Saturday, June 26, 2010

Miscellany: On A (Tri) Rail

If you want to get to downtown Miami from West Palm Beach, you can either (A) take a car down I-95 or Turnpike like a sane person or (B) experience South Florida's commuter railway system.

The journey starts with Tri-Rail, a straight stretch of railroad going from West Palm to Miami. Unlike the commuter trains in big cities like Chicago or Paris, South Florida's railway only has one line, and it runs strictly north-south. With that kind of forced simplicity, you'd assume the trains are always on time, but Tri-Rail always seems to be running late anyway.

The trains themselves are hit-and-miss. One might have modern cars with clean plastic seating, another might have '80s-style upholstery (try not to hit one of the trains with no A/C – unless you enjoy being baked inside a tin can in the middle of the Florida summer). From the windows, the view is almost unrelentingly bleak: industrial zones, poor neighborhoods, and homeless people zoom by. It makes sense - the only people who live near railroad tracks are the ones who can't afford to live anywhere else.

When you finally hit Miami, you have to transfer to the city metro system. It's akin to going to another country, because most of the people riding with you will be speaking crisp, unaccented Spanish. Once you get to downtown proper, you can take the Metromover elevated trains for free.

All in all, the trip is “fun” in an exploratory sense, but completely impractical for actual commuting. I just can't see anybody making the three hour round trip everyday, unless you absolutely, positively can't afford a car. Even then, you might be better off hitch-hiking. It comes as no surprise that Tri-Rail needs to be propped up by (who else?) the government:

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