County's deal for CSX tracks awaits appraisal
By Charlotte Libov
A plan to use a freight transportation company's rails to expand Tri-Rail service into southwestern Miami-Dade County appears on track as officials await an appraisal of the lines.
Preliminary work is being done to set up an appraisal, which will be performed by representatives of the county and CSX Transportation of Jacksonville, which owns the rail line, said Shira Castan, director of policy and legislative affairs for County Commission Chairman Joe Martinez.
"This is a very positive step because if all the parties are OK with the appraisal and if the outcome is fair, we'll be able to move forward to negotiate an agreement to run the trains on those lines," she said.
County and CSX officials have been negotiating a county lease or purchase of the lines to establish passenger service on the planned Homestead spur between Kendall-Tamiami Executive Airport and Miami International Airport.
The spur could be operational on CSX lines by next year, county officials say, whereas construction of new lines could be a 10-year project.
The agreement to conduct an appraisal was part of a larger agreement between CSX and state officials announced earlier this month by Gov. Jeb Bush to invest $491 million in bringing commuter rail transportation to Central Florida.
CSX agreed in principle to cede control of dispatch and maintenance on the 72-mile South Florida rail corridor it shares with Tri-Rail.
According to Gary Sease, a CSX spokesman, the agreement "certainly expresses progress on all fronts as it relates to the South Florida transportation initiatives.
"We've agreed in principle to continue talks on the Homestead extension, and that would initiate with the state and with Miami-Dade County an appraisal of the property. Upon completion of that appraisal, Miami-Dade could conceivably purchase it," he said.
He said CSX wants a provision that would allow the company to continue transporting some freight on the line.
Mr. Martinez' staff and CSX officials are working out details of a "demonstration day" to preview commuter service for county officials, Ms. Castan said.
"When you show someone a project on paper, that's all great. But if you should show them that the (Diesel Multiple Unit car) is a very nice, cushy, comfortable train and show them how this line would go through a congested part of town, they could experience it themselves," she said.
Mr. Sease said some areas of the track have not been maintained for passenger traffic and might require some work to make them safe.
The double-decker cars that would be used for the service were built in Colorado and are bound for Central Florida after a stop in Miami.