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!

30 Responses to South Florida Needs Passenger Rail Service Now on the FEC!

  1. UDB says:

    Lots of good, valid points made in your post. However, beware of the transit amateurs at FDOT who are running the FEC passenger rail study. If anyone can screw up a great idea like FEC rail service, it would be the crack FDOT staff who’ve made so many poor public policy decisions and forced bad roadway designs down our throats for decades!

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  2. Mike Moskos says:

    It would be interesting to put counters on all the existing pedestrian bridges to see how much use they get. Probably not enough to justify what it costs to keep them swept. In almost every case, I think there’s probably a more effective and substantially less costly way to keep pedestrians out of harm.

    I bet every person who is forced to cross a pedestrian bridge (think Tri-Rail) wishes for something at ground level.

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  3. Skip Van Cel says:

    Thank you for this post. I am out of town and could not make this very important meeting. One thing we must keep in mind when pushing forward on rail service, pedestrian friendly green space, etc., etc., is that the people making the decisions would not walk or take a train anywhere. Most of them high tail it to the suburbs in their bmw’s as soon as the clock strikes 5. We need to ask the question why don’t they support these issues?
    We are as close as we will ever get to getting a passenger rail up the Biscayne corridor and need to push and push hard to get this done now. I say we stage a protest. Contact the media, get one politician on our side. In today’s political climate one has to scream to be heard.
    As far as tunnels and bridges are concerned, the pedestrian crosswalks are far more effective in both practical and economical terms.
    Again, thanks for this posting and keep up the good work.

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  4. Kyle says:

    1. Tunnels and bridges are a huge waste of money, they will not be used. At-grade crossings are much more affordable and faster to do.

    2. In terms of pedestrian crossings, I think we could start with just a few crossings, I say at NE 48th St and NE 34th St. I think the immediate areas around these intersections are the ones that most need it.

    3. We need to push pedestrian rail. Now is the time to really start pushing this since work and studies are being done now. We don’t want pedestrian rail to get lost in the conversation. This includes Tri-Rail service and simultaneous light-rail service ideally from Downtown Fort Lauderdale to Downtown Miami.

    4. I think overall the powers that be are overall (somewhat) supportive of pedestrian rail and improvements on the FEC. That said, it’s up to the people to really push it. Unless there’s pressure from us, nothing will get done.

    5. We can do it! Start writing to your commissioner, Sarnoff, Regalado, FDOT, etc.

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  5. Mark Johnson says:

    I’ve contacted all my representatives, I encourage everyone else to as well.

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  6. thanks for the update

    i get the impression citizen suggestions weren’t taken seriously because they aren’t considered special interests.

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  7. Robert Hernandez says:

    Thank you for the update as I was not able to attend this meeting.Some comments:
    1. The “Quit Zone” should be extended to 79th street in order to include all of the Palm Grove neighborhood.
    2. I definitely support the passanger rail and will contact our County Commissioner to express this.
    3. I do not want to see any bridges or tunnels but on grade crossings.
    4. Frank Rollason is correct the ROW is NOT maintained. We should ask the FEC for their definition of a maintained ROW.I also agree with your suggestion to push for a Greenway Area along the FEC corridor.

    Now is the time to act on these goals while they are listening.
    thank you again.

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  8. TransitDave says:

    Why doesn’t the FEC spin off a subsidiary like SYNTUS in the Nether lands, which is a contract transit operator, and run passenger trains under contract to FDOT, Tri-rail or another public transit agency? ANSWER: Because that would assume a desire to be in the passenger train business, which the FEC doesn’t have….Henry Flagler would be ashamed……..

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  9. Captain Dave says:

    Love the idea of the crosswalks. So simple and inexpensive. Let’s face it the high school kids are not going to climb up to an overhead crossing so this is a much better alternative.

    I was at the meeting and I thought they made it very clear that a greenway is included in the plans for the future pedestrian rail. Now all we have to do is push MOP to adopt the plans as has been done by Broward and Palm Beach.

    Robert, they explained that the quiet zone stops at 71 street because that is where these freight trains will turn west to go to the rail yard. They will not be going straight up to 79th street or beyond.

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  10. Felipe Azenha says:

    Captain Dave,

    The FEC has no plans for a Greenway. The Greenway idea was pioneered by Brad Knoefler a few years go and then support died down.

    Cargo trains will be running straight up 79th street from the port. They already run through 79th straight but then turn on 73rd Street

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  11. Captain Dave says:

    Felipe;
    We must have been at different meetings. The one I was at even had display boards in the back of the room which included a greenway clearly showing on the drawings next to the proposed passanger rail line.

    The FEC rep explained that all of the trains from the port (which was the focus of the meeting) would only go as far north as 71 street where they would turn west to the rail yard. He said none of these particular trains would go up to 79th street or beyond (although other trains will, as they do now).

    Was he lying to us or do you have some inside information that was not presented at that meeting.

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  12. Peter Ehrlich says:

    The FEC promoters want to move freight as fast as they can. Unfortunately the FEC tracks run adjacent to many City of Miami neighborhoods. Shorecrest, Oakland Grove, Belle Meade, Little River, Bayside, Lemon City, Buena Vista, Bay Pointe, Midtown Miami, Edgewater, OMNI, Overtown and several others… (Someday we want passenger service. That will benefit these neighborhoods.)

    The FEC does want to close one or more of our East-West crossings. Closing crossings would hurt the tens of thousands of residents and thousands of small businesses that depend on easy access East-West. In addition, closing crossings would increase the chances a pedestrian is hit by a freight train. At the moment the City of Miami will not allow any crossings to be closed.

    Please tell your City officials to keep the crossings open.

    Peter Ehrlich

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  13. Tony Garcia says:

    @Peter – agreed re:crossings! but why say ‘someday we want passenger service’? Plans are in the works, all we need to do is have continued vocal public support and we will get passenger service.

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  14. Felipe Azenha says:

    Captain,
    Cargo trains already come through 79th Street, I’m assuming they will conntinue to run and once the connection to the port is complete I’m also assuming service will most likely increase on 79th street. Are those fair assumptions?

    As for the greenway, as far as I know, there is nothing official. I could be wrong, but I have not heard of anything to that effect.

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  15. ray says:

    If we hadn’t been kept in the dark about these plans, the plan for the $2B tunnel, would have been more difficult for (maritime attny when not part time commissioner) Sarnoff to push through his $2b tunnel. Now he wants more big public works projects (read – money for special interests, rather than practical solutions for pedestrians and residents. As far as Peter Erlich, perhaps he own property with billboards slated, because he suddenly is against them (the city should greatly limit them), and while the crossings should be open, his 59th St property is clearly his latest self interest cause.

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  16. Captain Dave says:

    Felipe;
    I think it is a fair assumption that the cargo trains already crossing 79th street will continue and maybe more heavily laden with cargo from the port. I don’t know if additional trains will be added but if the freight at the port increases as projected I think we could see more trains in the coming years.

    I don’t know if the greenway plans are official as presented at the meeting, but since it is incorporated into the passanger rail plans it behooves us all to push the MPO to approve those plans and get the show on the road.

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  17. Robert Hernandez says:

    Extend the Quit Zone to the City of Miami limits adjacent to El Portal.

    Captain the Greenway as Felipe proposes is a walkable landscape area that neighborhood residents might actually be able to use. I would imagine that the FEC calling an area a Greenway was nothing more than what we already have – overgrown weeds.
    We would need to get clarification from FEC.
    Thank you.

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  18. Wendy says:

    Thanks for publicizing this meeting. I thought there were a lot of important issues raised. I agree that surface-level crossings make far more sense than tunnels or bridges. At one point, the FEC person said they would be offering educational safety programs for the affected schools. I am a proponent of safety education, but only after effective structural barriers and good public policies are in place addressing the hazard. No one-time lecture is going to keep a 15 year-old from taking the shortest possible route to the bus stop on a 98 degree day. I hope the City will work toward providing safe crossings in Buena Vista/Brentwood and in all other areas where people (particularly children) need to cross.

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  19. Daniel says:

    I think an East Coast Metrorail alignment would be better because it would have more stops and have true ROW (elevated). At any rate I doubt Tri-Rail will continue to run on it’s current, gaping money hole, line if it moves over to the FEC line.

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  20. Gables says:

    Daniel – Tri-Rail will have to continue to run on its current alignment or else it will have to return the millions of dollars the federal government paid for track improvements. I also agree with you that Metrorail run on the FEC up to Aventura would be best, but that option was killed because it would cost too much money.

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  21. [...] 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 [...]

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  22. M says:

    A headline from Miami Herald (10/5/11) reads, “Miami-Dade to Miami: Give us a share of city’s casino windfall.” So, with 2 proposed casinos for downtown Miami, I say we give the county the 45% of casino tax revenue they are asking for and mandate that it be used for premium transit service such as the FEC corridor (with parallel greenway). Commissioners stated they are worried about infrastructure and need the money to help with roads in the area. That’s true. They should be worried about infrastructure and having rail service into the area would help alleviate traffic on local streets.

    Give the county the money and build the rail (and greenway)!!!

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  23. myangeldust says:

    Greenways and pedestrian friendly rights of way are an AWEFUL idea. Trains are dangerous and you shouldn’t hope to gentrify them. As old fashion as they look, freight and commuter trains are the way of the future. No other vehicle does a better job of carrying high volumes of people using fuel efficiently with minimal impact to urban life. As rail traffic increases we should build pedestrian and automotive overpasses to keep school kids from coming up with tardy excuses and to get emergency vehicles to their destinations, respectively. Folks must stop trying to recreate the world into Candyland. Appreciate the Iron Horse for what it is and what it represents: a better tomorrow.

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  24. myangeldust says:

    ‘AWFUL’

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  25. Felipe Azenha says:

    Myangledust,
    Read my post again. We love trains and we are strong advocates for commuter and cargo rail. You will be hard-pressed to find a stronger advocate for rail in Miami then Transit Miami. There is no good reason why the FEC cannot safely include a greenway and at-grade pedestrian crosswalks. We do not have to over engineer by building pedestrian and automotive overpasses. Keep it simple.

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  26. myangeldust says:

    A greenway is the exact opposite of safety around trains. Pedestrian crossings are wherever the sidewalk meets the rail. And we still need overpasses here and there. If there wasn’t one on NW 12 Ave paramedics would need to airlift folks to Jackson in the event of a long freight pull. On the other hand, this dream of greenways just says, “set up camp next to this bear.” Eventually the bear will kill you.

    I’ve rode around this county for years avoiding anything that could hit me. Never once did I need a path, lane, or ‘way to show me the way. When did cyclists suddenly become hamsters?

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  27. Daniel says:

    I had the same idea of mandating any prospective casino investors, particularly Genting, to fund something unequivocally beneficial to the public such as the metrorail orange line, so we could at least say something good came of it all if Miami gambling turns out to be a flop and all the impoverished, $20,000 median household income, poorest large city in America, residents of the area are further detrimented by this.

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  28. Peter Ehrlich says:

    The goal of the FEC Company is to move freight. When you ask them that is what they say.

    The FEC wants to move freight as quickly as possible. To achieve that goal they want to close crossings. Unfortunately, closing crossings is incredibly harmful to residents and local businesses. In addition, closing crossings and speeding up the freight trains makes the tracks more dangerous to pedestrians. Remember, the FEC does not install fences.

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  29. Daniel says:

    I wonder if the use of the FEC line for Tri-Rail will bring at least that stretch of the line back up to a class A railroad.

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  30. [...] on the FEC is really a no-brainer and will make the South Florida region more competitive,” Felipe Azenha wrote on advocacy blog Transit Miami blog in September 2011. ”For some reason, that is beyond my understanding, our Miami Dade elected officials can’t [...]

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