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TriRail Trips 1/24-25/2022

by Chris Guenzler

After four days on Amtrak, Elizabeth and I arrived in Miami on the Silver Star and picked up our checked luggage.

TriRail History 1980-1990s: Planning and inauguration

Planning for a new commuter rail line began in 1983 and building the organization began in 1986. The current system was formed by the Florida Department of Transportation and began operation January 9, 1989, to provide temporary commuter rail service while construction crews widened Interstate 95 and the parallel Florida's Turnpike. Tri-Rail was free from opening until May 1, 1990, at which time the fare became $4 round trip.

Due to higher than expected ridership, FDOT made Tri-Rail a permanent service, adding more trains and stations in the process. Line extensions have enabled Tri-Rail to serve all three South Florida international airports: Miami International Airport, Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and Palm Beach International Airport. The state's original plan was to use the more urban Florida East Coast Railway line, but FEC declined the offer as it wanted freight to be their top priority. In 1998, the initial 67-mile-long route was extended north from the West Palm Beach station to the Mangonia Park, and south from Hialeah Market to Miami Airport (at an earlier station on the site of the current station). Construction of the extensions began in 1996; which added nearly 4 miles to the system.

2000s: New stations, more service

In the early 2000s, Tri-Rail received a budget of $84.8 million for double tracking, building extensions, improving stations, establishing a headquarters, and linking to buses.

In 2002, Tri-Rail began to upgrade its grade crossings to include raised medians and/or four quadrant gates to prevent cars from driving around them in an attempt to beat trains. This decreases accidents and allows the cities they run through to petition for them not to use their whistle between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. They also decreased headways to 20 minutes during rush hours.

In 2007, a project to upgrade the full length of the line from Mangonia Park to Miami Airport with double track was completed with the opening of a high-level fixed bridge over the New River near Fort Lauderdale. During the 2000s, most of the stations were completely rebuilt to accommodate for double-tracking and include dual platforms, elevators, pedestrian bridges over the tracks, large roofs over the platforms, and better facilities.

In March 2006, Tri-Rail went from 30 passenger trains a day to 40 trains; the completion of the New River rail bridge, the double-tracking project, and the addition of a second Colorado Railcar diesel multiple unit ushered in sweeping changes to Tri-Rail's operational timetables. Tri-Rail added several more trains during peak weekday commuting hours in June 2007, increasing to the current 50 trains per day, as well as increasing weekend service. During "rush hour", trains ran every twenty to thirty minutes rather than the previous schedule of every hour. This change comes at quite a fortuitous time in Tri-Rail's operation history. With gasoline prices at record highs - particularly in South Florida's sprawling metropolis - Tri-Rail saw a double-digit percentage increase in ridership in mid-2007. By 2009, annual ridership had reached about 4.2 million passengers. This was also the time during which work was being done on I-95 to add the express lanes from the Golden Glades Interchange to the Airport Expressway near downtown Miami. In 2007, Veolia Transport commenced operating the Tri-Rail service under a contract that ran until June 2017.

2009 to present: Growth and Airport Station

In 2009, Tri-Rail service was nearly cut drastically, with the threat of being shut down altogether by 2011, even as ridership was at a record high, as Palm Beach County withheld its funding of the system and looked to cut its funding from $4.1 million to $1.6 million per year. This would mean that Broward and Miami-Dade counties would also have had to cut their support to $1.6 million each to match. The state, which was also running a budget shortfall and did not pass a rental car tax increase to help fund Tri-Rail, would have had to cut its support as well. This would have caused an immediate cut from 50 to 30 daily trains and a complete cutting weekend service, followed by additional cuts and possible shut down two years later. Schedules were decreased slightly, but service was never cut altogether, as dedicated federal funding was attained through the $2.5 million grant as part of the American.

Reinvestment and Recovery Act of 2009.

After a 25% fare increase in mid-2009, annual ridership dropped by 15% (about 600,000) in 2010. However, in 2011, Tri-Rail again saw increasing ridership due to sustained high gas prices, averaging about 14,500 riders per weekday by the end of year. Throughout the year, ridership increased at a rate of about 11% per month, paired with a decline in automobile travel and an increase in employment, with 285 companies and 2,829 individuals joining in the discount program.

In 2011, the dilapidated Pompano Beach station received a $5.7 million federal grant, to be redone as a "green station," generating more than 100% of its energy demand through solar power, with the excess to be sent to the grid or stored for nighttime lighting. Construction started in spring 2012 with the station remaining open during construction. The crossing of Race Track Road and the Tri-Rail line near the Pompano Beach station, rough for several years, was also repaired in 2012.

Total ridership on the system fully recovered to earlier high levels in fiscal year 2013, to 4.2 million Tri-Rail wants to double ridership by 2021 to 30,000 daily riders by building the Coastal Link.

In April 2015, Miami Airport station opened at the Miami Intermodal Center, once again connecting Tri-Rail directly with the Miami International Airport for the first time since the original Miami Airport station closed in 2011. This new station has connections to MIA Mover (providing a direct link to the airport), Metrorail, Metrobus and Greyhound. After extensive delays, Amtrak has yet to move its operations from its current station. This new station was under construction since 2009, with a September 2011 closure of the original Miami Airport station to allow for construction of the new station.

On January 27, 2017, the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority board voted to award Herzog Transit Services a $511 million, 10-year contract to operate Tri-Rail beginning in July 2017. The board disqualified the other five bidders (Amtrak, Bombardier, First Transit, SNC-Lavalin Rail & Transit and incumbent operator Transdev), stating that they had all submitted "conditional" prices despite the request for proposals mandating that the bid price be final. The other five losing bidders all protested the contract, with Transdev, Bombardier, and First Transit jointly requesting a court injunction to prevent it from being awarded


The service began with five Morrison-Knudsen F40PHL-2 diesel locomotives. Tri-Rail later took delivery of three MotivePower F40PH-2C locomotives and two ex-Amtrak EMD F40PHs (now upgraded to 3C specifications and electronics). In 2006, six EMD GP49 locomotives were acquired from Norfolk Southern and were rebuilt by Mid America Car Company to the designation GP49H-3.

On October 29, 2008, the Tri-Rail switched to biodiesel fuel with a goal of a 99-percent blend, when available.

On February 25, 2011, Tri-Rail announced an order for ten Brookville BL36PH locomotives, with options for 13 more, from the Brookville Equipment Corporation at a cost of $109 million. The purchase was met with criticism by the Florida Chamber of Commerce and state lawmakers, who claimed the bidding process was flawed. Rival bidder MotivePower filed a lawsuit against Tri-Rail, claiming that the bidding process was skewed in Brookville's favour. Tri-Rail later added two more BL36PH locomotives to the order for a total of 12. As of 2015, all locomotives have been delivered and are used in regular service, allowing the F40PHL-2, F40PH-2C, and F40PH locomotives to be retired. However, in July 2018, all the F40PH-2C and F40PH locomotives were sent up to Progress Rail in Georgia to be rebuilt and returned to service for use on the Coastal Link. They were returned from August 2020 to January 2021, and have been put back in service.

Passenger cars

Tri-Rail uses two types of passenger cars. Since the beginning of operations, the system has used 26 Bombardier bi-level coaches purchased new from Urban Transportation Development Corporation (even though they were delivered in GO Transit colors, the Tri-Rail cars were purchased new and never used or sold secondhand by GO, only leased by GO for a short period of time), a common model among Canadian and US commuter railroads, 11 with operating cabs and 15 without. Briefly, bi-level rolling stock from Colorado Railcar (4 DMU power coaches and 2 unpowered coaches) was used beginning in 2006.

In 2010, the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority agreed to purchase new rail cars from Hyundai Rotem for $95 million. The first new car was put into service in March 2011. By late 2011, the 12 new locomotives and 24 new passenger cars had not yet been delivered, and the original cars, many over 30 years old, were falling into disrepair. This led to Tri-Rail often running two cars per train instead of three despite increasing ridership, leaving only standing room on many trains during rush hour. By January 2013, all trains were again running with 3 cars, just as most of the Hyundai Rotem rail cars were delivered. In addition to decreased comfort but more reliability, the new cars provide additional safety with front and rear crumple zones designed to absorb energy in a crash.

In 2015, three Bombardier coaches were renovated to include additional bicycle capacity. Cars 1002, 1006, and 1007 had one side of seating removed from the lower levels, which were in turn replaced by bike racks. These trains with special bike cars have the capacity to carry an additional 14 bicycles per train.

Our rides

1/24/2022 We walked over from the Miami Amtrak station to take TriRail two stops tonight to the Miami Airport stop, giving Elizabeth and I our first ride on Tri-Rail. We arrived at the station and bought a one-way ticket to the Airport and waited for our train to arrive.

The train at the Metro Transfer station. We boarded and rode the train to the Miami Airport where we detrained.

Our train at the Miami Airport station. We went upstairs and walked over to the Enterprise car rental counter and after paying, were able to choose our car. We took a Chevrolet Spark because of its striking colour, called Mystic Blue, escaped the airport and checked in at the Holiday Inn where we found they was no bath tub for my loving wife. I turned on my laptop and while it turned on, the screen was blank and nothing either of us tried made any difference. This was most strange, as well as frustrating, since I had been using it on the train with no problems. Thankfully Elizabeth has her own laptop so we used that for the rest of the trip, although I could not write the stories until I returned home. Therefore, the Trip to Florida story will be delayed.

1/25/2022 The next morning, after having breakfast in the hotel restaurant on the 9th floor, we walked about seven blocks to the TriRail station at Hialeah Market and found a surprise waiting for us.

The Seaboard Air Line Railway Hialeah station at the Tri-Rail Hialeah Market station. It was built in 1926 and served the Orange Blossom Special until 1953, and the Silver Meteor beginning in 1939. Passenger service to the station ended in 1972.

A train to the Miami Airport station.

A deadheading train from the Miami Airport station.

Our train arrived at the Hialeah Market station and we boarded this train for the one stop trip to MetroRail Transfer station. Both Metrorail and Tri-Rail offer free wi-fi to all passengers.

We detrained at the MetroRail Transfer station and went upstairs to the Miami MetroRail level where we just missed a westbound train.

First a CSX local train came into view and stopped.

Next a southbound Tri-Rail train arrived at the MetroRail Transfer station.

Tri-Rail BL36PH 823 at the MetroRail Transfer station.

Later that afternoon we boarded the train at the Miami Airport station and took the train to Golden Glades station. This would complete my new mileage when we got back to the CSX mainline north of the Tri-Rail shops.

TriRail F40PHL-2 805 at the dead line at TRiRail shops.

A CSX unit switching cars along our route.

We detrained at Golden Glades and I took a picture of the train that brought us here.

Our southbound train came into Golden Glades and we boarded the first car.

We passed another Tri-Rail train on our way back to Hialeah Market.

Santa Day Railway caboose 1225, formerly Chesapeake and Ohio 903164.

CSX SD40-2 4024 at the TriRail shops.

Chesapeake and Ohio private car "Chapel Hill". We returned to the Hialeah Market station.

Tri-Rail F40PH 809.

A mural at the Hialeah Market station before we walked to the Miami Sub Grill for dinner then returned to the Holiday Inn for the evening.