On September 18, 2014, All Aboard Florida announced news about the plans and structure of an extensive new downtown train-station complex. Supporters of this new transit community say this is a substantial step in Miami’s quest to arrive as one the world’s great urban centers.
The start of service set for 2016 will find All Aboard Florida running 32 rail departures a day between Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, and Orlando. It sounds encouraging. “Gov. Scott said he believes the Legislature will approve the project because it will create jobs and increase tourism,” Bay News 9 reports. “Officials said the current project doesn’t have much in common with the big-ticket rail project that was shot down in 2011.”
Image Credit: All Aboard Florida
MiamiCentral, the name chosen for the complex by All Aboard Florida, is ambitious. What the Miami Herald call’s an “all-at-once marriage of heavy infrastructure with urban revitalization that would turn a drab stretch of downtown into a bustling fulcrum of transportation and human activity — including a food market, shops, restaurants, offices and two residential towers with that increasingly rare commodity, 800 rental apartments affordable to people who work in the neighborhood.”
This is a terrifically planned change for Miami. The Miami Herald continues:
“We’re going to dramatically change what downtown Miami looks like 24 to 36 months from now, and in an unprecedented way,” said All Aboard president Michael Reininger.
“It’s what you’d expect to see in a vibrant downtown,” Reininger said. “Because of where it is, it needs to be a beautiful work of civic infrastructure. It’s going to be an iconic, photogenic place.”
City Lab continues with more specifics: “With a maximum speed of 125 miles per hour, the trains will complete the 240-mile journey in less than three hours. In South Florida, around the three initial stations, the company will develop 4.2 million square feet of real estate. In Orlando, the terminus will be located at the airport and connect to a new commuter rail line at a sparkling, state-funded $215 million transportation hub.”
There is a grande theme to this with a deep historical context. It is over 30 years since a private intercity passenger rail line has operated in the United States. There is an absence of fresh services for intercity rail further back than 30 years. City Lab continues: “You’d have to go back over 100 years to find a significant investment in private intercity rail in the US,” says David Levinson, a transportation analyst at the University of Minnesota.
A MiamiCentral press release from All Aboard Florida explains plans for the fresh urban space. It notes a growing downtown populous seeking a hub. “The 3-million-square-foot project being developed by All Aboard Florida spans nine acres just east of Miami-Dade County Hall, and includes an adjacent two-acre site on the corner of NW 2nd Avenue and NW 6th Street in Miami’s Historic Overtown neighborhood. With office, retail and residential components, Miami Central will provide a modern, urban “live-work-play” environment where all of Miami’s public transit systems converge, including All Aboard Florida’s new express, intercity passenger train connecting the downtowns of Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach with Orlando. Service is scheduled to begin in late 2016.”
City Lab mentions revival of this transportation model, which declined during the Hoover administration. Invigorating this part of the city is two-fold. “There is a coastline’s worth of right-of-way, half of Florida’s population, and tens of millions of travelers on business and vacation.” Another easy path to success is “what could be there: 15 acres* of transit-oriented development in three South Florida downtowns.”
Private freight railways averted financial ruin by abandoning passenger service. So, the questions is how can they profit from this new beginning to passenger service? Adie Tomer, an associate at the Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program who studies passenger rail, was quoted by City Lab as stating that this is a test not only for a new Miami, but for a new America: “If it can work there, it could work in other markets. The other private rail firms absolutely can be watching this…. This a great test for America.”
Skidmore, Owings & Merrill — designers of the new One World Trade Center tower and the Time Warner Center in Manhattan — continue this work in progress. The architects want to suspend the three towers on columns over the train platform.
Massive MiamiCentral train station would be a new urban hub downtown. Credit: Miami Herald
Of course, a strong initial push from the Obama administration — with a lot of attention given to it by President Obama and Vice President Biden — was to help fund and jumpstart a US high-speed rail network that would connect many major hubs. Some segments of that have been moving forward, while others have been blocked by Tea Party governors, such as Florida Governor Rick Scott. Scott and a couple others have even turned down already guaranteed funding from the federal government. Seemingly, for no other reason than to go against Obama’s efforts at bettering the country. In the case of Florida, the decision went against the business community, supposedly Scott’s base, in Tampa, Orlando, and Miami.
Other states have seen much more support for high-speed rail. In Illinois, funding for high-speed rail between Chicago and St Louis was announced just last month. “Illinois Governor Pat Quinn announced… a $102 million capital investment by the state in improving high-speed trains in the state.”