Starting in 2006, the Tri-Rail Coastal Link, formerly known as the South Florida East Coast Corridor (SFECC) Study, conducted an extensive planning and public outreach effort, resulting in a System Master Plan for integrated passenger services along 85-miles of the Florida East Coast (FEC) Railroad corridor from Miami to Jupiter, including direct connections to Tri-Rail and other transit systems. The System Master Plan represents an ultimate, long-term vision for implementing reliable, high quality rail transit service in Southeast Florida. Due in part to the high cost to build and operate the vision of the System Master Plan, the realities of the current economy and to allow ridership to build over time, the FDOT is working to refine the System Master Plan and develop an implementation strategy based on various scenarios to implement the project in phases. Ongoing progress of technical work such as travel demand modeling and train simulation will support an informed evaluation of potential, cost-feasible initial phases within the 85-mile corridor.
The SFECC Study is sponsored by the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), South Florida Regional Transportation Authority (SFRTA) and the Metropolitan Planning Organizations of Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade Counties. The study is managed by FDOT following guidelines established by the Federal Transit Administration, Federal Highway Administration and Federal Railroad Administration and recommendations by the U.S. Maritime Administration, U.S. Coast Guard, Federal Aviation Administration and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Input is being sought from Miami-Dade Transit, Broward County Transit, Palm Tran, the South Florida and Treasure Coast Regional Planning Councils and the three county Leagues of Cities.
The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) has been working closely with SFRTA, the MPOs, Florida East Coast Industries (FECI), and its partners to refine the System Master Plan and develop a phased implementation plan. This work includes extensive coordination with the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) on the travel demand/ridership model and with FECI on shared use of the privately owned railroad corridor and the ongoing infrastructure improvement projects by FECI to enhance both freight and passenger rail services.
The project is moving forward with the refinement of the System Master Plan to identify and evaluate initial phases for implementation, start-up infrastructure, stations, and preliminary costs. This work will culminate in the endorsement of a Locally Preferred Alternative (LPA) near completion of the federal Project Development Phase. A public outreach program will continue to solicit input as the refinement efforts for the project continue.
The South Florida East Coast Corridor project is a public initiative by the Florida Department of Transportation in partnership with local planning and transit agencies to establish commuter passenger service, connecting 28 coastal communities along FEC’s rail corridor between Miami and Jupiter. The System Master Plan represents a long-term vision for the commuter service with a current emphasis on how the project could be implemented in the short-term in cost-feasible segments.
All Aboard Florida is a private initiative to provide intercity passenger service between Miami and Orlando with intermediate station stops in downtown Ft. Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. It is being developed by a private entity in conjunction with the owner of the railroad corridor.
The potential for Amtrak service from Jacksonville to downtown Miami along the FEC corridor has been evaluated by FDOT in cooperation with the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and municipalities along the east coast. A service development plan was prepared and is pending federal approval.
FDOT and SFRTA are aware of the challenges of re-introducing passenger rail service in the FEC corridor and are working closely with FECI, the MPOs and Regional Planning Councils to resolve these challenges.
The System Master Plan (SMP) envisioned a total of 52 general areas for potential stations as part of the ultimate build out of the 85-mile passenger service. As the Study continues, the station areas are being refined based on ridership projections, spacing, travel time and cost-effectiveness. It is anticipated that the number of stations will be reduced based on these factors and other local considerations including land use, local comp plans, connectivity to highway and transit, benefits to people who are transit dependent and Transit Oriented Development (TOD) potential. This station refinement process will be accomplished incorporating outreach with stakeholders.
There are a number of criteria which include:
As the System Master Plan is refined, interaction with the public will continue via the project website and electronic means. Outreach with elected officials is ongoing and periodic updates are presented at meetings of the MPOs, SFRTA, SEFTC and other public agencies. The next round of workshops will start in 2014 as the project enters the NEPA environmental phase.
On a complex project such as this, the challenges are many. The more critical ones include accessing the FEC corridor, funding, developing the implementation plan, and addressing community concerns over noise, traffic and other impacts. Agreements to access the FEC's corridor and resolving operational issues associated with a shared-use corridor for freight and passenger service are challenges being addressed through ongoing coordination with FECI.
Initial service is anticipated to connect the coastal downtowns and municipal areas. As ridership builds over time, more frequently service could be added on. Integration of planned service with existing TriRail, Metrorail, Metromover, express and local bus service throughout the region is being evaluated as part of the study.
Transit along the FEC alignment will ultimately link to and enhance Tri-Rail service with stops closer to where people live and work. Using travel forecast models, the study is analyzing the best ways to integrate the services so they operate as an interconnected system. People who presently ride Tri-Rail are generally long-distance commuters who arrive at stations by car, bus or shuttle. Transit along the FEC route has the potential of servicing shorter trips as well, within walking distance of future transit stations, municipal downtowns along the corridor and major activity centers such as hospitals and universities.
The study team is analyzing connections in Miami, Pompano Beach, and West Palm Beach.
The potential of rerouting FEC freight trains was analyzed early in the Study and some opportunities were identified that may be subsequently pursued by FECI, FDOT and other study partners. However, regardless of the outcome of those discussions, the need to continue servicing seaports and local shippers along the FEC corridor means that some level of freight train service is likely to remain on that route.
Every effort will be made, starting with the earliest stages of design, to ensure that passenger and freight services will safely and reliably co-exist in the corridor from the opening day of service.
Travel time will depend on the number of stops and the type of train. Travel time is expected to be comparable to an average vehicle commute with greater reliability, consistency and convenience and at lower cost to the commuter.
FEC is an integral study partner to develop an effective passenger service while accommodating continued freight operations and planned intercity passenger service (All Aboard Florida). They own the rail corridor and operate the freight trains that serve the seaports. They are providing in-kind engineering services and working closely with FDOT to accommodate passenger service in the corridor.
It is anticipated that passenger service may be phased in along the corridor. The priority for implementation of the phases depends on anticipated ridership, cost, cost-effectiveness and local commitment of funds, among other criteria. The MPOs determine project priorities within the three counties.
Cost estimates for the service plans and project phases are being prepared.
In conjunction with local partners, FDOT will continue to evaluate various funding strategies to identify the best combination of approaches and sources for funding the project. Capital funding may be a combination of federal, state and local monies. The funding mechanisms for operation and maintenance costs are anticipated to be generated locally. Because of the unique location of the corridor in dense urban areas, it is anticipated that planned and future development at stations will generate revenue opportunities to help offset O&M costs.
Some transit along certain segments of the corridor could be in service as early as 2018 depending on several factors -- if consensus is reached; if there is a local, dedicated source of funding; if the project meets technical criteria, if the project receives the appropriate federal or state and local funding approvals; and obtaining access to the privately-owned FEC corridor. Currently, there are no committed funding sources for engineering, construction, operations, or maintenance. The study is progressing, maintaining funding eligibility through a federal process which could result in revenue service in 7 years, in a best case scenario. Non-federal funding sources and a non-federal process could result in service in about 5 years.
Based on the choice of alignment, few, if any, homes will need to be acquired except perhaps for station development. In order to gain maximum ridership, station areas are generally located near commercial centers. However, every effort will be made to minimize impacts should a station need to be located in or near a residential area. Property owners will be compensated for property acquisitions per applicable laws.
If passenger trains are put into service on or alongside the FEC tracks, FDOT will conduct detailed noise studies to determine if a noise wall is warranted next to residential or other noise-sensitive areas, such as schools, churches or hospitals. Generally, passenger rail is quieter than freight rail and trains are much shorter in length, causing less noise for a shorter period of time.
Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) regulations currently require trains to sound their horns at all at-grade highway crossings for safety reasons. However, federal "Quiet Zone" regulations permit the elimination of train horns if certain safety improvements are made at a crossing. The applicability and funding of Quiet Zones will be considered as the study continues and in ongoing parallel efforts by FDOT.
More frequent train service will mean more gate closings, although passenger trains are shorter and faster than freight trains so their impact on traffic is less severe. The Study will consider closing some crossings wherever practical. Ways to minimize delays to auto traffic are being evaluated. FDOT will work closely with each municipality along the FEC alignment as grade crossings are evaluated.
A number of environmental, engineering, aesthetics, navigational and cost-benefit issues need to be fully understood before a decision on how to cross each waterway can be made. Where new crossings are needed, the specific type of water crossings will be determined as the engineering phases of the Study advance.
A greenway may be considered, since it is already part of bicycle/pedestrian planning by the Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPO) of the three counties and the technical team has been working with their the MPO Bicycle Coordinators. Further evaluation is required before a determination can be made.
Accommodations for bicycles will be part of station planning. Some stations may have bicycle storage areas and whether those are racks, cages or lockers will be determined later in the study. The needs of bicycle riders will be taken into account, too, when specific types of transit vehicles are selected. Riders may also be able to cycle to a station, put their bikes on board, use transit part of the way and then continue on by bicycle.
The study is being conducted in accordance with Federal Transit Administration (FTA), the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) and FDOT's Efficient Transportation Decision Making (ETDM) process and guidelines.
Public involvement is a very important part of the Study process. In the last few years, there were 14 Kickoff Meetings, 12 Workshops and five Public Hearings attended by more than 1,700 members of the public. The project database of property owners and business operators was compiled from tax rolls for sites within a two-mile-wide study corridor and along its 85-mile length. The result was a mailing list of nearly 230,000 individuals and companies. A new, expanded database was later compiled from the same sources by enlarging the area beyond two miles. Moving forward, meetings will be announced in newspaper ads and meetings notices will be sent via U.S. Postal Service and transmitted via e-flyer to those in the project database. To be added to the project database, add your e-mail address to the box at the top of the page.
Please fill out the information on the Contact Us page and you will be added to email distribution on all project notifications, meeting notices and periodic updates as the Study continues.