The Florida Tri-Rail commuter railroad system, operated and maintained by the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority (or SFRTA), has been in operation since 1987 and today is a north-south linear system stretching 72 miles from the Florida Miami International Airport to Mangonia Park Station where it connects with Amtrak’s Silver Service operation. Interestingly Tri-Rail was initially meant only as a temporary means of mass transit until upgrades to Interstate 95 were completed but became so popular in the Miami area that has remained in operation for the last 20+ years and extended to its current length in 1998. Today, it has become an even popular mode of transportation for commuters and vacationers in and around the Miami region, particularly as gas prices continue to rise.
Along with Amtrak, state passenger railroading operations are gaining support and receiving increased attention and funding, particularly as highways become increasingly congested. Perhaps the two most noted states that are giving passenger railroading serious attention include North Carolina and California. Both are doing a magnificent job developing passenger rail corridors in their respective states, particularly North Carolina. If you are interested in seeing how a passenger rail network should be properly implemented, planned, and carried out have a look at what the Tarheel State is doing.
However, North Carolina and California are not the only two states that have a well-developed network already in place. Other states including Washington, Florida, Virginia, Texas, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, New Mexico and others all have commuter rail networks either in place or planned for the future. Amtrak also runs trains in conjunction with certain states like Washington’s Sounder service and North Carolina’s Piedmont. The Florida Tri-Rail trackage was purchased from CSX Transportation in 1989 of ex-Seaboard Coast Line trackage although CSX continues to dispatch and maintain the route through contract with the Florida Department of Transportation and Veolia Transportation, who currently manages the system, although eventual plans hope to allow the commuter system to do its own maintenance and dispatching.
The Seaboard Coast Line Railroad was a short-lived conglomerate formed by the marriage of two of the Southeast’s largest and most profitable railroads, the Atlantic Coast Line and the Seaboard Air Line. Mergers, if planned and implemented correctly can save a railroad millions of dollars in the long term and this was the very reason behind the Seaboard Air Line and ACL discussing the option seriously, as early as the late 1950s.
While the two companies were fierce competitors, similar to the Pennsylvania Railroad and New York Central who would also merge during the same period, the difference between the PRR/NYC and SAL/ACL partnerships was that the ACL and SAL spent many years planning their new system in an effort to ensure the marriage would go smoothly. As an independent carrier the Seaboard Coast Line Railroad would last a mere five years before joining under the banner of the Family Lines System, which would eventually disappear into the Seaboard System in 1982 (just ten more years later).
Today, Tri-Rail sees daily ridership exceeding 15,000 commuters serving 18 stations and a system that just completed a double-tracked route in 2007 allowing for even faster and more efficient commuting times between all three of South Florida’s international airports (Miami, Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood, and Palm Beach). Even Tri-Rail’s equipment is the latest featuring bi-level coaches from both Bombardier and Colorado Railcar bedecked in a flashy tropical theme of blue, white, orange, and green. The agency’s motive power fleet is all-EMD either rebuilt or currently being modified for commuter rail service:
· #801 – 805: F40PHL-2 - Rebuilt by Morrison-Knudsen
· #807 – 809: F40PH-2C - Rebuilt by Morrison-Knudsen
· #810 and #811 : F40PHR - Ex-Amtrak rebuilt by Morrison-Knudsen
· #812 – 817: GP49PH – Ex-Southern GP49s rebuilt by Morrison-Knudsen
All in all, the Florida Tri-Rail system has become a much more successful and larger endeavor than ever originally planned or anticipated. However, since its inception it has given commuters and travelers another means of transportation, particularly one that is less stressful and more pleasant than facing nearby congested I-95. Future plans hope to see the system extended onto the nearby Florida East Coast Railway and expanding commuter rail operations further throughout Florida, which, with any luck, will become reality. If you would like to learn more about Florida Tri-Rail or are perhaps considering using the system please click here to visit their website.