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Groups Urge Miami-Dade And Brightline To Reach Deal On Commuter Rail

Rendering of a proposed commuter rail stop in Wynwood.
Wynwood Business Improvement District
Rendering of a proposed commuter rail stop in Wynwood.

For decades locals have dreamt of having a commuter train that serves the northeastern part of Miami-Dade County, and recently some steps have been taken in that direction.

More than 30 groups have joined together to support the creation of what’s referred to as the Coastal Link, connecting downtown Miami to Aventura with an affordable train that runs on Florida East Coast railroad tracks.

The group calls itself the Northeast Corridor Coalition. Heading the group is the Wynwood Business Improvement District.

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For decades locals have dreamt of having a commuter train that serves the northeastern part of Miami-Dade County, and recently some steps have been taken in that direction. As part of the effort, the Wynwood BID recently announced that it has secured private funding for a proposed stop in Wynwood, which would run along the planned corridor.

"We don’t wanna be stuck on I-95 traffic for hours upon a day, per week per year. That adds up to a lot of idle time," said Albert Garcia, the chairman of the Wynwood BID. "And if you can save money on car insurance, car payments, gas, that’s money you can put in your pocket and invest in yourself."

The proposed affordable train service would run along the existing Florida East Coast railroad tracks, connecting downtown Miami to Aventura, with the possibility of a few more stops in between. Leaders in Wynwood hope to have a privately-funded station be part of the first phase of that project.

The timeline proposed by Garcia for the completion of the station is as soon as mid-2021, since much of the infrastructure is already in place.

"You don't have to lay new tracks, you don't have to lay new infrastructure, other than creating five temporary platform stations," said Garcia.

The group released renderings of what the new station would look like.

A rendering of a proposed commuter rail station in Wynwood.
Wynwood Business Improvement District
A rendering of a proposed commuter rail station in Wynwood.

In order to make the dream a reality, Miami-Dade County officials will have to reach an operating agreement on a public-private partnership with Brightline, the private train company that owns the tracks.

Brightline runs a high-speed luxury train along the corridor, connecting downtown Miami to Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. Plans to bring the train to Orlando have continued on during the pandemic, even as Brightline trains have halted operations since mid-March.

On Thursday, Brightline and Miami-Dade County announced that construction has begun at a station in Aventura, which will connect with the high-speed luxury rail service. Construction of that station is being funded with $79 million in public dollars from Miami-Dade County.

“I am thrilled to be breaking ground and beginning construction for the all-new Aventura Station,” said Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez. “Working together with Brightline, we’re bringing rail to an area that’s not currently serviced by any public transit rail line and connecting residents and visitors to more opportunities, more places, and more possibilities.”

County leaders hope the Aventura station will ultimately also host trains from the proposed commuter rail project, after a deal is reached.

In June, Miami-Dade County reached a memorandum of understanding with Virgin Trains that it would officially start negotiations on making the commuter rail project a reality. The memorandum gave the parties 90 days to start negotiations, a deadline that is coming up mid-September.

Garcia said he hopes that means that the item will be brought up soon at a county commission meeting, where his group can discuss its proposal for the new station.

Virgin Trains and Brightline had a partnership on the high-speed trains project, but in recent weeks that partnership has fallen apart.

It's unclear how that development might impact the commuter rail project negotiation process.

The Northeast Corridor Coalition includes many large organizations and entities that are pushing to make the commuter rail idea a reality. Florida International University, the Miami Marlins, Miami-Dade College, the University of Miami and the Adrienne Arsht Center are in support of the creating the commuter rail system.

In addition to Wynwood, proposed stops for the train are in the Miami Design District, the Upper Eastside, North Miami and the Florida International University Biscayne Bay Campus. The existing tracks directly run through those areas.

"It has always been interpreted as not a matter of if, but when and how this could be implemented," said Garcia. This is a quality of life issue."