2 commuter rail projects gather steam
By Lou Ortiz
The South Florida East Coast Corridor commuter rail project is rolling forward with estimated ridership numbers and funding workshops on the agenda for this winter, state officials said.
"We are working hard," Amie K. Goddeau, a mobility development manager with District 4 of the Florida Department of Transportation, told the Miami-Dade County Metropolitan Planning Organization Governing Board last week.
Besides ridership and funding, the department will also devise a "public strategy on moving [the project] forward," she said.
Officials from both the proposed commuter rail service and All Aboard Florida, the inter-state passenger rail project from Orlando to Miami, updated planning organization board members during their July 19 meeting.
Once completed, Ms. Goddeau said, the projects would relieve downtown congestion, enhance east-west and north-south connections and "provide that integrated transportation system we're looking for in South Florida."
Those links and connections include all modes of transportation alternatives, from Tri Rail and Metrorail and tri-county bus services to the commuter corridor and the Orlando connection.
Ms. Goddeau conducted a side-by-side comparison of both projects on "how these two would work together," she said.
The commuter service from West Palm Beach through Fort Lauderdale to Miami would run more than 50 trains each day, with stops in 22 stations along the way, she said. The Orlando service, she said, would probably run one train a day when it gets on track and have only four stations: Orlando, West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami.
All Aboard Florida is designed for tourists and business travelers, she said, compared to the commuter line, which would carry mostly daily passengers to and from Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties.
In addition, the 240-mile Orlando service is to be 100% privately funded and completed in 2014. The commuter rail service will probably rely on government funding and will be "implemented over time" in phases and segments that are "cost-effective," Ms. Goddeau said.
Those segments may include a segment or phase from Pompano Beach to Miami, another from West Palm Beach to Jupiter, and a third would fill in the service throughout all three counties, she said.
"Both are extremely viable passenger services for South Florida," she said. "The range of transportation options are tremendous for public travelers."
Ms. Goddeau said the commuter services would share resources where possible with All Aboard Florida and the freight lines, including rails and stations. "We want to make sure we share the resources as much as possible," she said, "to keep the costs down."
Eric D. Swanson, an executive with All Aboard Florida, told MPO members that the tracks are already in place for 200 of the 240 miles for the project, which may eventually connect Jacksonville and Tampa. The Orlando to Miami leg, with stops in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, would be operational by the end of 2014, he said.
Where the train will stop in the tri-county for drop-offs and pickups hasn't yet been determined, he said. The train is expected to reach speeds of 100 to 125 mph.
"This will not displace freight or the East Coast Corridor," Mr. Swanson said. "We're not going in any location that rail doesn't go now."
"The trains will be the best locomotives that exist today," he said. "They will be quieter than the old ones."
Mr. Swanson said the project would create 1,200 construction jobs and 400 permanent jobs, along with thousands of indirect jobs in tourism and other developments.
The project is expected to increase the tourist trade in South Florida, with many of the 50 million people who annually visit Orlando having an easier way to get to the Miami area, versus making the four-hour car ride or traveling by air.
"This is a 100% private operation," he said. "We're not asking for any government money. We have hired architects. We're going full speed ahead."
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