been inadvertently developed over the past few weeks. We received an anonymous and unverified email this past weekend with pictures of the unofficial FEC Greenway.  Our untrustworthy source tells us that he/she rode from Midtown to Downtown on a mountain bike along the FEC rail line that is currently under construction due to the Port of Miami rail expansion. Here’s an excerpt from the email we received:

 Riding from Midtown to Downtown on the FEC Greenway was an excellent and joyful experience. I rode without fear of being hit by a car. Can you imagine how great it would be if families with children could ride from midtown to downtown without fear of being run over by a car? People could even ride their bicycles to the Miami Heat games safely! An FEC Greenway would also deter crime and homelessness along the rail line as cyclists, walkers, joggers and parents with strollers would self-police the greenway. An FEC Greenway would have a transformative effect on our city and would encourage less experienced cyclists to commute to work.”

Wouldn't this make an awesome greenway?

Can you envision an FEC Greenway?  We sure can. That being said, we desperately need passenger rail service on the FEC line.  Rail is the priority, but we think there is enough right of way (100 feet) to add a permanent and official FEC Greenway. We can only dream. By the way, a greenway would be great PR for the FEC. The FEC would be wise to jump all over this opportunity and support a greenway.

Imagine arriving to a Miami Heat game by bicycle.

Our unconfirmed source suggests riding the FEC Greenway on Sundays as the FEC workers are off on this day or after 5:00pm. Also beware that riding or walking along the FEC is considered trespassing.  He/she suggests riding the FEC with a mountain bike and only intermediate riders should attempt this ride.

Single track through the city.

*We cannot confirm if these photographs are authentic or if they have been photoshopped. Perhaps we just need to get out there and find out for ourselves. Happy trails!

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Last night I attended a meeting at Legion Park with representatives from the FEC and about 50 residents and business owners from the Upper East Side. Also present were Commissioner Sarnoff, a representative from the FDOT and a representative from the Port of Miami. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the upgrades to the FEC rail line which are currently underway and the establishment of a “quiet zone” from the port north to NE 71st Street. In order to qualify as a “quiet zone” the FEC will upgrade the rail crossings which will make blowing the train horn unnecessary. The FEC is also replacing the rail line with a quieter track in order to reconnect service to the Port of Miami in anticipation of the port expansion and dredging to accommodate the larger Panamax ships which are expected to significantly expand its cargo business.

Most resident where supportive of the FEC’s plans, but the conversation quickly turned to passenger rail. The majority of those in attendance wanted to know why passenger service was not moving forward. Commissioner Sarnoff was quick to point the finger at the Miami Dade County MPO (Metropolitan Planning Organization). He mentioned that both the Broward and Palm Beach County MPOs had already passed resolutions in support of passenger rail service. The FDOT representative confirmed this as well and she actually made it sound like her department was on board with passenger rail service on the FEC. (I was very happy to hear that the FDOT was supportive).

Why can’t our Miami Dade County elected officials get their act together and actually do something that is in the public’s best interest for once? They need to stop playing politics and do what is best for the South Florida community. Last night’s meeting clearly showed that residents and businesses desire passenger rail. Providing passenger rail service on the FEC is really a no-brainer and will make the South Florida region more competitive. For some reason, that is beyond my understanding, our Miami Dade elected officials can’t seem to figure this one out.

Passenger rail is fundamental to our economic success. Young, talented and educated job seekers (as well as employers) are in search for cities that provide a better quality of life. They are not interested in spending countless hours commuting in bumper to bumper traffic. Passenger rail will spur development opportunities for real estate developers to break ground on walkable, mixed-use, transit oriented developments. This is progress, not futile road expansion projects that destroy communities rather than making them stronger.

Safety Issues for Pedestrians Along the FEC

Wendy Stephan, former president of the Buena Vista Homeowners Association, asked the FEC representative if they intended to make the area surrounding the tracks more pedestrian friendly. In particular she cited the area from NE 39th- 54th Street along Federal Highway which does not have any pedestrian crossings. She pointed out that people cross these tracks (including her mother-in-law in her pearls, lol) to get to the Publix and Biscayne Boulevard from Buena Vista and the surrounding neighborhoods because there aren’t any proper crossings for 15 blocks.

One of the FEC representatives then began to refer to the people crossing the tracks as “trespassers”. I took issue with his statement and I quickly pointed out to him that the FEC cannot possibly expect for people to walk 15 blocks out of their way just to cross the tracks to catch a bus on Biscayne Boulevard or purchase food at Publix. Further north we find the same problem from NE 62nd –NE 79th Street where we there is only one crossing at NE 71st Street which the FEC has asked the County to close, but the County so far has denied this request. Its worth mentioning that I see small children crossing the train tracks from Little Haiti every morning on their way to Morning Side Elementary School on NE 66th Street. There are numerous schools along the FEC corridor from downtown north to NE 79th Street and nearly not enough pedestrian crossings. An FEC representative basically said this was not their problem. Commissioner Sarnoff said his office would look into building bridges or tunnels for pedestrians to get across the tracks safely. Instead, I think we should look into at-grade pedestrian crossings (see below) rather then spending big bucks on tunnels or bridges which will most likely not be used by anyone besides drug addicts.

No need to be gimicky; we don't need bridges or tunnels to get across the rail line safely. Proper pedestrian rail crosswalks are less expensive and more effective.

How about an FEC Greenway?

Friend of Transit Miami Frank Rollason asked the FEC representative about their responsibility of being a good neighbor and properly maintaining the right of way (ROW). He pointed out that there were homeless people living on the FEC ROW, people using drugs as well has hiding stolen goods in the overgrown shrubbery. The FEC representative snubbed Frank and said, “We do maintain it”. (Yeah right).

I told the FEC representative that the FEC could be a good neighbor by including an FEC Greenway into their plans. An FEC Greenway would root out homelessness and drug use as joggers, walkers, parents with strollers and bicyclists would discourage undesirable activities with their presence. I was also snubbed by the FEC representative and was basically given a look that said “yeah right kid, good luck with that, looks like you are smoking crack with the crack heads on the FEC line, there is no chance we are putting a greenway on the FEC.”

Overall the meeting was very positive. The FEC and the City of Miami need to work together to find solutions to add more crossings for pedestrians. Pedestrians shouldn’t be forced to walk 15 blocks to cross the tracks. The City of Miami should also press the FEC to incorporate a greenway into their plans. A greenway would deter crime and improve the quality of life for everyone that lives near the train tracks. That being said, rail is the priority. The FEC has 100ft of ROW; if they can somehow safely squeeze in a 10-12 ft greenway they should.

Lastly, we must all write a quick email to our County Commissioners and tell them to stop playing politics with our future economic prosperity. We need local and commuter passenger rail service today, not in 15 years. You can find our recommendations for passenger rail service on the FEC here. Let’s make this happen South Florida!

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We love trains and bicycles here at transit Miami. Since the FEC is currently making improvements to the existing rail line that will connect the port of Miami to an inland port in Hialeah, why not add a patch of gravel and create a greenway from midtown to downtown? This can be done very inexpensively.

Wouldn't this make a great greenway to connect midtown to downtown?

Come on FEC help us out on this one! Let’s make this happen together.

Friend of Transit Miami Brad Knoefler jumpstarted this idea a couple of years ago, but the momentum subsided. We should not allow this idea to die.

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Florida’s efforts to develop a statewide passenger rail network received a boost earlier this month with a $118M commitment by the FDOT for a potential Miami – Jacksonville Amtrak connection. Estimated at $268M, the MIA – JAX connection would enable trains to travel along the Florida East Coast (FEC) Railroad at speeds of up to 90MPH. This critical route would provide a direct rail link to many east coast downtowns including St. Augustine, Daytona Beach, Melbourne, Vero Beach, and Fort Pierce. The map below (obtained from the service development plan submitted in August 2010) depicts the anticipated stations serviced by the new route.

This latest attempt to receive matching funds from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is actually the third such from FDOT which previously filed requests for Federal support under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) in June 2009 and again last year as part of the High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail (HSIPR) Program. On both occasions, the MIA – Jax route took a backseat to the “shovel ready” Tampa – Orlando HSR, which now has $2.3B in funding commitments from the FRA.

The third time might just be the charm. The $118M proposed by the state amounts to a 45% match for the project, a marked departure from the $250M request submitted to the FRA in August. The funds are slated to come from the State Transportation Trust Fund in the 2013-2014 budget year. Senator Bill Nelson has already expressed emphatic support for the project, vowing to work with local officials throughout the corridor to identify funding for the project. US Representative John Mica, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, also expressed support for the project provided that it makes economic sense.

Current estimations predict that an estimated 865,000 trips will be made during the train’s first year of service.

For more information on the proposed service, Please visit the FDOT Florida East Coast Corridor - Amtrak Service High Speed Intercity Passenger Rail (HSIPR) application - August 2010

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Given the upcoming meetings regarding the latest phase of the SFEC Corridor Study I thought it would be a good time to look back to my review of the project alternatives after last year’s initial presentation. I am curious how things have changed since then. From what I hear, the integrated solution that provides local and commuter service is being tossed for an exclusively commuter service….lets hope that is not the case.

Yesterday FDOT hosted a public meeting displaying their Phase 2 analysis for the FEC Corridor. Promising stuff, although I left with a few questions and concerns. The project team was interested and excited about the prospect of bringing some form of transit down this corridor, describing a higher than average projected ridership and amazing public support, and truly explaining the pros/cons of each alternative ( a welcomed change from other FDOT meetings I have attended where there was very little choice being given to attendees as project reps simply ram the preferred alternative down your throat). Unfortunately, as one project representative said (who wished to remain anonymous) the major problem with getting funding for construction will be the federal government’s hesitance at giving over $1 billion for construction, when local officials will not commit to continue funding the tri-rail service we already have. Can’t say I blame them.

For my money, I was impressed the alternative that offered both local and express service.  ‘Urban Mobility’  (Alternative B) would provide both local and express service using a combination of light rail and commuter rail, and would cost about $3.4-4.2 billion (for the full length of the 80 Miles).

Anther alternative I liked was the ’Integrated Network’ solution (Alternative D) which would provide crucial new east/west connections between the FEC corridor and the airport Tri-Rail station. This alternative, while not as convenient for express service, was also less expensive at $2.9-3.6 billion. The cost difference attributed to building out the second track for express service.

My big concern (echoed by many people I spoke with around the room and after the meeting) is that the service stops at government center, missing the vital connection to the Port. Word on the street is that they have no intention of going to the Port because of engineering issues (which is total bs). Here we have within our reach the holy grail of Miami transit - a direct connection between the sea port and the airport - and FDOT wants to stop at the door . The FEC corridor already runs to the port - there is NO reason not to take it all the way in - not right-of-way issues, not engineering. No reason. Period. It will be a boon to the cruising industry who will be able to tell their customers that they no longer need to factor in a $50 round-trip taxi cab ride to and from the port (more money to spend on board - can anyone say more on-board revenue???)

So FDOT, listen closely. Here are my recommendations:

  • Combine alternatives B and D. We need express service and local service along the same alignment (without having to go west).
  • Connect to the airport tri-rail station. We want more connections - not less!
  • Connect to the sea port! This project cannot should not move forward without making that vital connection. As important as the tunnel is to the seaport, imagine what a passenger connection from the airport will do for our local cruising industry.
  • Move swiftly!! These are important moves you are making. Don’t delay!

The expected time line is: PDE preferred alternative chosen in the Spring of 2010, final study in Fall/Winter 2010, apply for federal funding 2011, begin design work/ROW acquisition late 2011/early 2012. Seems ridiculously long, doesn’t it? Sigh…

 

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SFECC Study - October public workshops e-flier

New information on the SFECC Study will be provided at a series of public workshops in October. Participation is vital so the public can talk with members of the study team about station locations, closing or improving railroad crossings and effects on the environment and community. There will also be an audio demonstration of the sounds of the five transit types being considered. The study seeks to improve mobility with new local and regional passenger transit service for Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach Counties on the 85-mile FEC Railway Corridor. The study is being conducted by the Florida Department of Transportation in partnership with planning and transit agencies of Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade Counties.

This study is being conducted by the Florida Department of Transportation in partnership with planning and transit agencies of Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade Counties.

For additional information about the meetings, please contact Charesse Chester at 305-944-7564 or CharesseChesterpr@msn.com.  For more information, please visit www.SFECCStudy.com.

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Much has been said lately about the changes proposed by Commissioner Sarnoff regarding height restrictions in the MIMO historic district. I have had several exchanges with area residents who oppose further development along this (and other corridors). Recently Commissioner Sarnoff issued a letter to Commission Chair Sanchez over the false fear of Burt Harris property rights litigation, and makes some good points. I can’t argue that taking property rights will open the city to litigation (it might, but as the Commissioner points out, the city has a strong case). The question is not whether the city is within its rights to do so, but whether it is good policy. It isn’t. With all due respect to local residents, I think that capping development in this area at 35′ is bad planning. The Commissioner cites traffic and lack of mass transit as part of his reasoning:

This is an important City of Miami historic district that exists on an FDOT [rated] ‘F’ roadway. The added density or often intensity of T5 or T6 planned for sections of this historic road will only casue a collapse in a system that has already seen its mass transit funding diverted by the County.

Mr. Commissioner, we should be so lucky to have ‘F’ rated roadways. You should know that as you increase the Level of Service for a road, you decrease the Level of Service for pedestrians and cyclists. Increased Levels of Service lead to greater flow, greater speed, and less safety. I hope you don’t advocate increasing Levels of Service along our roadways as a way of addressing the lack of mass transit. Alleviating traffic by preventing development is a red herring - it will not have any effect on the LOS of the roadway. Rather than being concerned with the false perception that limiting development will reducing traffic, you and area residents should be more concerned about designing the street with pedestrians in mind, slowing traffic down (by keeping a low LOS), and facilitating further mass transit opportunities.

And speaking of the lack of mass transit on Biscayne, you and others should read about the project to bring rail down the FEC corridor that runs right next to Biscayne. Part of the planning work they are doing for this project is to make sure that the local CDMP and zoning code increases density and pedestrianism around stations. Contrary to your claims that this is not an appropriate area for density, its proximity to a major rail corridor make it the most logical place for more density, and will help offer your constituents more transit alternatives. The timeline for the project is about 6 years (which started in January), so this is not some far off project but one that will be implemented in the short term. Funding will come from the Federal and State government.

Also, check out the editorial from the Herald today echoing the economic benefits of the plan, which I described yesterday.

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Apologies for the late notice, but the following information was just sent to me.

There will be  a South Florida East Coast Corridor study workshop tomorrow in Overtown at the Culmer Neighborhood Center (1600 NW 3rd Avenue). The workshop will take place from 9:30am-1:00 and be held in the multi-purpose room. This is one of many meetings to discuss the potential for transit along the FEC, with workshops happening at each potential station stop-Overtown obviously being one of them.

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The Miami Herald finally caught up with Brad Knoefler’s Park West/Overtown greenway plan. The article explains the red tape facing Knoefler and his newly anointed Guerilla Urban Planner group. While the general plans are nothing but excellent for the area, figuring out funding, ownership, and maintenance has proven to be a tricky endeavor.

And while some critics  agree that the tracks need to be cleaned up, some have expressed concern that it should be done for a Tri-Rail system that actually connects South Florida’s urban centers. To that I say, there is no reason the supposed Rail-to-Trail project couldn’t become a Rail and Trail project where the rails remain, but the path remains alongside the 100 foot right-of-way. Indeed, I believe that is the way it has been designed, as the FEC tracks are still to be used once a year for the circus.

Please do your part and voice support for this important project. Brad and co. have a lot of energy, but they need as much support as they can get in order to make this a reality!

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FLorida FEC Rail Car

From the State of  Florida archives: “Engine No. 1034 breaks the tape on track No. 3 in Miami marking 75 years of Florida Special New York-Miami service..”

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Check out this great article from the Biscayne Times about the history of the FEC lines and the current plans to adapt a track for regional commuter rail.

In all, the FEC’s north-south line passes through the downtowns of 28 cities and towns in the tri-county region, traversing one of the nation’s most densely populated and congested corridors. Hence the logic of studying rail-transit possibilities. “We got through phase one of the study,” says Scott Seeburger, project manager at FDOT’s District 4 office, “and now we’re going to go full force with phase two.” Phase one evaluated the environmental, social, and economic impacts of various transit technologies (rapid-rail, light-rail, streetcars). Phase two will analyze details like operations and passenger-station sites, resulting in a specific plan, which will be submitted to the Federal Transit Administration. If that agency gives the nod of approval to the project, the state will become eligible for federal funding. Engineering and construction could begin soon thereafter.

Pretty cool. They peg the cost as high as $5-6 Billion, and critics say that it would be more cost effective to buy new right of way and equipment for a BRT lane  along the same alignment. Don’t know if thats the best idea (considering the right-of-way is already there), but either way the key to building ridership is to change the zoning around the stations (in the way that MDT has tried to do in South Miami and Dadeland). You need to put alot of people within a short walk of the station. Lets hope this one moves forward soon.

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The New River and sailboats are inseparable. With naught but drawbridges in their way east of I-95 and Tri-Rail’s New River bridge, sailboats frequent that part of the river. Even the mighty US-1 bows to the sailboats by tunneling beneath the river.

A threat looms on the horizon, however. Passenger rail service on the Florida East Coast (FEC) corridor could mean a 55′ bridge over the New River, limiting the height of sailboat masts. According to a Sun-Sentinel blog post, Mayor Jim Naugle, a supporter of the FEC project, laid down the law, saying, “Thou shalt not restrict navigation.”

I fully agree with his desire to protect boat traffic. I was at a public meeting for the Sunrise Blvd. Bridge over the Middle River and saw the majority of attendees voice their support for a drawbridge to replace the current low fixed span. Despite the added costs, I would agree with them as well. When you see all its canals and rivers, you can understand why Fort Lauderdale claims the title “Venice of America”. But if they do not keep these canals open to boats, they cannot accurately keep the title.

Fort Lauderdale should vigorously protect the navigation rights of boaters. They must realize, though, that it comes at a cost. Just as a tunnel was constructed on US-1 at a much higher cost, a tunnel could be constructed on the FEC tracks for passenger service. The thing is, when the state cannot foot the bill for it, the city must be willing to pay for the expense. Throw another tax on the rich sailboat owners if you must. I’m sure they would rather pay more and keep their river open.

Photo by Flickr user scottlenger.

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Click for Larger Version…

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Did anyone know there are plans for a people mover between Fort Lauderdale International Airport and Port Everglades? Neither did I until I heard about it from someone in the Office of Modal Development at FDOT a few weeks ago. The project has not made much news until recently, but there is an ongoing PD&E study to implement such a beast, known as Sunport. The plan is to get people from the airport to Port Everglades efficiently, using a system similar to what we see in many airports. Lea+Elliott, an engineering firm well known for designing automated people mover systems, is on board to help with the planning process.

The people mover system would also include an intermodal center where it crosses the FEC tracks, so it could connect to future Tri-Rail service in that corridor and allow passengers to get to area hotels as easily as the port.

Want to know more about Sunport? This Thursday, January 10, the airport and Port Everglades are hosting a public workshop on the project. Show up at 6PM at the Broward County African American Research Library Auditorium.

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