Florida’s Miami-Dade County Board of County Commissioners has agreed to continue talks with Brightline on new commuter rail service along the Brightline/Florida East Coast Railway (FECR) corridor.
The service is slated to run between Brightline’s existing MiamiCentral station in downtown Miami and its new Adventura station, which broke ground in September. It would connect with possible stations at 151st Street (Florida International University), 123rd Street (North Miami), El Portal, Little Haiti, the Design District and Wynwood.
Prior to the pandemic, Brightline was operating intercity passenger service with stations in Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach; it is currently at work on an extension to Orlando, including the Aventura station and another station in Boca Raton.
The Board of County Commissioners adopted a resolution on Friday, “directing the County Mayor or County Mayor’s designee to finalize negotiations with Brightline Trains Florida LLC (Brightline) for the implementation of commuter rail service for the Northeast Corridor portion of the Strategic Miami Area Rail Transit (SMART) Plan.” (See map below.)
Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava, who is succeeding Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, will be taking over negotiations.
Based on independent economic studies, the commuter system is expected to generate $5 billion in economic impact over the first ten years, according to Brightline.
In June, the Board of County Commissioners approved a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the County and Brightline for “providing the framework for negotiations for agreements for the implementation of Commuter Rail Service,” and directing the County Mayor to negotiate agreements with Brightline and public and private interested parties along the Northeast Corridor section for contributions of land and funding toward capital, operating and maintenance expenses of the train stations and parking facilities.
As Railway Age reported, the County would negotiate with Brightline to operate commuter trains within its borders under a public-private partnership (P3). The resolution did not specify that Brightline would run the service, but called only for negotiations toward that result.
In their recent Friday meeting, the Miami-Dade County Board of County Commissioners and Brightline addressed a fee agreement for access to the FECR main line. Brightline wants an initial $50 million payment from the County. The 90-year agreement would also include a $12 million annual fee for the first 30 years.
The Board, in its resolution, has now directed the County Mayor or County Mayor’s designee to finalize negotiations with Brightline on an access agreement, “in an amount not to exceed $50 million paid in one or more installments and $12 million per year for an agreed upon term,” and for “negotiating agreements for operations, maintenance and funding and development for all capital improvements” and for “completing all due diligence and any necessary approval by the Federal Transit Administration,” among other measures.
Again, no decision has been made on who would operate the new commuter rail system—Brightline or South Florida Regional Transportation Authority (SFRTA), which runs Tri-Rail. The 71-mile Tri-Rail commuter rail service operates between Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties on right-of-way west and parallel to the FECR main line. It does not go to downtown Miami, but to Hialeah, and riders must change there for Miami-Dade Transit’s elevated Metrorail line to go downtown.
“Developing a commuter rail system along the economic centers of Miami-Dade County will provide more access to jobs, cultural centers, arenas and other locations critical to residents,” said Commission Chairwoman Audrey Edmonson, Miami-Dade County. “Transportation remains key to moving our county forward and creating much-needed economic opportunities.”
Railway Age Editor-in-Chief William C. Vantuono talked with SFRTA Executive Director and Commuter Rail Coalition Secretary-Treasurer Steven Abrams in a recent Rail Group On Air Podcast. Abrams addressed the new Miami-Dade County commuter rail service, among other topics.