Tri-Rail to start test runs to Brightline's MiamiCentral

Tri-Rail will start practice commuter train runs to Brightline's MiamiCentral station as early as the beginning of next year.

Victor O. Garcia, director of public affairs for the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority, which operates Tri-Rail, said vehicle testing on the tracks leading into MiamiCentral is scheduled to start on January 2023. It's a first step toward Tri-Rail finally being able to dock at the one-million-square-foot Brightline complex.

The SFRTA, Miami-Dade County, and the City of Miami paid Brightline $70 million to build a train depot for Tri-Rail at the MiamiCentral station. (SFRTA's share of $22 million came from the federal government and the state of Florida.)

Tri-Rail was originally supposed to start operating at MiamiCentral in 2017, but train platform design defects and issues with a federally-mandated train safety system created multiple delays. Meanwhile, Brightline remains focused on the establishment of an express train connection to Orlando and building its own stations in Boca Raton and near Aventura.

In a release, David Dech, SFRTA's new executive director, said the tests are possible thanks to a signed agreement with the Florida East Coast Railway and Brightline granting permission for the test runs. Both private companies control access to the train tracks.

"One of my main goals when arriving in South Florida was to ensure we were having quality conversations with our partners at Brightline and the FEC, knowing it is the only way we are going to get through the hurdles that have been holding us up," Dech stated.

Brightline did not return a request for comment.

During the test runs, SFRTA engineers and conductors will be trained to operate Tri-Rail trains on the 8-mile span connecting the state-owned tracks west of I-95 to MiamiCentral. Tech systems meant to prevent over-speed derailments and train-on-train collisions will also be tested, the release stated.

Due to worsening traffic conditions, elected officials and business leaders in South Florida have longed for the creation of an affordable commuter train system with as many as 24 stations between Miami and Jupiter.

The commuter rail system is envisioned as similar to Tri-Rail, which has operated on state-owned tracks west of I-95 since 1989. But it's yet not clear if Tri-Rail will operate beyond the MiamiCentral connection.

In November 2020, the Miami-Dade County Commission agreed to provide $50 million and an annual track fee of up to $12 million to Brightline. In exchange Brightline, which is owned by Tokyo-based SoftBank, will allow six commuter train stations between Downtown Miami and the Ojus area west of Aventura. The commuter operator will be determined by the Miami-Dade County Commission.

Two years later, the Florida Department of Transportation earmarked $74.2 million toward the creation of a commuter rail line in Broward County south of the New River.

Although the commuter rail is far from certain, the inclusion of train stations are incorporated in urban plans promoted by the Wynwood Business Improvement District, Dacre in the Miami Design District, and the Magic City Innovation District in Little Haiti.

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