On January 28, Steven L. Abrams resigned as executive director of the South Florida Regional Transit Authority (SFRTA), whose railroad, Tri-Rail, is the regional carrier between Miami Airport and Mangonia Park. , just north of West Palm Beach.
Abrams announced his intention during a SFRTA Board meeting. He took office in early 2019 and will remain until a successor is appointed. The railroad travels a distance of 73.5 miles through Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties. It was commissioned in 1989 and is currently operated by Herzog Transit Services.
Tri-Rail runs on the historic Seaboard Air Line Railroad, on a north-south alignment, west of downtown Fort Lauderdale and downtown Miami, areas served by Light line on the history Florida East Coast (FEC) road. Tri-Rail connects with Miami-Dade Transit Metro Rail elevated line to Airport Station and Hialeah, northwest of downtown Miami. Problems with Tri-Rail’s efforts to initiate downtown service from Miami Central Station to Brightline reportedly prompted Abrams’ resignation.
Tri-Rail’s website did not have a press release, but David Lyons reported in the January 31 edition of Sentinel of the sun, based in Broward County: “Steven Abrams, the executive director of the Tri-Rail commuter rail system, declared his intention to step down on Friday after clashing with the board of directors over issues relating to construction that delayed the line’s ability to use Brightline. Miami station. Lyons noted that Abrams “had its share of issues regarding construction defects at Miami Central Station, which is South Florida’s main terminal for Brightline, the high-speed passenger railroad.”
Abrams reportedly said, “I wiped out a $16 million shortfall and improved on-time performance, and we had the second-biggest comeback of any commuter railroad in the country emerging from the pandemic.” Tri-Rail returned to its pre-COVID schedule on October 25, 2021, providing hourly service seven days a week, but only until mid-evening, and with a few additional trains during weekday peak times. After the virus hit nearly two years ago, the railway operated every two hours on weekdays and every three hours on weekends.
Tri-Rail is expected to use the Brightline-built station in downtown Miami, a destination that will become available to the railroad for the first time. There are separate platforms in the station for Brightline and Tri-Rail, but Tri-Rail’s Bombardier bi-levels and similar Hyundai-Rotem equipment could not use their designated platforms because they could not accommodate deck plates that extend from the crates when the doors above them are opened.
Grant Miller, publisher of Miami Community Newsurged Abrams and other Tri-Rail leaders to resign in an op-ed published Jan. 17. He wrote: “Just before Christmas, the agency’s management team provided further details to the SFRTA board, revealing that the problem is likely worse than previously explained, and that the The management team had known that since at least 2018.” He added that he had come to his conclusion “with great regret”, but also leveled these accusations against Abrams: “Depending on who is speaking, the reasons include that the platform was poorly designed, the platform has been poorly constructed, trains do not fit on the platform, trains are too heavy to run safely up to the platform, federally required safety system [PTC] is not ready on the trains and the emissions from the train are too polluting to meet the requirements of the site, which is located directly below the apartments. Abrams was responsible for brokering the failed deal with Brightline for the project, did not lead the agency through the project, appears to have covered up the issues, and failed in his responsibility to brief the board and the public of ongoing issues.
Two days later, Abrams defended himself against Miller’s allegations in the same newspaper“We owe it to our riders and the community to set the record straight. Tri-Rail did not build the downtown Miami station, which includes our train platforms. Brightline is the developer of this project. Unfortunately, we were delivered a poorly built rig, which was detailed last month by an engineering firm retained by SFRTA. The company uncovered several flaws and raised other serious concerns, which should be of utmost concern to those of us who live in South Florida. Nevertheless, Abrams resigned and Miller thanked him in the January 31 edition.
In his statement, Abrams blamed the problems on the construction of the station: “There are protrusions under the platform which will cut off the steps of our trains unless they are corrected, as well as cracks, bolts of loose anchor, water leaks and more. The station was not badly designed, but badly built, and could incur additional maintenance costs that would be passed on to ratepayers. Tri-Rail is acting responsibly by reporting these issues and working with Brightline to take corrective action to address safety issues before Tri-Rail service begins, not after. Our goal is to be transparent. This is a very important milestone in Tri-Rail’s history, and we welcome community engagement and fair reporting.
Abrams is a lawyer and former mayor of Boca Raton, the southernmost town in Palm Beach County served by the railroad. He also commuted on the railroad, according to his statement in Miami Community News: “On a personal note, I’ve been riding Tri-Rail as a regular commuter for 12 years. I don’t just talk, I cycle. As the new Executive Director in 2019, working with my management team and my dedicated staff, I erased a $16 million agency deficit, oversaw repairs to eliminate 38 debilitating speed limits on our lanes (one slowdown every two miles), and met a federal deadline for having installed an expensive and complicated security system on our hallway was PTC.
Report by Douglas Hanks in the January 31 edition of the Miami Herald questioned Abrams’ experimentAbrams, a lawyer and former mayor of Boca Raton, was chairman of SFRTA’s board of directors before taking the agency’s top job in 2018, entering the role with no experience in transportation or railroading. He drew the ire of some board members in December when he revealed that Tri-Rail trains would not fit into the Brightline-built station in the city center and that Tri-Rail was aware of the problem since April.
Hanks also reported: “Brightline executives have also accused Tri-Rail of dragging their feet on a decision whether to change exit and entrance steps that could eliminate parts of trains that hit the platform. Patrick Goddard, chairman of Brightline, told board members that the company was willing to tear up parts of the platform to repair faulty horizontal protrusions, but that it would be quicker for Tri-Rail to change the steps of the train. He also reported that Abrams said the problem was more complicated and required extensive analysis and planning, and that manufacturing could not begin until August.
There is also the question of whether the tracks connecting the Tri-Rail ground-level tracks to the new station are strong enough to support the weight of the Tri-Rail trains, which are heavier than the single-level equipment. from Brightline (although Brightline trains have a locomotive at each end). There are also less serious issues that need to be resolved before Tri-Rail can get to downtown Miami.
Tri-Rail was supposed to start using Brightline Central Station in Miami in 2017. Now the project will be further delayed. It’s reasonable to expect Tri-Rail to come to Miami Central one day, but that’s now more than five years behind schedule.