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Home / News & Reviews / News Wire / Amtrak switch to Miami airport station again moving forward

Amtrak switch to Miami airport station again moving forward

By Bob Johnston | September 29, 2022

Facility has been used since 2015 opening by commuter operator Tri-Rail

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Commuter train at station with unoccupied track in foreground
Commuter train at station with unoccupied track in foreground
A Tri-Rail train arrives at the Miami Intermodal Center in February 2018. In the foreground is the unused track for Amtrak trains. Bob Johnston

MIAMI — A long-delayed plan to bring Amtrak trains to a station at Miami International Airport is being revived.

A dedicated track for the Silver Meteor and Silver Star has been gathering rust at Miami Intermodal Center since the building connected to the airport opened seven years ago. Despite the operating challenges involved in backing trains from an existing out-of-the-way terminus adjacent to its Hialeah Maintenance Facility, Amtrak has expressed renewed interest in consummating legal agreements with three South Florida transportation agencies that would finally make the move possible.

Miami Today reports Amtrak management has restarted lease negotiations with the Florida Department of Transportation for use of a spacious terminal that has been used by commuter operator Tri-Rail since 2015. A move there would allow Amtrak passengers convenient access to the airport’s rental car, food concession, and public transportation options — features not available at the existing station about 10 miles north of downtown Miami, built in 1978.

Ticket windows in unused station area
Ticket booths in the Amtrak waiting room at the Miami facility have never been used. Bob Johnston

Florida DOT funding helped construct the $2 billion airport station, built with a ticketing, baggage, and waiting-room concourse for Amtrak that is separate from Tri-Rail’s. The commuter carrier moved in upon the facility’s completion, but Amtrak demurred, initially because its long-distance trains blocked busy 25th Street on the north end of the station. Who was responsible for this construction oversight is a matter of debate, though FDOT soon paid $5.6 million for street resurfacing and a highway bypass that automatically directs traffic to 28th Street if 25th Street is blocked with a long-distance train for an extended period.

However, Amtrak continued to balk at moving operations to the new station after that situation was rectified in 2017. While the company didn’t pay to construct the modern facility, it is expected to pay an allocated portion of common-area maintenance, track, canopy, and platform costs.

That has been a sticking point ever since. A Florida DOT spokeswoman told Trains Magazine during negotiations in late 2017 that “lease terms are pending, specifically terms of cancellation, [but] Amtrak can cancel without penalty from FDOT.” This week’s Miami Today report notes, “both parties are currently negotiating the lease and an acceptable termination clause,” and that Amtrak must also consummate separate agreements with Miami International Airport and Tri-Rail.

Amtrak sign on buildling exterior
An Amtrak sign awaits the arrival of service by the passenger carrier. Bob Johnston

Bringing Amtrak’s trains closer to downtown Miami will require a 4-mile deadhead back-up move prior to the departure of the northbound Star or Meteor, and a similar move back to the servicing yard after southbound trains arrive. This is necessary because the only place to turn them is a loop at Hialeah, and thus, on-duty time costs for both onboard service and operating crews will rise, and the servicing window would also be shortened. The tradeoff is better visibility in Miami’s transportation mix, greater convenience and comfort for passengers, and potentially more revenue.

In a letter to the Citizens Independent Transportation Trust, a community group that has pressed Amtrak management to move service to the airport facility, Amtrak CEO Stephen Gardner wrote that the company was evaluating technical and operational aspects of the move and was working to reach “mutually acceptable commercial terms for a long-term facility lease” at the new station.

That was last April. Amtrak spokeswoman Kimberly Woods recently told Miami Today, “We are excited about the prospects of serving the Miami Intermodal Center in the future,” adding, “Discussions continue with the Florida Department of Transportation and other agencies to allow Amtrak to become part of the MIC.”

13 thoughts on “Amtrak switch to Miami airport station again moving forward

  1. “This is necessary because the only place to turn them is a loop at Hialeah . . . ”

    Regarding the four mile backup move . . . there actually was a perfectly located wye just north of the station which could have been used to turn the trains. When they built the bypass at 28th Street they stupidly severed the wye. So they spent all this effort and money to rectify one problem and created another. This whole matter is just one big mess.

  2. A new “Union Station” could have been planned between Amtrak, BrightLine and Tri-Rail in Downtown Miami. BrightLine is sharing its southern terminus with Tri-Rail. A similar arrangement could be made with Amtrak, space permitting.

  3. “While the company didn’t pay to construct the modern facility, it is expected to pay an allocated portion of common-area maintenance, track, canopy, and platform costs.”

    Amtrak wanted to be able to switch tagged luggage directly with the airlines in the luggage sort facility as part of their rent. MIA wasn’t for it as the terminal is not close to a luggage facility. It would have required “out of custody” luggage movement which is a major security problem.

    So as it stands passengers will have to tote their own or use a bellhop to cart it to and from the air terminal.

  4. The wye can be restored IMO fairly easily. All the SW leg track is still in place although would need complete replacement and the switch from the NW and SW leg made powered. The only track break is at the crossing gate replacement. Gate had the SW gantry pole placed on the SW leg inside the 2 rails. So that gantry would need to be moved west to clear the SW wye track.

    Visibility for Amtrak would be great as the Amtrak train would block both LaJune rd and the E-W toll way entrance to MIA airport. Train would come to hault then back up into the station. Maye 500k miami persons would become aware of Amtrak?

    1. I saw that on Google Earth. But it looks like that wye only connects to the two westerly station tracks. I think Amtrak would use the two easterly tracks, which are longer past the platform, so a new connection would be needed. (Someone more familiar with the situation can correct me).

  5. When I rode from Miami to Philadelphia back in February, I switched my ticket to the station in Hollywood when I realized what the walk would be like to get from the metro to Hialeah after returning my rental car at the airport. Took Tri-Rail and all I had to do was cross to the other platform.

  6. Dumb question, what would it cost Amtrak to equip their cars for a push pull set up, to do push moves into stations that have inconvenient setups?
    This would allow long distance trains an easier turn around at say Chicago Union Station, or 30th St, Philadelphia, or Denver.

    1. Amtrak Harrisburg trains ARE push-pull and DO change ends at 30th St.

      The Pennsylvanian to/from Pittsburgh is pulled backwards by an electric between NY and Phila and changes engines at 30th St. where the diesel couples to the opposite end.

      In PRR days trains from Washington to Harrisburg and West were pulled backwards between WAS and Baltimore.

      Amtrak doesn’t believe in timetables (they might attract riders?) but here is a bootleg TT from Rail Passengers Ass’n.

      https://railpassengers.org/site/assets/files/20928/keystone-service.pdf

  7. “…on-duty time costs for both onboard service and operating crews will rise, and the servicing window would also be shortened. The tradeoff is better visibility in Miami’s transportation mix, greater convenience and comfort for passengers…”
    This is Amtrak.
    Never let greater convenience and comfort for passengers get in the way of Amtrak’s convenience.

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